January 27, 2019

At the end of November (November 25 Bulletin Column) and then again just before Christmas (December 23rd Bulletin), I shared updates on the sexual abuse crisis and where the discussion is on addressing the crisis. Today I would like to once again summarize where we are and what lies ahead for addressing the crisis.

Last summer two bombshells hit the Catholic Church in the United States. The first was the revelation that former cardinal and retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, had been credibly accused of sleeping with seminarians, and abusing several children decades ago. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis has removed him from ministry.

The results of a Vatican investigation into the McCarrick case is expected soon. Some speculate that the results of this investigation will lead to McCarrick being removed from the priesthood (in popular language “defrocked”).

Within a few weeks after the news about Archbishop McCarrick, a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a report detailing decades of sexual abuse of minors by priests and cover-up by Church officials of this abuse. The report was stunning in its detail of shocking instances of abuse. The report cited more than 300 priests with credible accusations of abuse and more than one thousand victims.

In August, while the Pope was in Ireland, a former Papal Ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accused the Pope and other church leaders of knowing about the credible accusations against McCarrick, and doing nothing about it. Vigano’s credibility has been questioned by journalists and Vatican officials because of holes in his version of events, his history of criticism of Pope Francis and Vigano’s use of particular Catholic news outlets that have also been critical of the Pope.

In November, the U.S. Bishops, who had gathered in Washington, D.C., for their semi-annual meeting, were asked by the Vatican not to vote on any policy proposals until after a meeting at the Vatican of all the heads of Bishops’ conferences throughout the world scheduled for February 21-24. In January, at the request of the Holy Father, the bishops of the United States gathered at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago for a week-long retreat.

That is where things stand right now. Where are we with the protection of our children? This is one area that has been confusing for many. What has often been lost in this past seven months of reporting is the protections for children that have been in place in the Catholic Church in the United States since 2002.

The abuse described in the Pennsylvania grand jury report took place over an eighty year period. The height of the abuse, as is the case in dioceses throughout the country, took place between 1965 and 1985. More than 2600 cases were reported in the decade from 1969 to 1979.  From 2015 to 2017 (the most recent year that statistics are available), there have been 22 alleged abuse offenses reported.

The reason for the dramatic decline is the safe environment policies that have been in place in our country since 2002. This is important information for us to keep in mind as we navigate all the information about the sexual abuse crisis.

The current crisis, and the meetings to address the crisis, is about putting in place policies and procedures that apply to bishops that are analogous to the policies that have been in place for priests since 2002. The current discussion is about accountability for bishops who have credible accusations against them, or have covered up abuse in their diocese. Given the numbers cited above, this is mostly about abuse and cover up that happened decades ago.

Let us continue to keep victims of abuse in our prayers as we also pray for Church leaders to make decisions and put policies in place that will hold bishops accountable.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni