“Whoever has ears ought to hear.” —Matthew 11:15
I’m working my way through the Grand Jury report right now. It’s hard to read, but as a member of this greater Catholic community, I feel like I owe the victims who have been silenced by the church that much. If it’s hard for me to read, how much harder was it for them to live?
I’m not surprised there are so many predators among the clergy. I’m not surprised there are so many known victims. I’m not at all surprised so many of these predators were sheltered and enabled by their superiors and other adults in positions of power.
This was never just Boston. This is everywhere.
I expect to see a lot of talk about how most of these sexual assaults happened before safeguards were put into place, but I see that as a distraction. Those safeguards won’t protect the victims in this report. And those safeguards won’t protect every future victim, even if they are an improvement. We can do better.
We can’t become complacent. We can’t believe this is all over and in the past. Some of the men who enabled this abuse have never been held accountable. It’s not over.
Later, I’ll start sharing my suggestions about how we can move forward.
Right now, I’m going to sit here and read this report. I’m going to center the victims and honor them. I’m going to mourn with them.
And when more victims come forward over the next few months—and they will—I’ll mourn with them too. I’ll believe them too.
I’m here because I love Jesus. Jesus would embrace the victims and rebuke the predators and anyone who enabled them.
“While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’ That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered.” –Grand Jury report
It’s not creating a “scandal” to stand beside victims and mourn alongside them. It’s not stirring up trouble to say church leaders should be held accountable for their roles. It’s not hurting the witness of the church to speak truth.
The scandal is how often victims endured cruelty, not just from an abusive priest, but from bishops and other authority figures who could have and should have kept them safe. The abusers and enablers stir up trouble when they hide behind Christ as they brutalized children, teenagers, and adults. The abusers and enablers hurt the witness of the church when they decided to protect the institution at the expense of the victims.
They were never protecting the church. They were protecting themselves.
Many of these men will never face accountability in this life. Some of them have already passed. So, what do we do with that?
We have several challenges for the future:
How do we prevent future abuse?
How do we support existing victims?
How do we make it safe for victims to come forward?
How do we proceed when there is no way for many of these victims to receive justice on Earth?
How do we make sure we aren’t contributing in some way to this systemic problem?
This isn’t just a Catholic problem. All Christian churches can be (and often are) safe havens for predators. We will be seeing more of these stories come out of all corners, so get ready. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.
We can make our churches safer for vulnerable people and more dangerous for predators, but only if we listen first.
The church’s victims bring a prophetic voice to us. We’d better hear it.