Catholic officials admit that more than 6,000 US priests are proven, admitted or credibly accused child molesters. Yet no US bishop has ever been punished by the church hierarchy because of the abuse crisis – no matter how extensive, egregious or recent his wrongdoing may have been. None.
And only one US bishop has ever stepped down because of his role in covering up heinous child sex crimes.
Ten years ago, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as the highest ranking Catholic official in the Boston archdiocese. More than 20 current and former US bishops have been accused of molesting kids. And nearly every bishop in recent years has been accused of - or proven to have – ignored, concealed, minimized or enabled clergy child sex crimes or cover ups.
Only Law, however, has resigned.
Still, for almost a decade, he remained an extraordinarily powerful figure, living and working in the literal and figurative power center of Catholicism. He was on six or eight important Vatican committees, including the one that recommended candidates for bishops across the globe. And he helped pick Pope Benedict.
Despite all of this, the anniversary of Law’s resignation should serve as a powerful reminder that even in a rigid, powerful, ancient, secretive monarchy, sometimes a small measure of justice, healing and prevention can be won, but only through the admirable bravery and persistence of child sex abuse victims and their supporters.
When it comes to abuse and cover up, we see on-going recklessness, deceit and callousness – and painfully little reform – by top Catholic officials. Still, no one should ever lose sight of the fact that an incredibly well-connected and deeply-entrenched “prince of the church” was forced out. It may seem like a tiny achievement. But it’s not. The courageous and compassionate Boston victims – each and every one of them – should feel proud. The outraged church members and employees, especially the clerics who publicly called for Law’s removal – should also feel proud.
And the rest of us should feel grateful to all of them and determined to continue to push for a safer church and community for children.