God vs Gavel
The Truth vs. Public Relations
While it is possible to get whiplash when one tries to sort out the public relations from the facts of child sex abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church, it is still a worthwhile inquiry. This week it is absolutely critical that all those who care about children pay attention, because the bishops are in high dudgeon as they try to clear the air before Holy Week.
Let us compare some recent statements by Archbishop Timothy Dolan with recent statements by the Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. Put on your neck brace.
From the 2011 Philadelphia Grand Jury's Report on the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which resulted in criminal indictments against three priests (one now defrocked), a teacher, and a monsignor:
The present grand jury . . . is frustrated to report that much has not changed [since the 2005 Report documenting abuse and a concerted coverup in the Archdiocese]. The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers—dozens of them, we believe—remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey.
Here is Archbishop Dolan's response in a March 24, 2011, press release on the Conference website: "We bishops recommit ourselves to the rigorous mandates of the Charter, and renew our confidence in its effectiveness."
The 2011 Report again:
Most disheartening to the grand jury was what we learned about the current practice toward accused abusers in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. We would have assumed, by the year 2011, after all the revelations both here and around the world, that the church would not risk its youth by leaving them in the presence of priests subject to substantial evidence of abuse. That is not the case.
In fact, we discovered that there have been at least 37 such priests who have been kept in assignments that expose them to children. Ten of these priests have been in place since before 2005—over six years ago. We understand that accusations are not proof; but we just cannot understand the Archdiocese's apparent absence of any sense of urgency.
Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali soon thereafter removed twenty-nine priests from active ministry. Admittedly, he did not do it all at once, but that is the running total for now.
This week, the Conference of Bishops released its self-study (which is euphemistically called an "audit") of recent abuse reports. Fr. Roger Landry says that Dolan "suggested that the U.S. bishops, beginning in Dallas in 2002, have shown true signs of repentance, creating a culture that not only is totally intolerant of abuse, but has fostered protocols and procedures that have made the Catholic Church what it always should have been: a leader in the protection of children."
Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, 2008) and God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2005, 2007).