Pennsylvania Catholic Abuse: “It’s Your Word against God’s”

Pennsylvania Catholic Abuse: “It’s Your Word against God’s” August 17, 2018

As many of you will know, Pennsylvania State has released a massive report of the Catholic priest abuse that has taken place over the years. If not, The Guardian reports it as follows:

More than 300 “predator priests” were found to have committed sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, harming more than 1,000 children, according to a grand jury report released by the state supreme court on Tuesday.

The near-900-page report is the result of one of the largest US investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In painful detail, it showcases how for decades one of the most powerful churches in the world hid the abuse and suffering of children.

“There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic church,” the report said. “But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”

The incidents described include a priest who impregnated a minor and helped her get an abortion, then was allowed to stay in the ministry; a priest who confessed to the oral and anal rape of at least 15 boys, including one as young as seven; and a priest who collected the urine, pubic hair and menstrual blood of girls he abused in his home.

The report said “almost every instance of abuse” was too old to be prosecuted, though two priests were identified and charged because of the report, including one who sexually assaulted two children monthly for several years until 2010.

“We know that child abuse in the church has not yet disappeared because we are charging two priests, in two different dioceses, with crimes that fall within the statute of limitations,” the report said.

Twenty-three grand jurors – including practicing Catholics – worked for two years to compile the report based on internal documents surrendered by the six dioceses it investigated and testimony from victims. More than a dozen priests appeared before the grand jury and “most of them admitted what they had done”, the report said.

The grand jury wrote that they also consulted the FBI, which analyzed cover-ups to find what the grand jury described as “a playbook for concealing the truth”.

The grand jury said it was able to identify more than 1,000 mostly male child victims, but expected there were thousands more because of lost records and victims who have not come forward.

Here are some moving testimonies from victims, interviewed by the BBC. I hope you can all watch the video, but I imagine non-UK citizens may struggle. Certain moments are particularly poignant:

“Just the word ‘God’ makes me think of him…. They still haven’t found him.”

“The first thought of an erection you have is by the hands of the priest… Father Karchik in my eighth-grade year was just up and moved with no notice, no anything. The town was devastated; everybody loved him. He abused it and the church covered it up…. It doesn’t ever go away. It has an effect on you for the rest of your life.”

In a further article “Pennsylvania sexual abuse report is another setback for Pope Francis“, Harriet Sherwood points out that the Pope promised decisive action, but there has been relatively little:

Francis, considered progressive and enlightened on many issues, has struggled to get a grip on the scandal that has gravely weakened the Catholic church’s moral authority. Despite calling for “decisive action” when he was elected as pontiff in 2013, he has failed to turn that into a reality. Instead he has been on the back foot, reactive rather than proactive, and has misread the extent of betrayal by the church.

A special papal commission set up to make recommendations on the church’s role in child protection ran into difficulties last year when two members – both abuse survivors – quit. One, Peter Saunders, said he had thought the pope was “serious about kicking backsides and holding people to account” but that it turned out not to be so. The other, Marie Collins, said the abuse crisis was handled “with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors”.

The list of scandals is long. Here is a taster from this year alone:

On Tuesday, just hours before the publication of the grand jury report on Pennsylvania, Chilean authorities raided the headquarters of the Catholic church’s episcopal conference, presumably in search of further evidence of abuse and of a cover-up. Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, has also been summoned to testify in court about the alleged concealment of years of abuse.

In Australia in May, Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, became the most senior Catholic cleric convicted of concealing child abuse after he failed to report the abuse of two altar boys by a priest in the 1970s. For two months after his conviction he refused to resign his position, leading Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian prime minister, to publicly call on the pope to remove him.

Francis accepted Wilson’s belated offer to leave his post just a few days after he accepted the resignation as cardinal of Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington DC, amid allegations of sexual abuse including claims involving an 11-year-old boy. Two dioceses in New Jersey secretly reached financial settlements in 2005 and 2007 with men who said they were abused by McCarrick decades ago, according to a New York Times report.

In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, is to go on trial next year on criminal charges of covering up sexual abuse. Also in the dock will be archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office, and five other Catholic church officials who allegedly failed to report allegations of abuse to the authorities.

The report makes for pretty tough reading, by all accounts:

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the report said. “Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”

If you have never seen it, I implore you to watch Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s amazing film, Mea Maxima Culpa, available in full here:

Will they learn, or will it all still be in the name of self-preservation?

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