Richard F. Stika is Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville. He published a pastoral letter in response to the revelations of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on abuse committed by priests and the attempts to cover up that abuse by bishops and others in the six dioceses of Pennsylvania covered by the report.
You can read Bishop Stika’s pastoral letter here.
Bishop Stika has experience handling cases of sexual abuse by priests. As a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, he assisted in handling cases of abuse there. Only a year after arriving as Bishop of Knoxville, Bishop Stika was confronted with allegations of abuse lodged against Fr. William Casey, a retired priest of the diocese, who was accused of having abused Warren Tucker in the middle to late 1970’s beginning when Tucker was a boy of only ten years old. In 2010, when Tucker reported his abuse to Church officials, Bishop Stika met with Casey, asked him if the allegations were true and, on Casey’s admission of guilt, immediately suspended his faculties as a priest. Bishop Stika also petitioned the Vatican to have Casey laicized. Casey was convicted and sentenced to 35-40 years in prison in 2011 and laicized by the Vatican in 2012. Bishop Stika sent a letter that was read in every parish in the Diocese of Knoxville asking any other victims of Casey’s abuse to come forward. While Casey informed Bishop Stika that there might be other victims, none have come forward so far.
Bishop Stika was widely commended for his swift and effective response to the accusations against William Casey.
I think Bishop Stika ought to be commended, as well, for joining those other bishops who have called for a review board to be created made up of laity to review any accusations of abuse committed by a bishop or the failure of a bishop to report allegations against a priest or anyone else working for the Church.
It is essential that those bishops, even those in the distant past, who knew of abuse but covered it up be held responsible for their criminal failure as shepherds of the Church. They must be removed from office and, like Abp McCarrick, relegated to a life of prayer and repentance and, when appropriate, ecclesial trial and criminal prosecution.
Catholics are tired of this. They are tired of half-hearted efforts to patch up this problem. There has been remarkable progress in protecting children active in the Church from abuse. The number of new cases of credible accusations since the early 1990’s, while even one is too many, is a drip compared to the torrent of new cases between the 1960’s and 1980’s. That has a lot to do with the reforms that were adopted in the early to mid-1980’s. Even the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report confirms this, as fully 90% of the cases covered by the report occurred prior to 1990.
Well, now we need a new set of reforms that addresses seriously those in leadership who neglected to report abuse or who actively covered up the abuse. It’s not too strong to say that heads need to roll! If the Church’s credibility is to be restored, those who are at fault need to suffer the consequences.
I want to say a couple of more things, as well.
If you are a victim of abuse by a priest or by anyone working for the Church, you must report that abuse to the civil authorities. Do not be ashamed! This is not your fault! Your coming forward may protect others. But, you must also report your abuse to the Church. So often, the Church’s hands are tied because appropriate due process requires that the Church can only act on matters that are officially reported. So many victims choose to go only to the press, thinking wrongly that that means that due process will be initiated in the Church. That is not the case. You must also report your abuse to the Church.
If you are a parent and your child confides in you that he or she was abused, by a priest or by anyone, please take your child seriously and report this to the police. In both the case of Abp. McCarrick and William Casey, when the children finally mustered up the courage to report the abuse they were suffering to their parents, their parents dismissed them and refused to believe them. Don’t be that parent! Listen to your child. Take him or her seriously. Call the police.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.