A Welcome, Long-Overdue, Smart Step By a Bishop

| Mar 20, 2020 | Catholic Church

Is there anything worse than an omission or mistake in the law that enables wrongdoers to go unpunished?

YES! A perfectly crafted law that goes UNENFORCED!

Ditto with ‘policies’ – internal rules an organization or company adopts that supposedly forbid certain harmful behaviors.

Policies go unenforced all the time. Here’s one simple reason why.

In a crisis, CEOs and bishops and Boy Scouts executives and university presidents typically holler “Get me the lawyers and the PR people!”

They sit down and write up a policy, procedure or plan. On paper at least, it addresses the situation at hand. Then, they shout from the rooftops “We’ve fixed everything.” (Or, if they have really smart public relations staff, they’re a tad more realistic-sounding and say “We’re FIXING everything.”)

Sooner or later, public pressure and media attention wane, the policies are quietly shelved and the old patterns re-emerge.

How many times have you read or heard about a Scout leader or school teacher who manages to isolate and molest a kid despite an organizational “Never a kid and an adult alone” rule?

Or a bishop who claims to abide by the church’s “one strike and you’re out” guideline but kept a credibly accused abusive seminarian in school or a credibly accused pastor in a parish?

All too often.

That’s why we’re encouraged by news from West Virginia Bishop Mark Brennan who has just announced “regular spot checks to ensure compliance” with an expanded employee fingerprinting requirement.

It reportedly covers the bishop himself, “all priests, deacons, seminarians, school principals, teachers, staff and certain volunteers, as well as those who work in the chancery or headquarters.


He’s hiring an outside firm to do this, in part, by “visiting parishes and schools more often, starting “this year.” (We hope it’s very soon.)

We at Horowitz Law have heard and seen fingerprinting pledges before, but rarely see proof of follow through.

But paying an outside company to “ensure compliance” may be an encouraging development.

We will be far more enthused when we see evidence that these “regular spot checks” are indeed happening. But as best we can recall, Bishop Brennan may be the first US Catholic official to at least pledge to take this simple precaution.

And if Brennan does really follows through, we hope he’ll publicly and harshly demote or fire any supervisor who neglects his or her duty to safeguard children in this way.

We do not, however, share Brennan’s professed “confidence that the efforts to establish a culture of safety and awareness in our diocese continue to move forward.” You may recall, his predecessor, Bishop Michael Bransfield, according to Catholic officials, faces “multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment of adults, financial improprieties and extravagant spending” that prompted Pope Francis to ban him from ministry.


Bransfield headed the Charleston-Wheeling diocese from 2005 to 2018. His serious and long-standing misdeeds were known or suspected by many diocesan staff. So there’s a long way to go before reform takes root in the West Virginia church.

We strongly doubt that ANY diocese is doing all it should to reverse a centuries-old pattern of self-serving secrecy and recklessness regarding abuse and cover ups. But we hope that Brennan’s promised fingerprinting spot checks come to fruition and are emulated across the church and its many institutions, schools and agencies.