Once again we got disturbing news regarding the Roman Catholic Church merely two weeks ago. A heartbreaking tale which sadly follows an exasperating yet recurring theme of child sex abuse perpetrated by the clergy. A story that seems way too familiar to us these days. As the purported victims are very much alike and venues often the same.
In this case a central crime scene allegedly was the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese in Minnesota. As five men who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests when they were minors are planning to sue the Vatican and are demanding the names of thousands of predator priests they claim have been kept secret by the Holy See. The federal suit aims to expose hidden identities of more than 3,000 past church figures. Priests who previously had been cited for similar offenses that were known to Vatican leaders for years. On a mission to prove that church officials were complicit in continued efforts to mask these vile crimes.
The plaintiffs here include three brothers and two unrelated men. One of them reportedly was victimized in the Los Angeles area. Those siblings further have claimed each was exploited and abused by the disgraced pedophile priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Also apparently there is definitive evidence that diocese leadership were acutely aware of his inappropriate behavior well before then. Internal church documents show that church leaders knew Wehmeyer had engaged in sexual misconduct when they promoted him in 2009. That house of worship soon became a house of ill-repute.
Most recently we learned about five other suspects that were implicated in Michigan just last week. As the Attorney General Dana Nessel nailed a number of ex-clergymen with 21 felony charges, all of them relating to criminal sexual conduct. This part of a lengthy Lansing probe into the seven state Catholic dioceses which began in summer of 2018, going back decades as far as the mid 20th century. Still that did not signal an end to the inquiry. As Governor Gretchen Whitmer included an additional $2 million in her state’s budget that is allocated for added probes.
This troubling trend appears to long precede that defined span. In 1629, the first accusations of child abuse were made by fellow priests; according to contemporary letters and documents. However the insular nature of these institutions along with a divine element have proven to be significant barriers. Many believe that in addition to an exceedingly deferential approach taken by authorities the antiquated Canon law is to blame for shielding and protecting the priesthood. A code of silence long observed by the legion in positions of power. With a misguided belief that perverted type of transgression should be treated as a sin rather than a crime.
Earlier this month Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking new church law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns worldwide to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities. A step in the right direction but public sentiment indicates that is not nearly sufficient. This decree did apply measures to help safeguard the brave individuals that come forward and disclose those grave misdeeds. But does not necessitate a need for the church to notify any law enforcement agencies.
The silent struggle quietly endured even up until 2015. Then the motion picture Spotlight was released. This drama would chronicle a team of Boston Globe reporters that discovered a shockingly systemic pattern of child abuse and subsequent cover ups in their local parish. Furthermore by extension a whole religious institution. The primary focus at first was father John Geoghan. A church elder who later was ousted in 1998 after victimizing at least 80 children. As well as countless others that never had their day in court.
As a result of that film the church took a serious hit. They were no longer able to hide or deflect such allegations. As immeasurable damage was already done. Archbishop of Boston Bernard Law was eventually forced to step down. The financial repercussions would be truly mind boggling. Cost to the Catholic church continues to grow. Lawsuits by abuse victims have so far forced dioceses and religious orders in the United States to pay settlements totaling more than $3 billion, and at least 19 have filed for bankruptcy protection. Aside from their precious public image likewise taking a precipitous fall.
Another calamitous turn of events came in August. When stunning developments would emerge from a grand jury investigation ordered by the Attorney General’s office in Pennsylvania. They submitted an extensive report that revealed a staggering level of institutional misconduct. Over 300 priests were presumed to be involved with upward of a thousand minors and young adults, these reported incidents covering a period of 70 years. Their youth and innocence left shattered. How could that wretched activity persist unchecked for this prolonged period of time?
Plus the now laicized former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick warrants a mention. The one-time Archbishop of Washington, D.C. was defrocked by Pope Francis in February. Thus becoming the highest-ranking church official to date to be expelled from the priesthood for sex abuse. A church tribunal found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” the Vatican said. This following his resignation as Cardinal six months prior. An unprecedented action that almost seemed to signify a sea change.
In view of these findings we saw the Vatican take several surprising actions. Among them were quickly offering compensation to certain individuals who can present valid grievances against the Church. Despite a statute of limitations being in effect as well, a fair number of which may be expired. Although critics feel this could in fact be a defensive move designed to minimize liabilities in the future.
Which leaves the Church broken and busted. How can this ever be fixed? What will they do? Presently faith and trust in the papacy are widely perceived at a historic low. An establishment viewed as preaching an archaic life style from a distant era. A bell that rings hollow and a message to match.