Not just a moral or public relations crisis, but a criminal crisis

I didn’t write more yesterday about the latest child sex abuse scandal – “scandal”:  what a pathetically inadequate word! – to hit the Catholic Church.  The reality was too stomach-churning for me – or anyone in his or her right mind – to face.  Nevertheless, I’ve returned to reading more of the Pennsylvania report, and other people’s views and comments on it.  I think there’s an aspect of this situation that isn’t being properly addressed.

The Catholic Church is already trying to “spin” this as a public relations crisis rather than anything more.  Efforts are being made to minimize the damage by pointing out that the offenses concerned took place a long time ago;  that things have improved since then;  that new measures now in place would have resulted in a very different outcome had they been in operation when the sins/crimes/whatever actually happened;  and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.  This ignores the reality that at any time, the acts concerned were crimes.  They were not merely moral offenses (although they certainly were that, in the most grievous possible way).  They were offenses against the laws and standards of civilized society.

The Pennsylvania report describes, in horrific detail, how child rape was deliberately described as “crossing boundaries” or “inappropriate contact” rather than what it was.  Bishops and administrators actively took steps to hide such crimes from police, and/or to subvert their investigation by dealing with compliant (dare one say co-conspirator?) agencies and individuals.  Official “fixers” working for or with secular authorities connived with the Church to suppress reports, prevent or hinder investigations, and cover up settlements.

Such connivance has a legal name.  It’s called being an accessory to a crime.  It may involve elements of criminal conspiracy and/or criminal facilitation.  In the cases under discussion, these elements are arguably present before a crime when a Bishop or other church authority, knowing that a priest has already committed sexual offenses against a minor, reassigns him to a post where he can reoffend.  They are arguably present after a crime when Church authorities seek to minimize, cover up, dismiss, or obstruct the investigation of the offense(s) concerned.  Being an accessory to a crime means that one shares the guilt of the actual criminal, to a greater or lesser extent.

Much play has also been given to the fact that most of the criminals responsible for offenses enumerated in the Pennsylvania report can no longer be prosecuted, because the statute of limitations for such offenses has run out.  Effectively, they’ve got away scot-free, with no fear of secular punishment for their crimes.  The same applies to Church authorities who permitted, tolerated or enabled them to do so.  That’s absolutely sickening, monstrous beyond belief . . . but it’s the reality of the situation.

I submit that the statute of limitations governing such offenses needs to be removed in its entirety.  If the crime was committed, let it be prosecuted and punished.  Let there be no “get out of jail free” card for the criminal(s) who perpetrated it.  Let that apply also to all who were accessories before or after the fact of the crime.  They, too, should face condign punishment.  Anything less is a travesty of justice, and a moral obscenity besides.

The secular authorities can’t demand that suspects undergo a polygraph examination.  Even if they voluntarily do so, its results aren’t admissible in court.  However, I think the time has come for the Church to demand, in terms of their vows and/or promises of obedience, that all suspected of involvement in this crisis, from the highest-ranking to the lowest, should undergo polygraph examination by Church investigators.  Any issues uncovered by it should be the subject of further, urgent investigation, and anything confirmed by such investigations should also be reported – in full, without redaction or attempts to mitigate its consequences for the institution – to the secular authorities.

Pious platitudes will no longer serve any purpose except that of the Devil.  It’s time to once again drive the wrongdoers out of the Temple, to bring “not peace, but a sword” to the structure and hierarchy of the Church.  Anything less will allow this rottenness to continue to fester in her bosom, to her permanent and eternal detriment.

Those familiar with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement will recall a prophetic message delivered in Rome in 1975, in the presence of Pope Paul VI.  It has resonated in and through that movement, with its particular spirituality, ever since.  You can read about it here, if you’re interested.  Whether or not one is a member of that movement, if this present crisis isn’t a dramatic affirmation of that message, I don’t know what is or will be.

I know that at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of Catholics in the USA have either left the Church for another spiritual home, or ceased practicing their faith (in the public forum, at least).  I’ve heard from more than a few of them over the years.  I can only speculate how many may have done so in other countries.  For all their (and my) acceptance of the teaching of the Church, her implementation of that teaching in her own structure and hierarchy, in the context of the clergy sex abuse crisis, has been so fundamentally flawed, so gravely sinful, so morally catastrophic, as to obscure every other element of her ministry.  That factor alone has made it morally impossible for many formerly faithful Catholics to stand with her in her present human form, to cleave to her in unquestioning fidelity.  Unless and until she takes the situation seriously, and accepts that many of her leaders have been criminally as well as morally guilty of the gravest possible offenses, that situation cannot and will not improve.

Some will reject what I’ve just said.  They’ll point to spiritual rather than temporal issues, and claim that one’s duty to God must necessarily include fidelity to his Church.  To them, I can only say that I think they’ve never experienced serious abuse as children.  The reality of that abuse in the hearts and minds and souls of the victims is simply indescribable.  I invite all of you to try to put yourselves in the shoes of a child as he or she (in the context of the Catholic crisis, usually he) is stripped naked, fondled, abused, raped . . . and then told, by the perpetrators – those he’s been taught by his parents are spiritual authorities – that it’s his fault, or that he mustn’t talk about it, or that God will be angry if he doesn’t allow future abuses.  That reality is so ghastly, in the mind of a child, as to defy description.  Is it any wonder that so many victims grow up permanently warped and twisted, psychologically and spiritually, by that experience?  Is it any wonder that some of them have been so deeply, profoundly scarred by the experience that they’ve never been able to live normal lives with their spouses, and have handed down their trauma and damaged psyches to their children?  Is it any wonder that some have taken their own lives, rather than live with the shattering effects of past abuse?

If anyone of faith can gloss over all that, and still insist that fidelity to the institution, in spite of its human conduct, is more important than holding it accountable for such monstrosities, demanding real, meaningful reform to prevent it ever happening again on such a scale or being connived at by Church authorities . . . I submit that their faith needs serious re-examination.

The Church proclaims herself to be the eternal Bride of Christ, but that reality appears to be no longer found in all those who lead her.  If the Bishops are the successors to the Apostles, one can only speculate which Apostle some of them have chosen to follow.  I can think of one in particular.  His name wasn’t Peter, but Judas.



  1. As long as people tithe, place money in the collection plates, and donate to the Catholic charities, this will go on. It's been centuries in the making, and firmly entrenched in the hierarchy.

  2. From 1 John: " 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."

    I recall also, from one of Paul's letters, I forget which, discussing the necessity of repentance to receive forgiveness. (The Church members of that locale had apparently gotten it in their heads that, since Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, they could go out and sin all they wanted.) Paul explained that forgiveness requires repentance, and that repentance means acknowledging that one has sinned, and trying not to sin going forward.

    The Church would be wise to read- and heed – those Scriptures.

    Also: your comment about cleansing the temple reminds me – when asking "What would Jesus do?" remember, throwing tables and chasing people with a whip is one of the options.

  3. Peter,

    I'm very conflicted about altering the statue of limitations. After a certain distance in time, I think it becomes impossible to provide for a fair trial. Witnesses have died, records are gone or difficult to find. A priest newly assigned to a parish years ago might face accusations because he was working there. It would be very difficult to prove one's actual location on a certain date 20 years ago.

    That said, I'm strongly in favor prosecution for conspiracy and other crimes that reflect a history of actions over time. Thus it might be impossible to prove a single act, a history of not reporting or covering up is much different.

    I confess I've not yet been able to read all of the report. Around 300 pages in, I became too distraught to continue.

    I cannot find a single bishop who has said masses for the souls of those abused children. I find my anger difficult to constrain.

    Glen in Texas

  4. Why are these animals allowed to flit away scot free?


    They are the same people to whom you go and confess your sins.

    They know your deepest secrets. They know all the things you have "confessed" to. You are not about to defrock them and send them scurrying into the streets. They just might retaliate.

    Confession is good for the soul, that's what this church keeps saying. In reality, your confession is good for them, it keeps them untouchable, safe and most importantly, in power.

    So what can happen when a few influential politicians or community leaders go confess and get self-blackmailed by their own tongue?

    You figure it out.

    But – you say – confession is a sacred trust! So says the very same monsters that attack and rape children. And you still trust them?

    But one must conclude if you can't figure this out, you just may be too naive or dumb – or just plain stupid – to do so.

    Hint #1: If you know someone's deepest, darkest secrets, you own them – forever' – or until they die, because they can totally ruin you in an instant by blabbing.

    Hint #2: If you own someone(see hint # 1), they'll never cross you or cause you grief. Why? See hint #1.

    IMO, the only people that are going to put a stop this are those who never once stepped into one of those "confession" booths. YOMV.

  5. Earlier this year I radically re-evaluated my beliefs and Church affiliation. One of the reasons Catholicism was a non-starter as a prospect was an institutional refusal to take the safety of my children seriously.

  6. @ Bob:

    Why are these animals allowed to flit away scot free?


    They are the same people to whom you go and confess your sins.

    It's highly unlikely that all the priests who kept getting shuffled around from parish to parish had heard their bishop's confessions, so that explanation seems to be a non-starter.

  7. And this is in just one state. I would love to see a nation-wide investigation of the whole Church.

    I'm in agreement about not changing the statute of limitations, not least because, in cases like this, although the burden of proof is supposed to be on the accuser, it all too often falls to the accused to prove his innocence. Could you prove your innocence if someone accused you of having done something horrible a quarter-century ago? I sure wouldn't want to try!

  8. Even if the Statute of Limitations was repealed, it would not be retroactive. In other words, the people in question would still get away with it.

  9. God will give justice. Those pedophile priests will roast in eternal hell, of that you can be assured. My son was molested as a child and committed suicide, and the perp walked free…..for now. Better God's justice than man's, and it WILL come.

  10. The problem the Church faces at this point is not even really the priests. It is the bishops and the cardinals. And therein lies the worst problem. In 2002-4 the bishops excoriated the priests and forced all laity to go to ridiculous seminars in order to work with children. And McCarrick was a loud voice at the time. Now it turns out that he was beyond a hypocrite of the first order. But this discovery also shows how little hope there is for a human solution. Pope Francis has three advisors in his inner circle of nine who are known to be compromised, especially Cardinal Daneels, who was known in 2011 to have covered up for a brother bishop in Belgium.

    I have two other thoughts though. One is that I was molested as a child (but not by a priest) and it was a priest who did the most to help me find some peace. And second, if the Church were to vanish, the problem would grow larger not smaller. A piece of the awfulness here is that the Church teaches that these activities are wrong and then high-ups engage in it. But who will even teach that it is wrong when the Church is gone? I remember in 2002 seeing a headline some newspaper – above the fold, scandal in Boston, below the fold the UN wanting to lower the age of consent at the behest of NAMBLA.

    I have no answers, just misery.

  11. What sets Catholicism apart from most of the other world faiths is that it is an institution, an elaborate intricate machine to run it from
    God's mouthpiece on Earth down to the innumerable zygotes. How is it possible to conclude that the faith is good, but the required machinery is corroded almost to ruin? Even the Pope, THIS Pope, won't give more than a sharply-worded missive. Communion, Confession, Marriage, Last Rites–all require a priest or higher to perform, correct? If the priest is corrupted, isn't the Rite? Or can holy water flow out of a sewer pipe?

    (Asking, because I'm not a member of the faith)

  12. I went to a Voices Of the Faithful meeting this week, the subject was the sexual abuse scandal. People were encouraged to act. Some personal background, been Catholic most of my life, never got involved with anything in the church, however I had a 15 year sojourn into the "evangelical free church" there I was very involved in church management and governance. I sat on the board, we hired and could have fired any church employee including the pastor, we decided how much if any money went to the district and denomination.we retained total control. Imagine my surprise to find the Catholic church only has advisory councils with no power or authority, no control over how much the diocese takes of donations. I think I may have shocked a few people to tell them we don't need the bishop to be catholic, I don't care to be a member of an organization where I'm a servant or vassal to the higherarchy. Many catholics buy into the scam that the only way into heaven is to be good little catholics and obey our betters. I really don't see significant change if all the power remains with priests/bishops etc. They have shown us their true colors with how they have dealt with this so far. If we the laity don't become equal partners it won't change.

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