On Your Watch

A response to the bishops' recent proposals on the sexual abuse crisis

After reviewing the latest proposals from the U.S. Catholic bishops, I was pleasantly surprised with many of their recommendations. However, the writers of this document still don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong, many of the U.S. bishops have gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to speaking out in favor of the victims, accepting questions from people in their diocese, and working for healing for the church at large. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. is one bishop who I immensely respect. Recently at a young adult gathering, McCarrick answered many questions about the scandal with great candor and empathy for a church that needs healing and openness. And there are other bishops who are doing similar good works.

But this document falls far short of what needs to be put in place.

The real scandal
Pedophilia is a crime against humanity. Cardinal Edward Egan of the Archdiocese of New York said it well when he called it “an abomination.” However, pedophilia is not the biggest scandal in this church, horrible as it may be. The real scandal is power, or rather the abuse of that power. That is where this document falls well short of an effective proposal for the future of the church. In the bishops’ proposal, they don’t do two things:

  • Admit they’ve done something grieviously wrong.

  • Put sanctions in place for bishops who send pedophiles back out to abuse again.

Close, but no cigar
Several cases of pedophilia could’ve been avoided if the perpetrator of that abuse was not reassigned to another parish or ministry by a bishop. The bishops have made no recommendation in this proposal to deal with a bishop that continue to reassign pedophiles and sexual abusers to work among children and adolescents. And the punishment for that should be severe. Their recommendations for defrocking for clergy who abuse someone more than once, I think, is a good one but what about those who allow them to continue? Shouldn’t they be, at the very least, removed from their position of power?

And what about what’s already occurred? Certain bishops need to admit that they’ve made a huge mistake and show Catholics that they can once again be trusted. We cannot have a church that doesn’t trust its leaders. Right now, distrust is at an all time high.

What would Jesus do?
What does a church that’s supposed to be about healing and forgiveness have to offer at this time of crisis for both those who have been abused and those who are abusers? We need to remember what forgiveness is all about. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that evil goes unpunished, it means that we let go of the hatred and anger that we hold for another. It means that we don’t allow the pain to fester and continue to harm us. It doesn’t mean being naive and it doesn’t mean that we allow someone to hurt us again. That is why I think the bishops have decided to give a one-time abuser a second chance if he gets treatment and shows repentance. We’re all human and everyone does regretful things sometimes. Everyone deserves a second chance. In this case, I think that the bishop’s recommendation is fair as long as the follow-up is effective.

Punishment for pedophilia is needed. There’s no question about that. However, the bishops need to put sanctions in place for themselves and show the world that they will also hold themselves to a higher standard. A nationwide prayer service apologizing for the past would also be another recommendation that I would suggest.

In short, no proposal is complete without:

  • An apology for the past
  • Punishment for past abusers

  • Future sanctions for sexual abusers
  • Treatment options for both abusers and victims

  • Careful investigation procedures to protect against false accusations
  • Establishment of a review board to determine guilt or innocence of accused priests

  • Sanctions for bishops who fail to punish sexual predators

To read the bishops’ recommendation or to write your local bishop on this matter, go to www.usccb.org.