The Pope's top aide on clergy sex abuse, Fr. Robert Oliver, just told the AP that the pope "had spoken clearly about the need for transparency and justice in order to regain the trust of the faithful."
But the trouble is that the pope's actions contradict his words. And his priorities are backwards.
Catholic officials must start truly protecting kids, exposing truth, and punishing wrong-doers, both those who commit and those conceal child sex crimes. That's "job one." When that happens, the "trust of the faithful" will be restored.
When the Pope denounces, disciplines, demotes or defrocks Bishop Robert Finn, Cardinal Roger Mahony and dozens of their corrupt colleagues, then “the trust of the faithful” will be restored. Even more crucial, then the safety of children will be enhanced and the cover ups of future abuse will be discouraged.
It’s ironic that Fr. Oliver is talking about “complacency.” A decade ago, in the beleaguered Boston Archdiocese, Fr. Oliver helped alter an archdiocese policy “to curtail access by alleged victims of abuse to church records — a move that surprised lay leaders who sat on the Cardinal’s Commission for the Protection of Children.”
In fact, it’s ironic that Fr. Oliver was promoted to this high ranking Vatican post at all. Also in Boston, while heading abuse matters, the archdiocese
--eliminated a provision requiring the immediate removal of accused priests.
-- ‘cleared’ a very high percentage of accused priests.
-- failed to rule on the cases of 15 accused priests.
According to the Boston Herald, Oliver “said the church went too far in immediately removing priests from their public ministries once they were accused of abuse. He implemented a new policy stripping them of duties only after claims are investigated.”
According to research by a Boston-based research group called BishopAccountability.org, Boston Catholic officials, including Oliver, “cleared” 45% of 71 accused predator priests, a percentage dramatically higher than almost all other dioceses (which have a roughly 10% “clearance” percentage”)
According to the Boston Globe, each of the three accused priests whose cases “have gone to full (church) trials since 2002 were exonerated, and the archdiocesan court is still struggling to adjudicate a backlog of sexual abuse cases against priests. Fifteen cases have been languishing since 2004 or earlier.”
Oliver was ordained by and worked under Law, so his elevation inevitably causes more dismay to victims and Catholics.
Based on what he’s said and done, and where he’s from and who he’s tied to, Oliver is a terrible choice for this crucial post. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine a more insensitive and inappropriate selection.
Oliver was ordained in 2000 by Cardinal Bernard Law and worked with him for at least two years. Perhaps no other Catholic official on earth has been more widely and appropriately vilified for “ignoring, minimizing, concealing and enabling thousands of dreadful sexual assaults by hundreds of child molesting clerics than Law.
There are thousands of Catholic dioceses across the world, and few, if any, have such an extensive and well-documented history of heinous crimes and cover-ups like Boston.
There are perhaps tens of thousands of qualified canon lawyers, both lay and ordained who Benedict might have picked for this position. Simple common sense and common decency would have led a caring leader to say ‘Let’s pick a person from somewhere else, ordained by someone else, and who has worked with someone else.’ Only the most callous person would deliberately pick a man who is part of the problem, not the solution, in one of the globe’s most historically corrupt dioceses.
Whether Oliver worked with Law for years or decades is irrelevant. The fact is that Oliver is part of the deeply flawed and still flawed Boston archdiocesan abuse response. And his promotion only adds to the intense pain and betrayal heaped on countless child sex abuse victims and their loved ones, not to mention millions of disillusioned Catholics.
There are also hundreds of lay people – many of them parents – who could have brought a sorely-needed, non-celibate perspective to this crisis. Tens of thousands of allegedly celibate priests have abused hundreds of thousands of kids. Thousands of allegedly celibate bishops hid the crimes. So wouldn’t it make sense to have a mother or father more involved in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases?
Not choosing a lay person is proof that Vatican officials really don’t want reform.
Ten years ago, Law resigned as the highest ranking Catholic official in the Boston archdiocese. He is the only US bishop to ever step down because of his role in covering up heinous child sex crimes. (No US bishop has ever been punished by the church hierarchy because of the abuse crisis.)
Journalists must pay attention to what Vatican officials say. We hope no one else does. We hope parents and parishioners across the globe watch what Vatican officials do, not what they say. That kind of prudence and skepticism based on performance – not premature complacency based on promises - will ultimately protect kids.
Sincerely, Dr Rosemary McHugh, Chicago