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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,958
February 28, 2019
Catholics Address Sexual Abuse
By Mike McManus

Pope Francis gathered the world's top bishops and cardinals in Rome to address the sexual abuse by priests of minors, which he called "abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth."

Sadly, he took no concrete steps to do so. As one sex abuse survivor, Peter Saunders, put it, "I don't think we can rely on the institution to clean up its act."

The Pope called for "concrete and effective measures" to contend with the problem. But he failed to outline what they might be. In fact, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, has reportedly covered up priest abuse in two states: Houston-Galveston, TX and Sioux City, IA. One priest alone admitted abusing 50 children.

One organizations sending people to Rome was SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Mary Dispenza of SNAP said "We wanted to hear very specific actions that would deal with clergy abuse - and the covering up of it by bishops - but we did not hear anything like that."

SNAP had five demands:

  1. That the Pope name the cardinals and bishops in attendance who had covered up abuses - like Cardinal DiNardo - and fire them!
  2. "We wanted severe consequences for bishops or cardinals who cover up abuse. Zero tolerance should apply to all."
  3. Compel all bishops to turn documents on priestly abuse over to civil authorities for criminal prosecution.
  4. Church leaders should stop fighting legislative reforms to protect children.
  5. Priests who were perpetrators, with credible accusations against them - should be defrocked or fired.

SNAP's Becki Ianni, who was molested when she was 8 to 12 years old, attended the Rome meeting, concluding the Pope and church "failed on every point. There is a need for secular authority to step in."

Fortunately, that has happened in two states - Pennsylvania and Illinois where the states Attorneys General appointed Grand Juries to investigate. There were dramatic results, as I reported in December. A Pennsylvania Grand Jury issued a 1,400 page report which accused 301 priests of sexually molesting 1,000 children and added there are probably thousands more.

However, only two priest molesters were prosecuted, due to Pennsylvania's statute of limitations. Victims of child abuse have until they are aged 30 to file civil suits for damages and until age 50 to file criminal charges. Many victims are embarrassed by their experience, and file no charges.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi, who was raped by a priest in his Catholic school, called upon fellow legislators to pass a law to eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution. That's an excellent solution, endorsed by the Grand Jury - that every state should adopt.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan reported before Christmas that six Catholic dioceses, which had previously identified 185 priests who had been "credibly" charged with child abuse - when prodded by the Attorney General - identified 500 additional clergy who "received allegations of sexual abuse." Sadly, Illinois has failed to investigate those cases, or to name the molesters.

However, the good news is that Attorneys General in 17 other states have launched comprehensive investigations like those in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

In 2007 the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to an historic $660 million settlement to 508 victims of clergy sexual abuse. However, LA Cardinal Roger Mahoney's answer to the issue was to reassign many of those priests to new parishes.

Why? There is an acute shortage of priests. Who wants to be celibate for life?

A.W. Richard Sipe, who quit the priesthood to marry, wrote three books urging the church to change its celibacy rule. He reported that "between 6.5% and 9% of Catholic priests in America involve themselves sexually with minors. He also estimated that half of all priests are sexually active!

In Protestant denominations, most pastors are married, and no Protestant denomination is plagued by clergy molesting children.

What can be done?

First, I suggest that the Knights of Columbus, some 2 million faithful male leaders from every parish in America - should ask their Attorneys General to appoint a Grand Jury modeled on the ones in Pennsylvania and Illinois, to investigate sexual abuse of their priests.

Second, the Knights should ask Rome to consider making celibacy optional for the priesthood, so that married men might serve as priests. There are 18,000 Catholic deacons in America, who have the power to baptize, witness marriages, perform funeral services, distribute Holy Communion and preach. Most are married.

Most would love to become priests who can hear confessions and conduct Mass. Ordaining them is a natural next step to reform the church.

Their ordination would, in time, make clergy sexual abuse rare.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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