The Catholic Church is only a short time behind the entertainment industry. Revelations of retired Cardinal Archbishop Theadore McCarrick’s many years as a sexual abuser, together with a 10-year delayed report on clergy sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses have captured headlines on media outlets around the United States and the world. Catholics have found themselves shocked, shamed and bewildered once again, having gone through a similar experience 10 years ago, after a similar exposé in the Boston Globe newspaper. People all over the nation have been calling in to National Public Radio to vent their hatred for the Catholic Church, at times, gleeful hatred.   

Where evil exists, it must be rooted out. From that perspective, what has happened is a good thing. Sixteen years ago, the United States Conference of Bishops met in Dallas to create a “Charter for the Protection of Children” following the revelations in the Boston Globe. There immediately followed the submission of 50 years of diocesan files to local district attorneys and the expulsion of many offending priests from their ministry, the establishment of independent review boards composed largely of laity to handle any accusations of sexual abuse by employees of the Catholic dioceses, clergy or lay; classes in Catholic seminaries and in Catholic schools and parish religion programs to make minors and future priests aware of proper sexual boundaries and the need to observe them; bi-yearly audits were instituted in all Catholic dioceses to be conducted by former FBI agents to make sure that the reforms demanded in the Charter were being carried out. The result was a gratifying decrease in cases of abuse of minors. However, one needed reform was not included in the Charter sanctions for bishops who neglected to institute these reforms or to follow them personally. 

The vast majority of bishops and their dioceses have been faithful to the reforms demanded in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children. That is why the appearance of the State of Pennsylvania Attorney General’s report now, after so many years, is puzzling. Its thoroughness and accuracy are not in doubt, but why now, at this moment? It was in the making long before the McCarrick disclosures. It does remind us of how awful and damaging to victims and also to the faith of many good Catholics this kind of criminal behavior on the part of priests and a few bishops has been, but that was a truth revealed 10 years ago. In our own Diocese of Baton Rouge, we even called a press conference ourselves to make the facts of abuse known along with our response to local cases of it. Under our newly retired Bishop W. Robert Muench, the diocese changed the name of the former Bishop Sullivan High School to St. Michael the Archangel High School after credible accusations were received against a bishop of that name then dead for more than 10 years. 

Carville.pdf

Once again we have to go through another abuse crisis. What I hope we have learned is that our worldwide church moves too slowly. Right now only the pope can fire a bishop. Pope Francis has his hands too full with abuse crisis in Australia, Chile, and now again in the United States. A better system needs to be set up for monitoring bishops as well as the rest of us. Sexual abuse, like alcoholism and drug abuse, can be an addiction. It will appear in a certain percentage of the population. We know from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice data collected 10 years ago that four percent of Catholic clergy over a 50-year period were guilty of sexual abuse. I would suspect that percentage holds true for the general population. No profession or vocation will be exempt from addictions. We need to admit this and protect the vulnerable, especially children and minors, from such abuse.  

Father Richard Rohr OFM, whom some of you read and even have heard speak in person, wrote in one of his books that we should welcome a daily embarrassment to remind us of our sinful humanity and our need of God’s grace. Yet, I honestly pray to be delivered from this kind of embarrassment again, ever.  

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.