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Ethics & Religion
March 30, 2017
Column #1,857
Cardinal Keeler: A Model Catholic Leader
By Mike McManus

 

Cardinal William Keeler, who led the Baltimore Archdiocese for 17 years, and was a national leader in making the Catholic Church more responsive to the sexual abuse scandal by priests, died recently at age 86.

In May, 2002 Baltimore Rev. Maurice Blackwell was shot, but not killed by a 26-year-old, Dontee Stokes, who said he had been molested by the priest in 1993. He was acquitted of attempted murder.

Blackwell had been identified as a child molester before the attack of Stokes. But he had been allowed to return as a priest in 1993. Cardinal Keeler said, "I take full responsibility" for that decision. "I would not make the same decision today."

He did far more than apologize, however. In September, 2002, he was the first Catholic bishop in America to release the names of all 56 Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse since the 1930s, saying that the abuse of children by priests was "the spiritual equivalent of murder." He also reported that $5.6 million was spent by the diocese over 20 years in settlements, counseling and legal fees due to sexual abuse.

In a letter to 180,000 families in Baltimore and 9 Maryland counties, Cardinal Keeler wrote, "Ultimately, there is nothing to be gained by secrecy except the avoidance of scandal. And rather than shrinking from this scandal - which too often has occurred in the past - we must address it with humble contrition, righteous anger and public courage. Telling the truth cannot be wrong."

That is not how most Catholic dioceses have responded to the crisis, which was first exposed in Boston, early in 2002, the story of which was powerfully reported last year in the movie "Spotlight," that won the Academy Award for best picture.

Only 30 of the nation's 178 diocese have published a list of priests who molested children. And most of them were forced to do so in legal settlements with injured victims demanding publication.

This year, Keeler's successor, Archbishop William Lori, updated the list naming 71 priests who had credibly been charged with molesting children, with 15 new cases since 2002.

By contrast, five-sixths of U.S. dioceses provided no names of victims. Why? "Their silence was strategic," says Terry McKiernan, Director of BishopAccountability.org, a group helping victims. Bishops feared victims on the list would sue the diocese for the harm they endured.

Indeed, McKiernan reports Catholic dioceses in America have faced 4,000 court cases and paid $3 billion to settle them! However, his organization has listed 4,220 priests and brothers who were molesters in such dioceses as Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. One can click on 30 dioceses and see if his priest or a former one is listed.

There have been allegations by at least 6,500 people who were harmed. And that number is low. It may be that 10% of American priests were pedophiles, according to McKiernan.

In fact, there is a national organization of victims called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Assaulted by Priests) with 22,000 members. I asked SNAP President, Barbara Dorris, to assess the current situation.

"We have new people joining every day. Some good things are happening. Parents are more careful. When I was a child, if a priest offered to take your child camping, parents said 'Great.' Now they are looking for safeguards, rather than blindly trusting.

"Survivors now feel safe enough to tell their story, knowing they will be believed. The film "Spotlight" brought out a lot of survivors. There have been more convictions of priests who had slipped through the cracks," she said.

However, with five out of six dioceses not listing priest molesters, the scale of the scandal is unknown and statutes of limitations have freed thousands who can't be prosecuted, including the priest who molested Ms. Dorris.

What is the long term answer?

Catholics should ordain married men in addition to celibates. A married man wants sex with his wife - not with adolescent boys. St. Peter, who Catholics call "the first Pope," was married. Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Married priests were legal for more than 1,000 years until the church limited the priesthood to celibate men.

There are 15,000 married Catholic Deacons, who already can preach, baptize and officiate at weddings. But they cannot hear confessions or consecrate the Eucharist.

Why not? The Catholic Church has allowed 120 married Episcopal or Lutheran priests to become married Catholic priests.

Pope Francis said recently "We need to consider" ordaining married men as priests "in remote communities."

Why not all communities?

The Catholic Church should move toward healing its scandal by ordaining married men.
____________________________________
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous columns go to  www.ethicsandreligion.org. Hit Search for any topic.

 

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