USCCB Releases Annual Implementation Report, SNAP Responds
America’s bishops have put out today yet another self-report on the church’s on-going abuse and cover up crisis. At this point, no one should trust internal church figures on this horror.
We do agree with Catholic officials on one point: abuse reports are increasing. Bishops claim that this is because a handful of dioceses are announcing victim pay out programs. We believe, however, that the reasons are more complex than one single cause.
Victims are coming forward now because of real progress by secular authorities, as lawmakers are increasingly getting rid of archaic, predator-friendly laws and at least 19 attorneys general have launched investigations. This progress has many survivors feeling hopeful.
We also believe that ongoing revelations about institutional sexual abuse cases – from the #MeToo movement in Hollywood to recent scandals at major universities like Michigan State and Ohio State – are leading more people to become informed about the realities of sexual violence, creating a more welcoming atmosphere for survivors of all kinds to come forward.
At the same time though, we also believe that victims are also speaking up because they’re dismayed by continuing recklessness and cover ups by church officials. Many are feeling disgusted.
Catholic officials continue to disingenuously stress that the offenses themselves happened years ago. But that is no indication that there is less abuse these days, it is just a reflection of a simple reality: very few have the maturity, strength and courage to promptly report being victimized by a trusted adult. Reaching that point takes decades. There always has been and will be many years between when a child is sexually violated and when they come forward later in life.
Everyone acknowledges that false child sex abuse reports are very, very rare, so we are alarmed that church officials have found only three of 26 new allegations involving current children “substantiated.” Sadly, that is even worse than the percentage of “unsubstantiated” reports found in Illinois last year by the attorney general’s investigation. This is yet another reason why it is crucial that the independent, experienced professionals in law enforcement handle pedophile priest cases, not the untrained staff in church offices.
In announcing this report, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said “when it comes to the protection of young people, the question must always be ‘what more can be done?’” We have several suggestions:
- Church officials in every single diocese in the country can and should turn their records regarding cases of sexual abuse over to their state attorney general for investigation.
- Those same officials should instruct church staff – now mandated reporters, per Pope Francis – to make a report of their suspicions to secular law enforcement before reporting allegations internally.
- They should also publicly post full lists of all clergy – living and dead, diocesan or religious order – that have had allegations of abuse against them in order to keep communities informed.
- And church officials can pledge to stop lobbying against statute of limitations reform – as they have recently in Pennsylvania and South Dakota – and instead support legislation like “windows to justice” that allow survivors to have their day in court, leading to more informed and safer communities.
(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)