Ten years ago this summer, America's Catholic bishops pledged to aggressively investigate allegations of sexual predation by clerics, to show "zero tolerance" for abuse, and to be transparent about the problem. Since then, however, church officials have consistently lined up to protect themselves and their clergy in case after case.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops recently cited a Pew survey that showed seven of 10 Catholics are "satisfied" with the prelates' performance, up from 51 percent a decade ago. The bishops' 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" has proven to be mostly a public-relations campaign, and the Pew numbers suggest it has worked to an extent. But most of what the church hierarchy has actually done over the past decade amounts to mere motion, not progress.
For example, church officials have required that thousands of teachers, janitors, clerks, and organists around the country undergo background checks and training to recognize signs of abuse upon being hired by Catholic institutions - though few accusations of abuse have involved organists or janitors. The church also set up review panels, advisory boards, and "auditors" to oversee parish programs and policies, but they are toothless entities staffed and controlled by the bishops.
At best, these policies do no harm. Perhaps a background check has kept a child molester or two from being hired to teach or clean floors at a Catholic school. And because of all the expensive training, thousands of lay Catholics no doubt know more about abuse. However, when the church leadership learns of an allegation of abuse, it still prefers to conduct its own investigation and, more often than not, attempt to discredit the victim. And when it became clear that 37 priests accused of sexual misbehavior were still at their parish jobs in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, it was clear that the archdiocese's review board had no idea about many of them.
Rather, all the progress achieved in inves...