Philadelphia confronts "a crisis of faith"

While the Philadelphia Church reels from the latest grand jury report, a local columnist struggles to put the damning news in context:

At a time when the traditional family is under assault, marriage is threatened with redefinition, and we have reached the grim milestone of 50 million abortions since 1973, our bishops have shredded their moral credibility and left us, the people in the pews and the good priests and nuns who minister to us, feeling shamed, humiliated, angry and doubting. We are open to attack.

To read the grand jury report is to invite a crisis of faith.

Many Catholics may quit the church or, in fear, remove their children from Catholic schools. At least they will stop dropping money into collection plates. Who can blame them?

But before heading to the exits, Catholics should consider this.

Judas was an apostle.

That is to say, the church from its earliest days, has been convulsed with heartbreaking scandal.

In the 16th century, after Tetzel and other scandals sparked the Protestant Reformation, Saint Francis DeSales began the church anew.

It was a sullen task. Twice, he was beaten and left for dead in his evangelical travels through Europe.

Asked why he stuck with it, he said, “While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal, who allow scandals to destroy their faith, are guilty of spiritual suicide.”

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21 responses to “Philadelphia confronts "a crisis of faith"”

  1. Good points. The only thing I would add is that there is a real need for proactive, persistent and very visible support from the church hierarchy who do have the training and mandate to shepherd us here in Philadelphia. We simple souls just ache and are shaken to the core sometimes. We as a church need to step up and actively minister to one another.

    When i read the grand jury report and the apparent deep involvement of a legal team to manage things I was personally shaken. I am not naive to think legal protection isn’t necessary. But I am naive enough to believe that the flock needs constant shepherding lest we wander far astray. when the shepherd is struck the flock scaters. We need to be quickly gathered back up. Stat.

  2. At least the people of Philadelphia know the truth about their bishops’ role in the scandal there. Most dioceses (including ours) have never had a full investigation of our bishops’ role in the scandals in their dioceses.

    The priests who abused children are evil, and the bishops who allowed it to continue once they knew are morally corrupt.

  3. As a former Philadelphian, I did not think that after the 2005 Grand Jury Report on Clergy Abuse of Children I would be outraged again. (Since I had worked in the Archdiocese, I knew two of the priests personally and most of the chancery officials in the 2005 report. One of the priest perpetrators always gave me the creeps!)

    Some people will always blame the media as Cardinal Law did at the beginning of the Boston Globe exposé. I say thank God for the fourth estate. Others will blame the D.A as some Philadelphia Catholics blamed the “Jewish” D.A., Lynne Abraham, in 2005. Today the
    Philadelphia D.A. is Seth Williams, who is also prosecuting the grotesque abortionist, Kermit B. Gosnell, Here is an excerpt of his statement:

    “As a Roman Catholic myself, this is not a happy thing for me to have to do. The criminal acts that occurred here are not representative of my religion. They are the bad acts of individual men. I recognize all the good that the Roman Catholic Church has done and continues to do in the world. But I am sworn to uphold the law, and I will do what is necessary to protect children.”

    When will it end? (I have often wondered? Why hasn’t the Archdiocese of New York had to deal with these large-scale atrocities, as have Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and others?)

  4. I’m sure St. Peter Damian would agree that the evil must brought to light and rooted out.

    Don’t be afraid of the truth.

    Our hope is in Christ, not in the people who fail to live up to their calling.

  5. I just read the report, and I won’t lie, it scares me. It’s like Bill Donohue said, you can’t defend the indefensible.

  6. In the book Heretics, G. K. Chesterton reminds us that the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—are most needed and most useful when there seems to be the least reason for them. From the first revelations in 2002, we have needed charity to forgive both the predators and their episcopal enablers. Now, as things seem to get blacker, and the Church seems to be falling apart, we need hope to remain faithful Catholics even when jumping ship seems the most rational thing to do.

  7. This is, to me, excellent news. I found and find it hard to believe that those that were in charge of the priests did nothing to protect the children during all those years when the crimes were being committed. My guess is all they could think of was protecting the church from scandal, so just sent them on to molest somewhere else or they received “treatment” and returned to working with children. They put the church above the safety of the children. How anyone could do that is beyond my comprehension. Good for Philadelphia and their judicial system. Hope others across the country (and in the other countries in the world) will use Philly as an example and start investigating other Bishops and higher up if necessary.
    I’m sure that many Catholics are questioning those that they were taught to trust. (as they should). It’s a shame. Obviously not all priests are going to molest children, but as a parent I’d not trust my children alone with any man of the cloth.

  8. Pagan Sister, it is never excellent news when an institution that has been the light of the world since the time of Christ gets vilified because of some bad apples. Hopefully, however, when it is all said and done, those perverts will get justice. It is unfortunate that you let your bias and anger cloud your judgement with regards to the Catholic priesthood which is comprised, overwhelmingly of devoted and decent men.

    Pax et Bonum

  9. It is so sad and so very troubling to learn about this. Abusing the children is evil, but so is the protection given by the Bishop.
    I am glad to see the Church reach out, apologize, settle lawsuits, etc.
    But you know what…I could go for a bit of righteous outrage from the Church. Remember, Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers.
    God will always remain with the Catholic Church, but we have way too many moneychangers around. Clean it out, STAND FOR SOMETHING.

  10. Several thoughts:

    Those who abuse children and those who protect them should go to jail.

    Civil authorities have a pretty poor record of bringing justice to the abusers and protecting those falsely accused. Even still, those who become aware or suspicious of a child having been abused are morally obligated to report such to the authorities, whether or not the law requires them to. They are the ones who are able to employ the force of law in these cases.

    The fact that Catholic priests have abused children and that bishops have protected them has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of Catholic doctrine, any more than a science teacher abusing a student has any bearing on the truth of evolution. Happily, we have the option of refusing to support the Church financially, or of directing our support to those ministries of the Church that do good work. We don’t have the option of refusing to pay taxes that support public institutions that higher and protect public employees who abuse children or commit other crimes.

    Regardless of the heinous nature of the particular crime of which one is accused, one really is innocent until proven guilty, and we should all be grateful for that fact. Discretion is a priority in these matters. Once a person is proved guilty, there is no further obligation to protect his no longer good name.

    If evidence shows that Cardinal Bevilacqua or Cardinal Rigali covered up the crimes of priests, they should be prosecuted. If evidence shows no such thing, the shouldn’t be. It matters not one wit if you like or hate them, if you’re convinced they’re guilty or insist on their innocence. What matters is to what conclusion does the evidence point.

    Both the US Bishop’s investigation and that of the John Jay Society reveal that fully 80% of cases of priestly abuse of children were cases of homosexual statutory rape. Refusing to acknowledge that fact out of some misdirected PC agenda is not going to help protect the children or help the Church solve this problem. Again, we must accept where the evidence points and act accordingly.

    The Church has made significant progress in implementing reforms and those reforms have been largely successful. The numbers of accusations against priests in the 70’s was in the dozens or maybe even the hundred. The number of accusations made in 2009 was six. Refusing to acknowledge progress made, or the myth that the Church has done nothing in response to this scandal or that there is nothing that can be done — all of these only help perpetuate the problem. Unfortunately, few other institutions have acknowledged the problem or implemented reforms.

    The recent grand jury investigation was made possible by changing the law in PA to extend the statute of limitations on cases of child abuse. Unfortunately, the state of PA decided it would protect it’s own workers, so the extension only applies to employees of private institutions. Public institutions were given a pass. If you support the prosecution of these priests by the DA under the new law extending the statute of limitations, then you must write your state legislators and demand that the extention apply to ALL molesters, whether employed by private or public institutions. Most states also apply a cap to the amount of financial restitution a victim can receive if their abuser was a public employee, which is why most lawyers won’t take their cases — there isn’t much money to be made suing the state or local school board.

  11. As a Philadelphia and New Jersey catholic, I have followed Cardinal Rigali’s response to the priest abuse scandal and see it to be overwhelmingly positive, pro-active and upfront. What more can he do? Now, I see the actions of SNAP filled with anger and revenge. How can healing come from this? I don’t believe they are about healing and justice. I am sorry, but, there is too much anger and hatred coming from this group. There is another side to these accusations, the accused’s response. I refer everyone to a website, “These Stone Wall’s” for one such response. For myself, I am standing with the Cardinal and the clergy and laity who need our prayers for the almost impossible task of sorting out truth from lies, facts from fiction. The Holy Spirit will help them and guide them because they belong to Him. But, at this stage of the assault, I think too many have been fed with the media’s one-sided presentation of everything from the victim’s account to alleged cover-ups. Who is interested in hearing the other side defend anyone or try to explain any action taken or not taken? If we don’t pray very hard, the enemies of God and His Church will inflict more harm than anyone can handle. Thank God, His Mercy is greater than any sin we can commit, and, oh, how we need His priests.

  12. How about some perspective? What about the routine sexual and emotional abuse that happens in our own society every day? Parents sexually abusing children on a routine basis. If we can’t stop it amongst ourselves, why are we surprised and outraged that there are a few reprobates within the clergy? This isn’t just a Catholic issue, it happens in Protestant, Jewish, Muslim faiths; some are better at suppressing than others but it can’t be denied.

    These issues have been chronicled back to Roman, Greek, Egyptian societies, African tribal society, etc.

    Just as in court, justice itself isn’t served any longer, just legal machinations and maneuverings, so too with the press. Since when has the Press/the 4th Estate not stooped to manipulation; when has a politician (DA or other) not manipulated issues to aggrandizement. Get a grip folks. Tragic? Sure. Disappointed as a Catholic? Sure. Disappointed even more to know that I sit in pews at Church with parents who are pedophiles or latent homosexuals. The magnitude of these problems in society at large I am sure will scare us all if it truly ever surfaces. I find parental abuse, abuse of children by teachers, caretakers, etc., just as horrific…that done by parents (and those numbers are legion!) far worse, far worse than anything done by religious. Parents have a charge that is even more awesome than priests, nuns or other dedicated religious.

  13. To: Tim McC:

    Re: Your comment: “Disappointed as a Catholic? Sure.”

    Disappointed is not the right word here. OUTRAGE is. These are men who hear confessions and say the words of Consecration over the bread and wine!

    I have read the Grand Jury Reports, which have been posted on the Philadelphia Inquirer website. Was I being manipulated by the media? I don’t think so. I was shown the raw data that exposed the truth.

    This is an ABUSE OF POWER on all levels. Both the perpetrators and those who covered-up their crimes have abused power.

    Will these atrocities cause me to leave the Church of my earliest days? Will I turn my back on the Church in which I have ministered for so many years? Most probably not. But I would appreciate if you would not distract from the legitimate outrage surrounding this issue with talk of the pervasiveness of such crimes throughout the centuries and across society. As to lawyers, remember every diocese has civil lawyers. As to power plays of D.A.s, I refer you to the words of the Philadelphia D.A., Seth Williams that I posted yesterday. (Now there’s a crisis of faith.)

  14. To BobRN and TimMc, I agree and thank you for your wise insight. It is so disheartening to hear our own catholic brothers and sisters coming against the clergy and their catholic faith. Some say they are good catholics. Why are the lines for Confession so short for years now? Sin is no longer considered sin and our culture is permeated with the normalization of sin. We are even entertained to the max with what used to be called sin. This is a major cause of so much sadness today. While we are focusing on the sins of a small number of priests and tearing down the Church, we need to say Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa and find our way to the confessional line. How do I measure up to what the Lord has expected of me in my vocation as a wife and mother. Lord have Mercy on me, a sinner. Pray for our priests and do not attack them. (The words of Our Blessed Mother in the Pieta Book)

  15. HMS,

    I heartily agree that the right word here is outrage.

    That’s why I’m surprised by the answer to your own question of whether these atrocities will cause you to leave the Church. You answer only “Most probably not”. Why not “definitely not”? If anyone is ever justified in abandoning the Church over the sins of her members, you should have left a long time ago. My sins alone would provide more than adequate justification.

    Finally, I don’t think Tim McC’s effort to provide perspective is totally wasteful. Certainly the abuse of children by non-Catholics provides no cover to abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops. But it does say something about our response to the crisis. While many Catholics have left the Church, others have held back their financial support. Some may justify this, but it is hardly consistent to do so if there is no equal effort to, for instance, remove our children from the public schools, or refuse to pay our taxes because they go to the support of molesters and those who cover for them. Consider how much of our state and federal tax money goes to Planned Parenthood alone, an organization with a long record of covering for rapists? Are we prepared to demand that the United States not participate in the Olympics because US Swimming, the organization that determines which of our swimming athletes go to the Olympics, has shown to be rife with the abuse of children and the cover up of this abuse? The local SNAP chapter here in Knoxville has been raising the issue for years about Bp O’Connell’s picture remaining on display at Knoxville Catholic High School. In the mean time, it’s been revealed that a number of public school children have been abused and sexually exploited by their teachers, including one incident that led to the tragic murder of a student, about which SNAP has said … nothing.

    Also, if the authorities decide to focus their investigations and prosecutions on private institutions and largely ignore the crimes committed by those employed by public/state institutions, what will that mean in years hence when the only option for the education or recreation of our children will be to send them to schools where known molesters are hired (reference the recent Congressional investigation of public schools) and protected at rates far more alarming than that of the Church? The Church needs to clean house, and has actively worked to do so with success. Where is the motivation for our public institutions to do the same? After all, it isn’t about the Church or the public schools. It’s about protecting the children. Doesn’t the DA have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute the abuse of children no matter where it occurs? Of course he does, and I know you agree with that. Which is why I’m sure you are as scandalized as I am that the law extending the statute of limitations on child abuse in PA applied only to private institutions.

  16. BobRN:
    In response to your query: Why not “definitely not?”

    I thought of saying “Never” but life experience has taught me “Never, say Never.” Also, I would not want to commit the sin of presumption (saying that I can be saved with my own efforts, without God’s help. – Baltimore Catechism, #207) Anyway, the definition of probably is “with considerable certainty; without much doubt.” So I will say, “definitely not, with God’s help.” OK?

    I still think, however, that talking about how pervasive these atrocities are in other social groups, etc. can be a distraction from the enormity of what is happening within our Church. I would like to think that we have a higher standard.

  17. HMS,

    Fair enough. May we all be blessed with the grace of final perseverance.

    Other social groups? Maybe for you those who attend and teach at public schools constitute another social group. But my kids attend public schools, as do the great majority of Catholic children. We are Catholic, and we have a deeply invested interest in the actions of our priests and bishops. But we’re not only Catholics. We’re also Americans. I’m a Tennessean and a Knoxvillian. I am outraged by the sins of these priests and the bishops who protected them. I have no sympathy for any of them. If guilty, they should go to jail. But, I am equally outraged at the level of such abuse that takes place in Knox County Schools and would be outraged at my state legislature if they passed a law extending the statute of limitations for child abuse, but limited the reach of said statute to children abused by employees of private institutions.

    Even if your children attend Catholic schools, you still support the public schools with your taxes. You still support Planned Parenthood with your state and federal taxes. The molesters and their protectors in the public schools and at Planned Parenthood are as much your molesters and protectors, HMS, as are the guilty priests and bishops.

    It helps no one to pretend that this is only a Catholic problem. The investigations of the Catholic Church are a necessary part of cleansing the Church of the filth of child molesters. But, what of the tens of thousands each year who are abused by public school employees? Where is their Jeff Anderson? Where is the DA who is working tirelessly to cleanse the schools of molesters? Where are the state legislators demanding accountability, instead of passing laws to protect the state budgets from the potential financial fallout?

    This has nothing to do with on which “social group” we should be focused. This is about protecting children — ALL children. We can’t pretend that a child abused by a public school teacher isn’t our problem because we’re Catholic. The great majority of Catholic kids and, frankly, kids who aren’t Catholic, abused by molesters are abused by molesters who are NOT priests. They are our children, too.

  18. I live near Philadelphia and I am a member of the Archdiocese. I am so angry that I don’t know what to do. We, the faithful, were betrayed by our leaders. What occured in the Achdiocese of Philadelphia is systemic. I am appalled at the lack of courage being exhibited by Cardinal Rigali. The only thing that the Church can do is take full accountability for it’s actions. They need to have complete transparency. The leadership of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia need to resign immediately. They are no longer capable of leading. This is such an atrocity I can’t find the words for my disgust. They still don’t ‘get it’. Today Cardinal Rigali said, “Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the Archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse. We do. The task before us now is to recognize where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve.” I am in disbelief of the arrogance he is displaying. They immediately went into defensive mode when the grand jury report was released. They released statements over the weekend clearly witten by lawyers. The Cardinal and Bishops do not understand the people for who they minister. This is an outrage and the anger simmering among the people will rise to the surface. Lay Catholics and the innocent parish priests must finally stand up and say enough. The only power I hold is in the ability to withhold money. If that is what it takes then I will make that statement and send a note voicing my dipleasure in my weekly envolope until real changes are made. Maybe this will finally start the changes that the Heirarchy of the Roman Catholic Church need so desparately.

  19. Catholic priests who indoctrinated you from childhood into the faith, teaching us that it is sinful to LIE and be DECEITFUL and a mortal sin to receive communion with sins on OUR souls but its OK for the molesting clergy (now in the thousands worldwide)to LIE and be DECEITFUL and others to MOLEST over and over to give themselves holy communion every time they said mass. HYPOCRACY!

    Priests share living quaters with priests from their dioceses over the years, these priests all know who the hard working priests are, who the drunks are and yes who the molesters were, yet these so called good clergy did nothing to stop what was going on.

    These so called holy men every sunday in the pulpit pointing fingers at the congregation for their trivial sins, yet the parents sitting in the pews with their molested sons haven’t got a clue that the priest in the pulpit is fully aware of their son being molested by a brother priest and they did nothing ti stop it.
    Where were all the so called good priests/bishops who knew these crimes were being committed? Why have they been so silent almost complicit of these crimes themselves.

    SHAMEFUL………any catholic clergy who molested, any catholic clergy who was fully aware of the felony crimes committed by their fellow priests and did nothing to stop it.

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