A good friend of mine text me last week and asked about my opinions of the recent church scandal from several dioceses in Pennsylvania. She asked how I felt about it and mentioned while she couldn’t quite label it, this story was really bothering her. With the start of school I had seen the headline but not had a chance to look at the story. The next night, a local friend of mine asked the same – what I thought of things. She had read the grand jury report. I was inspired to do the same.
Shocking would not even begin to describe the multiple levels of institutional corruption and deceit described in the report. It’s simply horrifying. As a Law and Order SVU aficionado, I know that EACH victim should be accounted for. And there are over a thousand. One thousand victims. The additional level of abuse was the consistent and systemic coverup from within the church. There are repeated instances of sympathy for the priests that accompany the concerns that they “may” have done something inappropriate.
Which brought me to mass this past weekend. I was extremely lucky to grow up in a parish where our pastor was there from when I started school until his passing decades later. Additionally, at our current church, our Pastor Emeritus has a long history as a well loved pillar in the community. He was the one conducting mass. All I kept thinking over and over in my head was, “what if it had been one of them?” A common theme in the report was the use of trust to coerce victims under the guise of holiness or even worse, punishment that they were not following God’s ways. How did these victims move forward knowing that those who they should have the most faith in took advantage of their faith?
We left mass and when I brought the report up on the drive home, Matthew said, “why didn’t these priests just seek out some hourly woman and be on their way?” Which is what makes the extent of the abuse and the manner it occurred so explicitly clear. It also is the answer to my friend’s original question. Of course the abuse is wrong, morally and legally. The trauma that accompanies these cases is it is the highest level of abuse of power. If I can’t trust my priest – the closest relation we can come to Jesus, then what does that mean? If my four sons are not safe alone with the people who we are supposed to trust most, then where do we go from here? And as a parent, what a horrifying thought. Talk about leading the lambs to the lions den.
The 887 page grand jury report is written with around 300 pages of detailed introduction, analysis, and recommendations. This is followed by 500 pages of individual priests listed with their personal histories of abuse. Many of these priests have since died or selected “early retirement.” Which sounds like it makes sense until I made it to the second priest listed. He retired early. Down in Boca – near where several of our friends and their children live. Suddenly I wanted to scream at my computer “STAY AWAY FROM HIM!” The true tragedy strikes at home. We must be vigilant. We must be wise. We must trust our instincts and our children. The statue of limitations on these cases for the most part is over. These men may still be out there and you may have no idea. The heartbreak of the report details many times how the church covered up these instances but detailed how “the mother/father of the victims were very agitated and upset” with concerns that these parents “might be a problem.” I hope that we are in a different time. I know that social media today so often provides a voice to those we consider too young- but with these instances hopefully it would give a victim a voice that they may not have felt in the past. I pray that we have greater visibility of the church and better use of technology to vet our clergy. I pray for those priests who bravely continue to minister because they are true followers of Christ, knowing that the actions of their peers have brought their own vocation and actions into question. Undoubtedly, more stories like this will come to light as victims feel some courage to step forward. The damage that has been done will take years to recover. Like the scandals revealed in 2002, steps were taken nationwide to protect today’s children and certainly it will happen again. It must.