In 2002, “Boston” became synonymous for “the” Catholic sex abuse crisis. The Boston Globe broke the story on how Bernard Cardinal Law, his predecessors, and others within the Archdiocese of Boston had shuffled predatory priests from parish to parish.
One notorious one, whom I intentionally am not using his name, molested over 130 children starting in the 1960s who had been removed from multiple parish and sent to “treatment” multiple times had continually been put back into ministry without informing anyone in these new assignment of the wolf in sheep’s clothing being sent in.
The Church—at least some of it—was shocked and horrified. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered and formulated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, commonly known as the Dallas Charter, after the city where they had met to create it.
Ironically, perhaps, Dallas itself was known already in Catholic sex abuse circles for Rudy Kos. Then-Father Kos had molested who knows how many boys, resulting in three convictions for aggravated sexual assualt and given a life sentence. Bishop Grahmann and his predecessor, Bishop Tschoepe, had heard multiple complaints. +Grahamm’s inaction included telling Kos “Stop. Don’t have little boys overnight. I’ll move you if you do.” A civil jury ordered the Diocese of Dallas pay $119.6 million— $119,600,000—to about a dozen victims for the Diocese’s gross conduct (using a couple definitions of gross there). After appeal, the final award was around $30M, which was the largest amount awarded to victims before Boston and near the top still for victims of a single predator.
The Dallas Charter was approved by the Vatican and became “particular law”, meaning it was canon law for the United States, and decreed various changes including the immediate removal from ministry of any deacon or priest credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor and, how most lay Catholic see it, required training and background checks for everyone volunteering in the Church in areas where they would interact with children or vulnerable adults. It was a watershed moment. Today, one thing you may hear is that as shocking and disgusting news is coming out on an almost daily basis now, is that the vast majority of these cases are from before the Dallas Charter. That’s true. It is of little comfort to me from the pews though.
Why then was the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania such a punch to the gut? The raw numbers were sickening. 300 priests, 1000 victims, just within that state (and not even every diocese, as two had previously been investigated). But to me, that wasn’t the only thing.
16 years after Boston, personally, I felt good about the Church and sexual abuse. Yes, there was a problem. We took action and created safe environments. As a Church, we are better now. That’s true. I realized how little comfort that is today though.
One thing we should have done in 2002 and didn’t was to draw back the curtains everywhere. It was and has been easy to think of this as a problem in Boston. I’m naive and figured that all this was happening there. Not here. I don’t know if there was any cover-up in the Diocese of Austin or not, but after the Grand Jury report, I don’t know isn’t good enough.
What we should have done and what we should do now is get every single skeleton out of the closet. Every diocese and religious order should invite, beg for, and/or hire an independent investigation of all of their archives. Every credible allegation should be published. At the end of this, there should never be another story from years ago being dripped out over the next 16 years.
Every diocese and religious order should invite, beg for, and/or hire an independent investigation of all of their archives.
The story of Holy Angels made an impact on me. As detailed by the New York Times, Fr. John David Crowley was a beloved pastor of the parish for nearly 34 years when he unexpectedly retired in 2003. He sounded like he was a good priest—welcoming, supportive of the community, well-loved. It didn’t seem to be some weird creeper or anything. Reading his bio, he sounded to be a model pastor.
When the allegations about him were made known to the bishop, then-Bishop Wuerl (now the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC)—on the Independent Review Board’s suggestion—offered him retirement without faculties or a canonical trial. The retirement without faculties would mean he could ride off into the sunset and then never publicly function as a priest. He was allowed to not reveal the circumstances to the parish who, understandably, protested. 2000 signatures. Some chewed out Bishop Wuerl when he visited the parish to meet with parishioners who wanted him to remain. They could tell retirement wasn’t really his idea.
If I’m thinking of Fr. Crowley’s interest, it was kind of the Church to offer him a nice exit while removing him from ministry. But, the Church should not be thinking of Fr. Crowley’s interest. The Church should be interested in the poor, the marginalized, the victims. Hopefully the victims that reported him knew he was retiring for that reason, but what about any other victims of this man? I’m not an expert, but it seems to be a common thread that this is often a repeated offense when he gets away with it previously.
According to the report, he was accused by two different victims. Are there others? Are there others who felt alone and thought no one would believe them against this amazing, beloved priest? How many of them were never able to process or get counseled? Did they turn to drugs or alcohol? Did they abuse people in their lives (in any form of abuse)? Who knows. It’s been 15 years since he left ministry seemingly in good standing.
This is stupid. As the Church, what the hell are we doing?
By having open and radical transparency, we stand with victims. They are not alone. They are loved. The Church, their community of faith that they believed in just as much as any one of us, supports them, not those the attacked them. When one victim has the courage to come forward, we should do due diligence, absolutely, but then we should try to find any others so that we can support them too and justice can be served.
Every diocese and religious order should compile a list of every credibly accused cleric and make it widely available. This would be both to encourage silent victims to know that they’re not alone and demonstrate the transparency that the laity now demand to restore credibility.
The Church should do this now. We should not wait for civil authorities to want to investigate. We want this. We want to be the beacon of light we are called to be and with these sins on our corporate conscience, we won’t be.