There are lots of excuses the Springfield’s Catholic bishop could use for doing nothing:
“O’Brien’s not a Springfield diocesan priest.” “He hasn’t worked here for years.” “He hasn’t been convicted of anything.” “He’s never been sued for molesting kids in southwestern Missouri.” “We do enough outreach to child sex abuse victims.”
These are just a few of the excuses. There are plenty of others. But make no mistake about it – these are just excuses, and none of them are good ones.
Tons of reasons for Springfield’s bishop to do nothing. That would be the safe choice. Because who knows – if he urges victims of predator priests to step forward, some may do so. And then he’ll have to deal with them.
And no Catholic official has ever been defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even denounced by the Catholic higher-ups for doing nothing to reach out to victims.
So it’s safest and simplest and easiest for Springfield’s bishop to do nothing. Still, we hope he’ll instead do what’s right, honor Christ’s parable of the lost sheep, and seek out other men and women who may have been hurt by Msgr. Thomas O’Brien.
It’s not hard. It’s not expensive. It’s not controversial. All the bishop has to do is use his diocesan website and newspaper and his dozens of parish bulletins and pulpits to send this simple, clear message: “If you were hurt by Msgr. O’Brien, please come forward, get help, protect others and call police. That’s your civic and your Christian duty. And that’s the first step towards recovery.”
What a powerful signal this would send! It would validate Joe Ellred’s suffering. It would do the same for hundreds of others in southwest Missouri who were molested by clerics, coaches, teachers, and other trusted adults. It would show the public and parishioners that this bishop takes children’s safety seriously.
And it might do two other things.
First, it might help one struggling victim break his or her silence and go to therapy, tell a spouse, and begin the long, tough road to recovery from unspeakable childhood trauma.
Second, it might help bring forward one victim, witness, or whistleblower would could get O’Brien behind bars, so that kids would be safer.
This may seem like a long shot to some. But to us, to adults who have been sexually violated, it seems like the bare minimum.
Come on, Bishop Johnston. Break the mold. Show some courage. Express some compassion. Use your power and your pulpit to reach out to those trapped in shame, silence and self-blame because of clergy sex crimes. And maybe, just maybe, help get a serial predator locked up.