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A season of scandals

“How are people supposed to defend the church now? How can people even hold up their heads and say they’re Catholics?”

Someone I know well said that just the other day. She was speaking in the wake of the scandal surrounding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, plus the grand jury report that 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses had abused children over the last 70 years.

I agree. Horrors like those don’t make being a Catholic any easier. But there are a few bright spots in this picture just the same.

One is that — finally — the church took the lead in making the bad news public in the McCarrick case. Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York announced in June that a church inquiry had found to be credible a recent accusation that then-Msgr. McCarrick engaged in sexual harassment of a teenage seminarian half a century ago.

To be sure, in making this announcement, Cardinal Dolan was only doing what he was obliged to do under the terms of the American bishops’ procedures for handling cases of clergy sex abuse. This doesn’t make the abuse involved any less ugly, but at least the system worked.

I suspect, too, that something similar will emerge from close examination of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Almost certainly there was a cover-up of clergy abuse in the six dioceses prior to 2002. But 2002 was the year that the bishops, prodded by the shocking revelations in the Boston Globe, adopted their tough new policy on abuse. Since then, American dioceses with few exceptions have practiced public accountability and the number of new abuse cases has fallen dramatically.

It’s encouraging that bishops who’ve spoken up about the latest revelations appear genuinely shocked and angry. That holds for Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who sounded truly irate in his statement declaring that USCCB would do everything it could to dig out the facts in the McCarrick case. “One way or the other, we are determined to find the truth in this matter,” he said.

And it’s also encouraging that a number of bishops have called for a new panel or board to investigate not only the McCarrick case but any future allegations of sexual misconduct by bishops. Some such body is undoubtedly needed now — not least, as part of the effort to re-establish the credibility of the bishops in light of all that’s happened.

Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington and author of American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018