Op-Ed List


The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Opinions & Editorials

Select essays from around the nation


by Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.

January 6, 2004

The lengthy and detailed report on the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People contains much to commend the individual dioceses and the individuals selected to conduct the audit investigation. There seems little doubt that this is a good "first step" but it far from the end of the road. Those bishops and others who see it as a turning of the corner are sadly mistaken. While the report has much to commend it, the deficiencies loom and must be both acknowledged and someday addressed if the so-called "corner"is ever to be reached and the end of the road, a Church of openness, trust and compassion led by a majority of leaders with similar virtues, is to be seen.

The major problem with this report and the process which it describes is that it seems primarily geared toward re-establishing the lost credibility of the bishops rather than getting at the root cause of the sex abuse nightmare and thereby effectively dealing with the many painful aspects of this nightmare. True, the report examines the norms of the Charter in great detail and at times makes realistic and pointed observations followed by sincere recommendations. The problem is that the entire endeavor only scratched the surface and this, by design. The purpose of the audit process was to determine compliance with the Charter which tells very little of the total clergy abuse story. The report is certain to disappoint and anger victims, survivors, their families and loved ones, their supporters and many other lay, clergy and religious who have been waiting for an adequate organizational response to this terrible dark night of Catholicism's corporate soul.

SNAP and LINKUP, the two oldest, largest and most effective and credible victim/
survivor support organizations have issued responses to the report. Both responses are right on target and should be taken to heart by every bishop in the country. At the risk of repeating what these organizations have already said so eloquently, I believe it is vital to understand that a major deficiency in this report is the fact that it gives the impression that the one source that remains the most important, the victims and survivors, was the one source given minimal opportunity for input. SNAP reports that only 3 of its 4600 members were interviewed. This fact alone is a major drain on the credibility of the report and the process.

The report itself admits that it spoke only with victims who had reported since the Charter was issued in 2002. The clergy sex abuse phenomenon is not limited to the past few years but extends back as far as the oldest victim. Stating that many accusations concern events from years ago in no way excuses the bishops or their auditors from seeking out these people for their input and advice. The very fact that there are so many newly reported incidents from years or even decades ago lies at the heart of the fundamental issue which is.....the religiously inspired duress experienced by so many victims which prevented them from coming forward until they sensed a socio-cultural milieu wherein they would be believed and a community that would support them if they chose to take on the last "sacred institution"of our culture, the church.

The two major deficiencies in the process that I see are these: it did not adequately address and evaluate Article One of the Charter which called for "healing, outreach and reconciliation." If anything, those of us deeply involved with the victims and survivors know that this has consistently been the most grievous flaw in the Church's response to the scandal. The victims have been ignored, intimidated, marginalized, threatened, re-victimized. The report recognized only two bishops for their outreach to victims. It would have been far more important had the Charter devoted most of its energy to this aspect than to finding new and efficient ways to dispatch accused priests or create an institutional response with more boards, committees and protocols. The impression given is that the report measured a bureaucratic response to a bureaucratic solution to the problem rather than the far more challenging and difficult human and Christian response to the spiritual, emotional and psychological devastation inflicted on thousands of victims, young and old. The audit committee should have figured out some way to assess the quality of the response to the victims and not simply the quantity. The number of times a bishop meets with victims means little if the victims come away feeling empty and still filled with an equal amount or more anger than when they went into the meeting.

The second and most glaring deficiency of the report and the process is the fact that it does not even begin to look at the more fundamental and troubling question for victims, survivors and most lay people, Catholic and otherwise. Why was sexual abuse by Catholic clergy covered up for so many years and why did it take a tidal wave of devastating publicity, an endless squall line of high profile law suits and a massive drainage of dollars to wake the bishops up. They are still on the defensive and denial is still at towering heights. We can never forget that there have been two significant parts to this nightmare: the countless instances of sexual abuse of children, minors and adults by Catholic deacons, priests and bishops and the concerted efforts at coverup, deception, stone-walling and re-victimization by the Church's leadership.

The clergy sex abuse scandal is not a problem of several hundred dysfunctional clerics. It is far deeper than that. It is a problem of leadership, the misuse and misunderstanding of power and above all, a gross misunderstanding the very meaning of "church." The "good of the church" is not the security and power of the Bishops' Conference, the reverence and prestige of individual bishops, the falsely exalted position of clerics or the erroneous sacralization of the clerical state. The good of the church is an honest, fearless and compassionate concern for those most harmed by this tragic phenomenon, starting with the victims and extending to every person whose trust, expectations and hope was shattered by a leadership who appeared to sacrifice fundamental Christian principles for the sake of ecclesiastical power.

It is possible however, to end on a hopeful note. The "audit," no matter how flawed, did take place and the bishops, perhaps too slowly, are gradually coming to a realization as individuals and as a corporate entity of the almost unimaginable dimensions of this vast and complex phenomenon. No matter what the reasons, the institutional church is not where it was twenty or even five years ago. The church....the whole church and not just that tiny percentage who make up the clergy and hierarchy, is further along on the road to openness than when it all started.

If in fact, the institutional church is closer to its self proclaimed ideal of being the "People of God" it will be because of the pressure, urging, anger and persistence of the thousands of victims and survivors who have had the courage to step up and not allow themselves to be swallowed by the anonymity of history.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests