The cover-up of decades of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests is real and widespread. It has made victims of thousands of Americans.
In August, after two years of investigation, a grand jury in Pennsylvania identified more than 1,000 people who had been victims of sexual abuse by priests over 70 years, with thousands more whose records either were lost or who were afraid to come forward.
According to the grand jury report, “despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”
In Illinois on Wednesday, outgoing Attorney General Lisa Madigan released results of her office’s investigation into how Illinois diocesan leaders have handled allegations of abuse. Her findings: Church officials in our state withheld the names of more than 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of children – only identifying 185 of the 690 to face accusations.
Madigan also found that allegations frequently were given only a cursory investigation, if any, and often the allegations were not reported to child welfare officials, sometimes because the accused priests were dead or had resigned.
“By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois,” Madigan said.
We can think of no excuse for covering up, much less enabling, the abuse of children. The wrongs that have been done to generations of children at the hands of clergy – or of anyone –áneed to be heard, known, resolved. This will not go away, and if you are someone who was a victim of such abuse, there’s a Clergy Abuse Hotline where you can tell your story: 888-414-7678.
Church officials have acknowledged the abuse scandal was a dark time in their history, one they insist they have put reforms in place to end.
But the findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury and the Illinois attorney general do not inspire our confidence.
If the church wishes to retain its moral authority, it must act to ensure that all allegations of abuse, past, present and future, are aired. When abuse is alleged, authorities must be notified –áthe church can and should not be allowed to treat child abuse allegations as a private matter.
Reports like Madigan’s, and that of the Pennsylvania grand jury, make it clear that the church’s response to this awful legacy has been incomplete.
The public demands to know who has been accused and the people who protected them. Those who can face justice must be brought to face it.
Until there is a true reckoning and official justice, no one should expect the popular anger to subside.