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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to NH Bishop McCormack
January 10, 2005
Dear Bishop McCormack:
Widespread awareness of the Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse and cover up scandal has entered its third year. It has a robust life of its own and continues to command the public's attention with new revelations still emerging on a daily basis.
It's been three years since the Boston Globe series first appeared. Those articles led to an unprecedented horrific deluge of disclosures about abusive clergy and complicit bishops. They began an on-going process of truth-telling, sadly not by church leaders for the most part, but by abuse survivors, aided by journalists, prosecutors, judges, juries, civil attorneys, and caring Catholics.
You have responded to this devastating crisis like most of your colleagues, with new policies, procedures, paperwork, and press releases. But today we are writing to you and your colleagues who worked in Cardinal Bernard Law's inner circle. We issue a simple challenge: Forget the policies, procedures, paperwork, and press releases. It's time for real reforms.
Given your role in Boston, the "epicenter" of this catastrophic episode in the church, we believe you can and should do more. Indeed, we believe you have a special obligation to heal the wounds -- widespread and deep -- caused by the mishandling of hundreds of abuse cases in Boston for years and years and to go further to prevent such betrayal and suffering in the future.
Specifically, we ask that you, each bishop who worked under Law and now runs a diocese, to undertake a series of "common sense safety precautions" to protect children from dangerous clergy.
Specifically, we ask that you and the other ex-Law deputies:
- disclose and permanently post the names of known and suspected abusive clergy on your diocesan web sites (as bishops in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Toledo and other dioceses have done in varying degrees),
- pay personal visits to each parish where a predator worked, emphatically reminding victims and witnesses that they have a civic and moral duty to contact law enforcement, and
- actively lobby for reforms in state criminal and civil laws to make it less difficult for those raped and sodomized to seek justice in court against molesters.
Why are we asking you five to take this initiative? Because you have, in our view, a higher duty.
Who better to address and help heal the millions of American Catholics who still want accountability from bishops than you who worked under Cardinal Law? Who better to show that bishops have learned from the widely-proven mistakes of the Boston hierarchy?
We believe that you in particular owe it to American Catholics and to all of us who have been molested by clergy to work less on "institutional damage control and public relations" and more on tangible, common sense steps that will safeguard kids in the future.
In the last three years, nearly 800 admitted and suspected abusive clergy have been suspended. But virtually no bishop who covered up has been held accountable. Recent surveys indicate that three of four Catholics, however, still want to see those who hired, trained, supervised, transferred and covered up for molesters to take responsibility for their misdeeds. Until some measure of accountability by these prelates happens, festering wounds will continue to ache and verbal reassurances of "doing better in the future" will continue to ring hollow.
There is no denying that you were part of the now well-documented and woefully destructive pattern of cover up in Boston.
We can debate to what degree you were or were not responsible for the crimes of Fr. Talbot, Fr. Shanley, Fr. Birmingham and dozens of others. But there's no debate about your position: you were part of Law's leadership team. You were part of a very sick, arrogant system that caused immeasurable harm first to hundreds of innocent children and later to innumerable Catholics, both of whom still suffer from shock and betrayal and struggle with deep emotional pain.
Suffice it to say that you worked at the "epicenter" of the abuse crisis, not as a low level employee or a just parish priest, but as a trusted "insider" at the archdiocesan headquarters. You worked with and under a now-disgraced church official whose insensitivity and arrogance has become a painful symbol of corruption to millions of Catholics.
You and your fellow former Boston auxiliary bishops cannot undo the past. But you need to be leading the way toward a safer future. You can do this by taking responsibility, showing courage, and initiating the steps we're outlined.
Bishops here, and across the world, repeat the same carefully-crafted mantra "If only we'd known more. We just didn't understand back then. But we've learned from our mistakes and pledge to do better in the future."
By and large, we find this inadequate at best and disingenuous at worst. But assuming for the moment there's some truth in this claim, it begs a compelling question: where is the evidence now that indeed you have learned? Records now show that abuse by clergy was shockingly widespread in Boston. You had experience dealing with it in Boston, and in your current diocese. What are you doing now to prevent it in the future?
Again, you can point to policies, procedures, paperwork, and press releases. But for the most part, we believe those at best are peripheral and at worst are little but public relations. Can you, however, cite any significant difference between you and the rest of America's bishops when it comes to abuse cases
If indeed you have learned, these three steps we request should come easily to you.
You and your fellow "Law alumni" may not be the worst bishops. That's both irrelevant and impossible to ascertain. You worked, however, for one of the worst. You were, however, part of an unhealthy, self-aggrandizing system of clerical arrogance. You remain a part of that legacy.
As a result, you have a deep duty to help ensure that it doesn't happen again.
Years ago, when you were in Boston, you should have known and done more to stop abuse years ago.
In recent years, after you'd left Boston, you should have spoken out against the corruption and secrecy and insensitivity in Boston's archdiocese.
And starting three years ago, you should have been among the courageous voices calling Cardinal Law to accountability.
We've seen little proof that you have done any of this. It leaves us wondering about how much you've really learned.
By taking these common sense safety precautions," you will go far to regain the shattered trust of many Catholics and victims, and to safeguard vulnerable adults and innocent children in the future.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests