New Orleans The grand jury reports from Pennsylvania, based on its investigation into the records and archives of six of the eight dioceses in the state, have been horrific. Over 1000 cases of sexual abuse of young men and women, children really, have been identified. Another 1000 are thought to exist but could not be identified clearly in the records or did not come forward during the investigation. The list of priests involved has been in the hundreds almost invariably not known publicly to their congregants and within the parishes where they served.
The head of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops has gone to Rome following church protocol to ask for an apostolic investigation of the church in the United States, which in lay terms means a papal approved oversight into the US church’s handling of these matters. Pope Francis has more clearly than ever expressed that he stands with the victims.
This has been a long running horror for the Catholic Church in America – and in many other countries – and all of us. After years of resistance and denial, payments by various units of the church in the US have reportedly reached over $3 billion forcing the sale of assets and even bankruptcy by some jurisdictions. But, no matter the recognition of the widespread nature of this scandal, it has not gone away because despite the many apologies, it is still shrouded in darkness. The credibility of the church still exists in some scattered locations, but the credibility of the institution and its leadership has been shattered and for all practical purposes does not exist, even as one Sunday continues to follow another and some, though fewer, believers continue to attend and contribute.
This is not a scandal that can continue to be “weathered.” There is no way not to believe that one shoe after another of the same brand and similar size will continue to drop in different locations around the country. Other grand juries in other states and localities are inevitably going to begin similar investigations in the wake of the Pennsylvania revelations.
The Church needs to embrace transparency and change, if it is going to survive and rebuild as a moral factor in the United States. The archives of all dioceses need to be opened to other leaders, historians, and objective eyes and voices, if the Church is going to get a step ahead of the prosecutors.
The time for apologies is over. A house cleaning is in order. A cultural shift is necessary. Internal reforms are needed from top to bottom.
The Church has survived many cataclysmic events from the Reformation to the Inquisition to their role in colonial imperialism. It will survive this at some level, no matter how crippled, but why not follow its own theology and fully confess in order to achieve both mercy and atonement?
Words have failed. Sweeping and comprehensive action is imperative.