The Catholic Church in the United States has become a much safer place for children than it once was — and safer than many other institutions which have not undergone the same reckoning as the Church,” according to a Catholic news site called The Pillar. To be fair, the first part of this claim is somewhat true. The church is ‘safer’ now. Sadly, that’s in spite of – not because of – the church hierarchy. The credit belongs to many, many others who are not bishops, cardinals, or popes.
To the degree that the church is ‘safer,’ it’s because thousands of survivors have surmounted their fear and confusion. They’ve disclosed the suffering to their loved ones, called the police, consulted with attorneys, cooperated with law enforcement, testified in legislatures, given sworn depositions, faced tough questions in court and insisted that child molesting clerics – and sometimes, the molesters’ colleagues and supervisors – be exposed, suspended, fired, defrocked, prosecuted, sued and kept away from children. With that said, three years ago, an AP investigation showed almost 1,700 proven, admitted, and credibly accused child molesting clerics are basically still out there, living or working with virtually no monitoring or supervision.
We should all be deeply grateful to every survivor who has stepped forward, despite the dread, shame, and hopelessness many victims of childhood abuse feel. And we should give credit where credit is truly due: to those who’ve been wronged and fought to heal themselves and protect others rather than those who’ve done wrong and fought to protect only themselves. Let’s look now at the second claim, that the Catholic church is “safer than many other institutions which have not undergone the same reckoning as the Church.”
- The church is still a rigid hierarchy.
- The church still has only all-male seminaries.
- The church still insists on an all-male clergy.
- The church still requires clerics to be celibate.
- Parishioners remain essentially powerless.
- Parishioners still tend to trust priests and bishops.
- Parishioners, when given a position, have only ‘advisory’ roles.
- Bishops still have nearly limitless power in their dioceses.
- Bishops still tend to be very secretive about their decisions.
- Bishops still get promoted largely because of their seniority.
- Bishops are still chosen from those who rise through the ranks.
- Bishops are NOT picked or promoted because they show courage.
- Bishops ARE picked or promoted for being ‘company men’ who rarely ‘rock the boat.’
Bishops still are quite insular, being surrounded, throughout their teen years and their schooling, by other aspiring clergy and rising through the ranks via the same process that’s been in place for centuries, often never having worked in a secular setting or having a real job.’ Bishops still maintain nearly complete control over any and everything related to children’s safety – the recruitment and selection and teaching and ordaining and assigning and transferring and, tragically, still often quietly moving sexually troubled clerics from parish to parish, even sometimes beyond diocesan or national borders. Most relevant – and most disturbing – is this fact: very few bishops, no matter how egregiously they deal with child sexual abuse and cover-ups, ever face any serious consequences from the Vatican. Those who do, do so only after their wrongdoing has been widely exposed and harshly criticized by victims, law enforcement, and the news media.
Now let’s look briefly at just some of what the church still LACKS.
- It still lacks an independent court system.
- It still lacks any real ‘checks & balances’ on the wide-ranging power of church officials.
- It still lacks any method of forcing the disclosure of important information. (There are no open board meetings, no Freedom of Information Act or no Open Records Act, for instance.)
Sure, since 2002, there’s been a new abuse committee in each diocese and a new national policy. But The Pillar’s claim that these “safe environment policies have transformed culture and mindsets in the Church. . .” would be laughable if the stakes were not so high. The primary US church abuse policy – formally known as the ‘Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons’ — enables Catholic officials to “address allegations of abuse according to a prescribed canonical process.”
What does it mean when church officials ‘address allegations of abuse according to a prescribed canonical process?’ It just means church procedures are purportedly more consistent than they once were. That’s no sea change. That’s just a tiny tweak. Have tens of thousands of children been sexually victimized by Catholic clergy because their church supervisors refused to follow a prescribed canonical process?’ Of course not. “Consistency” in abuse cases is generally good. But it’s certainly no panacea. And those who observe the Catholic church and its officials and its dealings with abuse and abusers would dispute the claim that bishops are really that much more ‘consistent’ – in a good way – than they have been in the past.
As noted above, why would they be? Before the abuse crisis, each bishop was the lord of his own kingdom, answerable to virtually no one. And since the abuse crisis, each bishop remains the lord of his own kingdom, answerable to virtually no one. So, going back to The Pillar’s claims: YES, the church is ‘safer now’ (no thanks to its leadership), but NO, there’s no evidence to suggest it’s safer now than ‘many other institutions.’ The evidence, in fact, points in precisely the opposite direction. And that’s one of the main reasons that the brave victims we represent feel strongly that lawsuits against the church hierarchy are still needed.
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, contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or email sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.