Symbolic Steps are OK. But Real Reform is Better.

| Feb 24, 2020 | Catholic Church

The head of the Washington DC archdiocese has erased his abusive predecessor’s coat of arms from the DC cathedral.

Through one of his public relations staff, Archbishop Wilton Gregory says removing former archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s shield is intended “to help bring healing and peace to survivors of abuse.”

Maybe so. Or maybe it’s being done to make Gregory seem sensitive. Or maybe Gregory wants to distance himself from McCarrick as the release of an investigation into McCarrick seems imminent. Who knows?

(McCarrick, who also worked in New Jersey, was defrocked last year after being found guilty of numerous crimes, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults and improper handling of other abuse reports by other predators.)

Some say steps like this validate victims.

Others say these gestures are really self-serving, because they minimize or whitewash this crisis by removing reminders of horrific scandal that church donors and church-goers would rather forget.

We at Horowitz law have ambivalent feelings here. But moves like this will seem far less cynical and self-serving if, at the same time, church officials take tangible steps that protect others.

Is that too much to ask?

This is a very simple request – that when a pastor or denominational leader does something to supposedly help abused adults FEEL better, he or she ALSO does something that actually makes vulnerable kids BE safer.

“Like what?” you ask.

Like publicly list names, photos, work histories and current whereabouts of every credibly accused child molester who was or is in the pastor’s or denominational leader’s area (whether alive or dead, employed or volunteer, lay or ordained).

Like publicly declare his or her support for reforming the hurtful statute of limitations on child sex crimes.

Like publicly discipline, demote or at least denounce current or former church staff, volunteers or members who hid or ignored abuse or suspicions of abuse.

Like forbid or publicly blast accused predators and their supporters who say or do things that are apt to intimidate victims, witnesses or whistleblowers from speaking up (like attacking their motives or timing or holding rallies for the accused).

This is just a very short list. The group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has made many helpful suggestions to church officials over the years.

So our advice to the hierarchy of every church, school, camp or institution that’s experienced child sex abuse and cover ups is simple: You want to make a symbolic gesture that might help victims? Fine. But at the very same time, take a real step that will, in fact, help kids be safer.