The Pennsylvania Attorney General released the grand jury report looking at clerical sexual abuse across the commonwealth in six of the eight dioceses. The other two were previously investigated.
In the lead up to the release, I had heard it was going to be bad. Real bad. It is.
Just in Pennsylvania, 300 priests over 70 years.
And while the numbers alone are horrible, I read some of the accounts; some of the details not published in the papers. I struggle to find the words.
The level of sin and evil exhibited by these men is incredible. These crimes were against the weakest of us—our children. They were not the results of someone who was sick and struggling. They were not the results of someone having a moment of failure.
They were the actions of sinister men deliberately and intentionally committing some of the most egregious offenses against nature and morality. They were calculated efforts to abuse children and to coerce submission through their role as our highest moral authorities, our representatives to us and to God of our faith. These were not men struggling with some part of themselves that they tried to use their faith to combat. There were men who used their faith as a tactical weapon against these poor children.
And worse, others around them supported them in doing it. Sure, there are sometimes bad apples in a bunch but for the other priests and bishops who knew about these things to let them go? To hide them? To move them?
For some time, there was talk about the various recovery programs that priests used to be sent to for these crimes. At the time, so the talking points go, there was an understanding that this could be “treated”. Call it denial or something, but I gave the benefit of the doubt to those accounts. Yes, we know better now, but back then, maybe that really did make sense.
After hearing about the scope, reading the accounts, and attempting to internalize and grapple with what the authorities of my faith did, no. That line of argument does not past muster. There is no way that anyone hearing these accounts could think that all someone needed to do was go to treatment to “cure” them. Either these other priests and bishops stuck their heads in the sand and refused to hear what actually happened or they are far more disgusting than we as the American Church have ever been prepared to admit.
I want to be able to propose ways to stop this from ever happening again. Not the sexual abuse—though that should absolutely stop—but this institutional culture. Even after the Dallas Charter and all that we, as a church, have realized since 2002, how are there still more new accounts coming to light from decades ago that were known? Why are there redacted names of priests in the grand jury report of previously known events that weren’t made public. Even in those cases where it was deemed the accusations were not credible, is there enough transparency to vouch for that?
I wish I could write a polished post that would give some glimmer of hope. I can’t. Not right now. I can only remind myself that our faith is in Jesus Christ, not in the ministers of the Church.