THE issue of pedophilia or the sexual abuses of the clergy is old. But the discovery of widespread cover up is recent. People were shocked, angered and devastated by the recent revelations concerning former Cardinal and retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick. How the story was buried under the rug for a long time is the overarching issue. As if that horrific blow was not enough, on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother this August, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released its report on clergy sex abuses in six dioceses of Pennsylvania, covering seven decades.
The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston Archdiocese calls it a moral failure. Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample names it by the tail: institutional failure—in the sense that a cleric, as in the case of Cardinal McCarrick, known with the problem of active homosexuality even as a priest in the Archdiocese of New York could rise to highest stature in Catholic Church unimpeded and without being challenged or held accountable. Sordid stories of people and priests who as seminarians were victims of McCarrick are recently reported by Catholic News Agency (CNA) and by no less than the USCCB’s Catholic News Service (CNS).
The culture of cover up and the customary hiding of sexual and, worse, monetary abuses of clerics under the rug are not only true in the US. They may also be true in other countries. It is told that when a book was published in the Philippines about clerical abuses, a high ranking church official, or so goes the story, asked that the books be bought so as not to get them circulated widely. The mentality to kill the story before a scandal escalates, instead of confronting the abuser or punishing the predator, is common even among church leaders. In many circles, the scandal seems to be a bigger concern than the pitiable suffering of abuse victims.
In his letter addressed “to the people God” and released on August 20, 2018, Pope Francis points out that the outcry of abuse victims is more powerful than the efforts to silence them. He says, “The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced…But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence them.” The pope is aware how widespread the abuse is: “I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.”
In the same letter, the Holy Father says that “No effort must be spared” to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and “to prevent the possibility of their being covered up.” He asks everyone to go on prayer and penance—and also dismantle the entrenched clericalism in the Church that lurks at the very root of this crisis.