On Feb. 27, the John Jay School of Criminal Law released its report on the abuse of minors by priests from 1950 to 2002. The report demonstrates that more than 10,600 children say they were molested by priests since 1950. The alleged abuse involves at least 4 percent of U.S. Roman Catholic priests.
Frank K. Flinn, Ph.D., professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on the Catholicism, claims that the sex-abuse scandal is “far-and-away the most serious crisis to confront the American Catholic Church in its entire history.”
“What is clear is that for decades American bishops have shuffled pedophiles and other abusers of minors from parish to parish in hopes of keeping the scandals hush-hush. This act alone was and is a felony cover-up,” Flinn said. “Spiritually, the bishops have failed their flocks.”
The Bishops’ Own Scandal
by Frank K. Flinn
The sex-abuse scandal is far-and-away the most serious crisis to confront the American Catholic Church in its entire history. The cause of the scandal lies at the doorstep of the American hierarchy, and ultimately at the doorstep of the Vatican, which directly appoints and retains every bishop in his diocese. Had justice taken her full and ample course in the sex abuse scandal, not just abusive priests but many, if not most, American bishops by now would have spent time behind bars.
Because the bishops have escaped the severity of the law so far, they have yet to realize the extent to which this scandal was an event of their own aiding and abetting. They still seem unable or unwilling to hear the tough words of Jesus: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5). Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Bishop Thomas Dupre of Springfield, MA, are among the very few bishops who have been forced to resign because of the scandal. Instead of indicting the abusing–that is the right word–bishops, prosecutors around the country have exacted rules of disclosure and imposed review boards on dioceses. Basically, the bishops themselves have been let off the hook.
On Feb. 27 the John Jay School of Criminal Law released its report on the abuse of minors by priests from 1950 to 2002. For years the bishops have been trying to reassure their flocks that only 1% of priests engaged in this heinous activity. The report shows that the number was 4%. The report excoriates the American bishops for failure to deal with this problem in a proper manner. It does not talk about the sexual predation of adults, especially women. The abuse took place in 70 out of 90 dioceses in America. Critics, particularly critics from various survivor groups, claim that the figures are grossly underreported and the abuse may have taken place in all dioceses.
What is clear is that for decades American bishops have shuffled pedophiles and other abusers of minors from parish to parish in hopes of keeping the scandals hush-hush. This act alone was and is a felony cover-up. Secondly, bishops have secretly paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in order to buy the silence of abusees and their families. Now multiple millions more are being paid out of church coffers in legitimate damages. The hush-up payouts were not necessarily criminal, but it is clearly unethical to the highest degree for church leaders to secretly divert monies donated for the support and furtherance of the church to cover-up schemes. Spiritually, the bishops have failed their flocks.
The root cause of the scandal is that there has been a serious decline in the number of priests in America and worldwide since 1960. Meanwhile the Catholic population has grown at a steady pace. Bishops have been hard-put to find priests for parishes. Instead of putting pressure on the Vatican to expand the categories of potential priests (married people, and, heaven forbid, women), the bishops have succumbed to the self-defeating Vatican demand for priestly celibacy in the Roman Church and the prohibition of female ordination. The Vatican is somewhat hypocritical on these issues since it permits uniate Eastern-rite priests to be married and has accepted many convert Lutheran and Anglican married pastors into its priesthood. Throughout history brave bishops fought Rome when they were convinced the papacy was upholding wrong policies and teaching suspect doctrine. Sadly there are no brave bishops in America today. It was out of cringing fear that bishops kept shuffling abusers around in hopes that somehow things would work out.
Perhaps the most serious charge behind the scandal is theological. Bishops view themselves as hierarchical leaders, vicars of Christ to their dioceses. Because they have held themselves above the fray, they were blinded to sin and scandal when it stained their own robes. The purpose of bishops is to serve the church, not the other way around. The purpose of the church is to serve and foster the Kingdom of God. When Catholic bishops fail to provide the sacraments to the faithful, they put the church in grave spiritual peril. If they cannot feed their flock, they cannot serve the Kingdom. American bishops are in default. Regrettably most act like corporate managers, not servants of the servants of the Kingdom.
Some think that the John Jay report will put the bishops back on the straight-and-narrow path again. We should not get our hopes up too high. In his first interview to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 22, 2004, as the new archbishop of St. Louis, my own bishop, Raymond Burke, said his first order of business is “to organize our parishes and Catholic schools.” Not a word about repentance. Not a word about preaching the Kingdom of God. In fact, he did not once mention the name of the Man from Galilee.