The PA grand-jury report has a lot of pages. But I can now claim to have perused them all, dear reader.
“Dozens” of sex-abuse victims (or family members) testified before the grand jury. Less than 100. As I said before: First, we honor them.
Second, however, let’s note this: The report primarily consists of documents from the confidential clergy files of the six dioceses. The grand jury came into possession of those documents because the court served subpoenas on the diocesan offices in 2015 and 2016.
We can break down the 1,400 pages of the report into three large sections.
Section One. An overview of each of the six dioceses, with a narrative of particular cases of “institutional failure.”
Section Two. One- or two-page summaries of the depredations of all the accused predator priests (and deacons and seminarians).
Section Three. The responses submitted to the grand jury by the six dioceses, including responses by individual personnel.
The report, therefore, is a systematic attempt to synthesize information from two different sources: 1. The testimony of the witnesses. 2. The documents submitted under subpoena. It is an incredibly valuable collection of information.
This synthesis reveals…
- No reasonable person can come away with any doubt that the grand-jury did, in fact, uncover a scandalous failure on the part of diocesan officials between 1960 and 2002. They failed to recognize that the sexual abuse of a minor is a crime that must be brought to justice and punished. They failed to recognize that they had a duty to believe the accusers and mistrust the perpetrators. They failed to recognize that they had a duty to protect potential future victims.
- It also reveals, however, that the subpoena’d documents have a context (the on-going relationships of all the priests and bishops involved) that the grand-jury did not have an adequate expertise to understand fully. The assessments of “institutional failure,” while fundamentally correct, do not penetrate to the depth necessary to solve the problems.
What do I mean by that? For one thing, the grand-jury apparently did not possess the complete case files of the clergy who had proceedings against them in Rome. Without those case files, the record is nowhere near complete.
Also, the grand jury (and subsequent news reports) appeared not to understand fully the obligation that a bishop has to a priest of his diocese. The bishop must provide three squares and a roof for all of his priests, no matter what.
But this brings me to…
3. We have a serious problem with the process of arriving at justice in cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy. (Obvious enough, but let me break that down.)
Canonical procedures remain opaque to the general public. Our total reliance on civil authority in this area leaves a huge gap: We may find ourselves completely convinced of an offender’s guilt, but the police don’t have adequate evidence, or there’s a statute of limitations, or some other impediment intervenes.
In other words, when the police and criminal justice system can’t do anything, we need a procedure for establishing the guilt of the accused in an open manner, without having to refer the case to to Rome. And we need ecclesiastical prisons for clergy sex abusers.
…Many Catholic commentators have noted that the report is difficult reading, requires Pepto Bismol, etc.
I grant that freely. But I note that squeamishness about sexual abuse is one of the big problems revealed by this report.
Attorney General Shapiro and the grand jury (in consultation with the FBI) note the use of “euphemisms” in the documents, as part of the effort to conceal the truth. The indefatigable Bill Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has written an intelligent “debunking” of the report. He points out that the euphemisms, to which AG Shapiro referred, actually do not appear in the documents. True enough. But other, horrendously dangerous euphemisms do appear, over and over again.
In the most-moving scene of Spotlight, one of the Boston Globe reporters urges a sex-abuse victim to spell out for her in explicit detail what happened. That is what we need to bring about justice, the reporter says. In my book, that is profoundly correct.
…Now, speaking of seeking justice:
As I said, the grand jury interviewed somewhere between 24 and 100 victims or family members of victims. Their testimony certainly plays a significant role in this report.
But the report fundamentally consists of the documents subpoena’d from the dioceses.
Which means: The diocesan officials who had in their possession these documents, and who did not foresee that their publication would embarrass the Church–crushingly, brutally embarrass the Church–and who did not take steps themselves to see justice done somehow: those officials have failed us, the Catholic people. They have failed us very, very grievously.
They cannot say: Well, we have been doing right since 2002! That has nothing to do with this. This has to do with the investigative work in Pennsylvania, done by the civil authority, that began in 2015.
We, the people of the Church, could have been spared this horrible embarrassment very easily. If Church officials had acted on these documents–had published them, had sought out the victims–before they were subpoena’d–this entire catastrophic embarrassment of August 2018 could have been avoided completely.
…Here’s an irony. The Pennsylvania grand-jury has invaded the independent operations of these dioceses, justifiably so. And the grand jury’s work has led to the widespread conclusion that the Church cannot govern Herself properly. So there will certainly be civil laws passed in many states that interfere with the independent operation of the Catholic Church. All totally justifiable.
Meanwhile, the USCCB has spent enormous energies this past decade championing “Religious Freedom.” All that effort has gone down the drain in a few short days. While the bishops blathered on about the Founding Fathers, these documents sat in their archives, ticking like the bomb on the Hindenburg. Nice work, guys. Nice work.
Please resign. We need champions of justice running our dioceses. Not you.