Time and time again, we’re told that the Catholic hierarchy ‘gets it’ when it comes to clergy sexual misconduct. They’ve ‘reformed,’ we’re told, in the decades since the crisis erupted first in Louisiana in 1983 (Fr. Gilbert Gauthe) and in Massachusetts in 2002 (Fr. John Geoghan). Really? Last week, a bishop in Tennessee won a court ruling that forces an alleged victim of sexual misdeeds to disclose his name publicly (as opposed to being a ‘John Doe’). Also last week, a prominent priest/psychologist that helped write the French church’s abuse policy and advised the Vatican on sexual matters was, after a church ‘trial,’ banned from celebrating Mass publicly or hearing confessions because he allegedly abused young men and at least one teen. He was not defrocked, of course.
Last month, an internationally-known Jesuit priest, accused by at least nine women of serial sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse, and using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had abused, had his secret excommunication “lifted almost immediately” and was allowed to keep working. The bishop faces no sanctions. The French cleric and the Jesuit priest face ridiculously light sanctions. These examples all surfaced within the past four weeks. Like so many before, this new year has shown virtually no real progress toward making the church a safer, more open, or more compassionate institution regarding abuse and cover-up.
Despite tons of talk and a plethora of promises, on a day-to-day level, across the US and the globe, child sex abuse reports continue to be handled however local Catholic officials want to handle them, regardless of pledges made on paper or in public about ‘transparency’ and ‘safety’ and ‘prudence’ and ‘caution’ and all the rest. An anti-abuse crusader that we know once said, tongue in cheek, that the enemy of kids and survivors in the Catholic church is “Shirley.” As in “Surely, things have changed,” “Surely, abuse isn’t still happening,” and “Surely, bishops handle this better now.”
We at Horowitz Law concur. Complacency in the church is commonplace. And real reform remains elusive. Yes, much about the long-hidden Catholic child sex abuse scandal has finally surfaced. Yes, media accounts of such horror keep spilling out on a daily basis. Yes, thousands of child molesting clerics have been ‘outed’ and ousted. Yet still, much about the scandal remains hidden. Why? Because bishops want it that way and can still hide secrets, neither they nor the church officials above them in Rome are being sufficiently held accountable for continuing cover-ups. As a society, we are irresponsible if we assume that public awareness is inexorably bringing genuine reform. Knowing about a problem is one thing. Fixing it is another. And preventing it in the future is something else entirely. No longer can Catholic officials make excuses based on ignorance. “We just didn’t know,” many bishops had claimed when abuse reports began publicly surfacing years ago.” So instead, their new claim is that they are fixing and preventing it. But as the three recent, high-profile cases cited above show, those claims are just claims. If you saw, suspected, or suffered clergy sexual misconduct, you can help turn these claims into reality rather than wait to see if the Catholic hierarchy will ever do so on its own. You can ask those you know, “Did a priest, monk, nun, seminarian, or bishop ever touch you inappropriately?” You can join us in begging anyone who may have seen, suspected, or suffered abuse – at any time by anyone – to report to the independent and experienced professionals in law enforcement. And you can join us in prodding lawmakers to real or reform archaic, predator-friendly laws, like the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. It’s easy to SAY things are different. It’s hard to MAKE things different. Please don’t wait for those who have misused their authority to ‘get it’ and change. Please join us in making changes ourselves.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an email to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.