Critics of the Catholic Church love to point to the Church's sexual abuse scandal to make the case that the Catholic Church has no moral authority. They will always bring up the subject of “pedophile priests” even if the context isn't correct and has nothing to do with the subject matter at hand. For example, when radical “priest” Michael Pfleger was suspended by Cardinal George after he engaged in hate speech, his supporters claimed the Cardinal was “quick to remove Pfleger but did nothing for decades about the pedophile priests”. In reality, Pfleger had gotten away with a slap on the wrist after years of making hateful remarks (and still hasn't been “removed” to this very day), while most of the priests with serious allegations of sexual misconduct weren't “pedophiles”, and most of the incidents had happened under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin – not Francis George.
Still, there is a legitimate case to made for the times when the Catholic Church failed to purge sexual perverts from active ministry, and top ranking clergy need to be held accountable. This week, Cardinal George took a step that should be welcomed by many of those who are “looking for accountability” from the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Cardinal has announced that the Archdiocese will release the names and details of 30 priests involved in sexual misconduct. The information will be available in the Sunday bulletins for thousands of Catholics who attend church in the Archdiocese, and will be accompanied by a letter from the Cardinal titled “Accountability and Transparency”. Most of these cases in the bulletin are from incidents that occurred more than 20 years ago, but nevertheless the pastors involved in these incidents may be names that are familiar to many Chicago Catholics. With this information, lay Catholics will now be armed with “the actual records of these crimes.” Cardinal George makes it clear in the letter that as of 2014, there is no priest serving in public ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago that is known to have sexually abused a child.
Cardinal George is not pretending that disclosure resolves everything, nor does it atone for the failure of church officials in the past to remove priests that had a credible allegation made against them. George noted “it’s difficult to set the record straight.” He added, “telling the truth does not create an excuse for failure.”
For those who are reluctant to take the Cardinal at his word that he is doing the best he can to be transparent, they may wish to consider the comments of Jeff Anderson, an attorney who has represented dozens of sex abuse victims nationwide. Anderson noted that the Archdiocese has fully cooperated with the 40 or so sexual abuse victims in the Archdiocese who have been pushing for the records’ release since 2005. Anderson noted that it has taken nine years to review the reams of files and determine with ones were relevant to the cases for public release. Accused priests often fought against the releasing of files relating to them – and in some cases were successful in keeping documents from becoming public. Because the Archdiocese does not require the standard of proof used in the American justice system, the Archdiocese is releasing personal records where the statute of limitations has expired in many cases. “The files are filled with one-sided allegations,” noted attorney Joseph Roddy. He added, “It doesn’t tell the whole story.”
As for the priests that engaged in sexual misconduct, at least one-third of the priests named in the files have died, and none of the living clergy are in active ministry, although not all of them have been defrocked. Joseph Roddy concluded: “I think people are going to see that the Archdiocese acted in a very proactive manner — perhaps too proactive in my view as lawyer who believes in due process.” Kathy Laarveld, the mother of a sexual abuse victim, noted that she was relieved that the abuse cases were being made public: “I’m hoping people learn from these mistakes. Maybe the files will give some young boy or young girl the courage to speak up about their own abuse.”
One can only hope. Silence and coverup is never the right course of action, on either side of the case. Will this bode well for the future and help the healing process? Only time will tell.