Something Rotten in the Diocese of Arlington

Something Rotten in the Diocese of Arlington August 23, 2018

“No person in ministry has been credibly accused of sexual abuse means there are no priests actively serving in ministry in our Diocese with credible accusations against them. In case you want to contact us for more clarity, you can contact”

Okay, so there are not at the MOMENT any priests with CREDIBLE accusations against them CURRENTLY in ministry serving in the geographical region of the diocese. That’s quite a bit more specific than “there is no priest and will never be such a priest in ministry who has committed such crimes.”

In fact, “There IS NO PRIEST in ministry who HAS COMMITTED such crimes” seems to refer to past events; to the fluent English speaker it sounds like the bishop was claiming that there is not a single priest in existence who has committed such crimes on his turf, it never happened, such a priest does not exist and is not in ministry anywhere– not that the diocese successfully sent them all away recently. At least, one could be excused for assuming such a thing. I’m curious to know how they can be so certain of their success in getting rid of all the abusive priests and when the Great Purge occurred anyway. Was it five minutes or five years before the bishop made his optimistic statement? What means were used? Where are the abusers now? And what safeguards are in place to make the bishop so certain that they’ll never ever happen again, since the diocese is publicly tacitly all but admitting that they’ve happened? Nothing I can find on the diocesan website sounds that foolproof. There are the usual assurances of law enforcement, background checks and such, but the dioceses recently exposed for covering up child abuse in Pennsylvania no doubt had similar things. Where does Bishop Burbidge’s confidence come from that the problem is solved forever?

And while I’m asking questions, are people supposed to feel encouraged to come forward with their “concerns” if the diocese is this weird, evasive and double-speaky in public? I see no reason to believe they’ll be taken seriously.

“But there were priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Arlington within the last 20 years,” insists Cat in the Hat in their final tweet there.  “That’s the truth. That they are no longer active in Arlington does not change that fact. The bishop needs to be honest.”

I concur.

Now is not the time to be optimistic or offer false encouragement– particularly to the youth. The youth have been the chief victims in all of this. They are the ones who need perfect openness and transparency. They need absolute certainty that if they have something terrible to report to the diocese, the diocese will listen and will give them the benefit of the doubt. Because a cursory search reveals that priests in the Diocese of Arlington have certainly been the subject of credible allegations of sexual misconduct– so credible that they were admitted into the court record, as the Washington Post reported at the time.

That child pornography conviction and the testimony about the priest exposing himself, as reported in the Post, happened in 2005, which is less than twenty years ago. Yes, you can argue that the priest is a “former priest” who resigned when he was caught and the misconduct described happened more than 20 years ago, and maybe the Diocese of Arlington handled that situation just fine– but now you understand why the Diocese has to be so odd in the way they qualify the bishop’s boasting.

It’s simply not appropriate to boast at a time like this.

Dioceses all around the the country, and indeed all around the world, need to be perfectly transparent.

I suggest that we all employ that email address that was publicly tweeted. Do as the diocese encouraged us to do. Write to and demand to know what the bishop was trying to say. What we need now is a public statement about past abuses and the way they were handled, be it appropriately or not. And we need no lies that they won’t happen again– because, despite His Excellency’s confidence, the fact is that there is no magic charm that will make the problem of sexual abuse cease to exist. Not in the priesthood, not in the great state of Virginia, not in the Catholic Church or the United States, or in North America or in any institution or geographical location that has human beings in it, from now until Christ returns. It’s just not going to happen. You can’t force people to behave 100% of the time. You can anticipate bad behavior and take reasonable steps to prevent it. But you must also plan for what you’ll do to stop it immediately, punish the perpetrators and help the victims when it eventually happens anyway. That’s how running an institution of any kind works.

Catholics, particularly the Catholic youth, do not need pep talks. We need neither optimistic promises nor qualified reassurances. We need facts, we need accountability, and we need concrete action. We need them immediately. Since we have no reason to believe they’re forthcoming, we need to demand them.

Tell Bishop Burbidge you’re concerned. He did ask you to, after all.

(image via Pixabay) 



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