The release of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on the extent of the abuse of minors by priests and lay employees of six diocese, including Pittsburgh, Erie, Scranton, Harrisburg, Allentown, and Greensburg seems to confirm what most already knew:
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of minors were abused by priests, and some others, over the course of the seventy years covered by the grand jury investigation;
A massive effort was employed to cover up these crimes in an attempt to preserve the reputations of these priests and the reputation of the Church in these dioceses, with little concern for the protection of or justice for the victims;
Just over 300 individuals have been named by the grand jury as abusers, though the grand jury makes no effort to distinguish between those credibly accused and those who have accusations made against them that have not been found credible; basically, if you were accused, you were added to the list;
The majority of the abuse took place over the decades of the 1960s to 1980s; 90% of the cases of abuse took place prior to 1990;
Because of the statute of limitations, few cases, if any, can be prosecuted;
About two-thirds of those accused have died, making it impossible for them to answer the charges, or answer for the abuse they may have committed;
The grand jury’s investigation into child abuse by clergy covers only Catholic clergy; there was no attempt to investigate abuse by Protestant ministers, Orthodox priests, rabbis, imams, or the clergy of any other religious tradition;
The grand jury investigation was instigated by a case of abuse at a Catholic high school in Johnstown, PA in 2014. In 2014, the Pennsylvania public school system ranked second nationally for complaints by students of abuse by employees of state public schools; no grand jury investigation of abuse by employees of the public schools is anticipated.
Many people, especially those in the media who revel in these revelations, assume that Catholics are upset by the exposing of the sins of priestly abuse and cover-up. We are not. We are upset, disgusted and demoralized by the abuse that has been committed by priests and the attempts to cover up their abuse.
There are problems, however, when people long dead who cannot answer the charges against them are accused. There are problems when states pass laws setting aside the statute of limitations on abuse, and then only for selective groups of abusers. There are problems when civil authorities, who are charged to protect and provide justice for all victims of abuse, focus their efforts only on victims abused by Catholic priests. It has long been established that Catholic priests are less likely to abuse children than other professions, such as teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors, those in the entertainment industry, and even Protestant ministers, all of whom have higher rates of abuse than Catholic priests. Even still, the outrage seems reserved for priests and only priests. Given that, it’s hard to dispel the notion that anti-Catholicism is largely responsible, not for the revelation of abuse itself, but for the selective revelation of abuse, the selective justice, and the selective outrage. I am suspicious, frankly, that the constant and selective reporting on the abuse committed by priests is a way of deflecting and covering for abuse committed by others. Too often, the same media and society that reports and rightly condemns every detail of abuse by priests continues to lionize men like Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Harvey Milk, Peter Yarrow, Frankie Valli, and others, covering up, neglecting to mention, or excusing their sexual relations with minors. Harvey Milk, for instance, is known to have engaged in sexual activity with teenage boys, and his face is on a U. S. postage stamp.
As well, this selective targeting of priests, more than harmful to the Church, is harmful to victims of abuse carried out by those who are not Catholic priests. The message is pretty clear: the abuse you suffered (or the abuse you committed) doesn’t count.
There can be no escaping the conclusion, as well, that the selective revelation of the sins of Catholic priests diminishes the genuine progress that has been made by the Church in the United States, creating the impression, or wrongly declaring as fact, that the Church has done nothing in the wake of the revelations of abuse. As I’ve reported a number of times before, new credible accusations of abuse were in the hundreds each year during the peak years of the 1970s. Since the early 1990s, after the reforms initiated by the bishops, new credible accusations of abuse have averaged less than ten a year. It’s likely that no other institution comes close to having achieved that sort of progress, though it’s difficult to know, since no other institution monitors and reports on sexual abuse by its employees or members as thoroughly as does the Catholic Church.
No one needs to inform me that priests committed abuse and bishops covered it up. I am fully aware. No one more than I wants to see heads roll, men booted out of office and imprisoned for abuse or cover ups. But, the Pennsylvania grand jury report will not result in any charges. If it is found that some men still in active ministry abused or covered up abuse, then it will have done it’s job if those men are forced out of ministry, or forced out of their posts. Call me cynical, but, given the selective revelations, the selective justice, and the selective outrage, it is becoming clear that some civil authorities and lawyers see the Church only as an easy, plump target, and their motives have little or nothing to do with justice and everything to do with deflection and personal fame.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.