It Is Past Time for a National Federal Investigation into the Catholic Church
The United States is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to investigating and preventing cases of Catholic child sexual abuse. We need to catch up and we can start by launching a federal investigation into sexual crimes and cover-ups committed by clergy and staffers.
Australia, the UK, France, and Canada have all launched their own nationwide investigations into crimes committed against their children and the vulnerable by Catholic clergy. It is time that the US does the same. The McCarrick report is only the most recent example of the critical need for secular oversight and it is becoming clearer and clearer that we cannot trust the word of Church officials when they promise to investigate their own.
Revelations that multiple US bishops lied to protect their friend Ted McCarrick from a Vatican “investigation” illustrates that internal probes are fraught with bias and unlikely to be probative. But the McCarrick scandal is not the only situation that shows the need for external oversight.
Take, for example, the case of Nicholas DiMarzio, a bishop in Brooklyn. Bishop DiMarzio had been tasked by the Vatican to investigate wrongdoing in the neighboring Diocese of Buffalo, but he himself has been accused twice of child sexual abuse and a nearly-year-long investigation from Vatican officials has yet to reveal any findings to the public. For another example, look at that of Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. Archbishop Lori was tasked with investigating the crimes of former West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield, but when he released his final report, the Archbishop scrubbed any mention of the lavish financial gifts that Bishop Bransfield doled out to other prelates, including Archbishop Lori himself.
These investigations – led by men trained in theology, not evidence collection, and who have close personal relationships with the people they are ostensibly investigating – are no replacement for investigations done by secular attorneys, armed with search warrants, subpoenas and the ability to compel testimony under oath. If the US Justice Department has the ability to investigate the recruitment of baseball players, it can investigate an institution that has shown time and time again that it will put its own reputation over the safety of children and the vulnerable.
In the past, information about Catholic clergy abuse has come from brave survivors and advocates who have changed laws to give victims their day in court and ensure that truths are bared to the faithful and the public. But it cannot be on the backs of survivors exclusively to expose this corruption and protect future children. The federal government needs to step in.
It is time for the US to join the ranks of these other nations and investigate the true extent of Catholic clergy abuse in America. President-elect Biden should instruct his Justice Department on day one of his administration to open an investigation into the institutional Catholic Church and to learn the truth about the scope of this scandal and begin making changes that will better protect children and the vulnerable from the scourge of sexual abuse.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)