What will it take for Roman Catholic Church leaders to finally stand up and openly and honestly confront the priest sex-abuse scandal that continues to eat away at the very institution its leaders are trying to protect?
Do more priests have to be taken away in handcuffs? Does a cardinal or two have to get indicted? Will a judge have to hold the Vatican liable?
How many more boys have to get abused and turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their pain and suffering? Or commit suicide? Does already lagging church attendance have to plummet even further? Do collection plates have to return to the altar empty?
Given the details in a grand jury report released last week involving the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it seems clear church leaders are still trying to contain and cover up the scandal.
The grand jury indicted a former top aide to retired Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua for allegedly enabling a cover-up of priests accused of abusing boys. Bevilacqua, 87, wasn’t charged but the grand jury concluded he was “closely involved” in decisions surrounding the problem priests and “personally authorized many of them.”
Monsignor William Lynn, who handled priest personnel issues, including abuse cases from 1992 to 2004, was accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse. He is believed to be the highest church official criminally charged in the sexual-abuse scandal, which has rocked the church for more than a decade.
Two other priests, a former priest, and a lay teacher were also charged with assaulting two young boys.
Rev. Charles F. Engelhardt, 64, allegedly orally sodomized a 10-year-old altar boy in the St. Jerome’s sacristy in 1998. Engelhardt told Rev. Edward Avery about the assault. Avery, 68, who is now defrocked, then allegedly assaulted the boy, as allegedly did the boy’s sixth-grade teacher, Bernard G. Shero, 48.
The criminal acts allegedly commited by the priests and teacher are disgusting enough, but then there’s the response of church leaders whose essential role was to deny, fight, and ignore the claims. Even more disturbing, the grand jury report comes less than six years after a similar panel excoriated the archdiocese for protecting problem priests.
After the earlier report, the church announced steps to be more responsive to victims and get rid of abusive priests. But the new grand jury says “much has not changed.” Indeed, it said dozens of priests accused of abuse remained active in church ministry. The archdiocese denies that.
The report did praise the church for sometimes paying for victims’ counseling and reporting abusers to law enforcement, which was never done before. But the grand jury also accused the church’s so-called victim-assistance coordinators of feeding information about abuse victims to church attorneys.
Victims were also pressured to turn over records from therapists and other sources, which later could be used against them. While victims were “hounded” to give statements, accused abusers received “kid-glove treatment.”
“The procedures implemented by the archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the archdiocese itself,” the grand jury found.
Until church leaders take full responsibility for the sexual crimes and cover-up, there will be more grand jury reports, more arrests, more scandal, more legal fees, and, worst of all, more victims.
Heaven help them.