Grand Jury Finds 300 Abusive Catholic Priests, More Than 1,000 Victims

A Pennsylvania grand jury, tasked with exploring child abuse within some of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, has indicated finding rampant abuse and accompanying conspiracy to shield that abuse from public view. The grand jury’s numbers are somehow both staggering and unsurprising:

  • More than 300 priests have been found to have engaged in predation over six decades, each of them aided and abetted by an institution that sought only to protect itself from any accompanying consequences, rather than to protect children from abuse.
  • At least 1,000 individual victims have been identified, with presumably more either unwilling or unable to come forward.

If this seems at all familiar, that is because it should, both within the horror timeline of the Catholic Church itself – abuse allegations have repeatedly been substantiated throughout both the United States and around the world – and throughout broader society generally, including bedrock sporting organizations and established cultural institutions. And in each case, the response from the offenders has always been exactly the same: to sacrifice the wellbeing of children at the altar from protecting themselves from the consequences of their actions.

It is tempting to imagine the day that every single institution guilty of this sort of wanton criminal conspiracy is disassembled, brick by brick by brick, until the only thing left is the weeds that emerge from the earth left behind. Those institutions certainly deserve nothing better, kinder, or gentler. How many lives were inexorably changed, both by the abuse itself, and the subsequent refusal to believe reports of it? How many abusers inexplicably enjoyed a benefit of the doubt that their victims were never even offered? How many lives were sacrificed to protect the institutions that enabled such involuntary sacrifice?

But of course, the problems are bigger, and so to fantasize about an Ozymandiasian end to those institutions ignores the larger, more fundamental issue: that we are culturally hard-wired to disbelieve reports of abuse. There can be no other explanation for the ongoing inability of so many different people from so many different walks of life to understand not only the fundamental injustice of abuse but the fixes necessary to properly address it. Those fixes – as simple as not knee-jerkingly siding with adults who dispute claims made by children, to as complicated as not allowing organizations to investigate themselves – are frankly impossible to imagine coming to fruition, even in a modern world, where more than ever we understand that abuse occurs most often because it is knowingly enabled by people who simply prefer not to recognize what is occurring before their eyes.

That last paragraph reads as the abandonment of hope for a better tomorrow. Perhaps it should not. But as tempting as it is to believe that things today are better than they were then, whenever that might have been, there is no denying that the end result of this grand jury’s report is almost certainly not going to be widespread criminal charges filed against every single person who knowingly and willingly colluded with an ongoing attempt to shield abusers from the consequences of their actions, from the highest priest to the lowest apparatchik. Hands will be thrown up, frustrated declarations will be made, and those that caused so much suffering, or aided and abetted in its occurrence, will be left to dwell on it, as if living an unfettered life is any sort of punishment at all.

“That is surely punishment enough!” will be the claim made by some, because, as it is with the abuse itself, it is thought to be better and easier to put such cultural failings out of mind as quickly as possible.

 

 

(Featured image from https://www.facebook.com/mmcdonnellcps/posts/10211657679579802, shared by blanket permission of image creator, who was a victim of this abuse.)


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27 thoughts on “Grand Jury Finds 300 Abusive Catholic Priests, More Than 1,000 Victims

  1. I’m so sick of this stuff. I mean, the abused have a right to be heard, and more power to them (and any abuser that gets shuttered away from children until they die is a good outcome on some level).

    But honestly I think I felt better when I was a little kid and I couldn’t imagine ANYONE else possibly having to go through what I had to go through, and blamed myself thereby. (Which, to be clear, was pretty f’ing bad and almost unsurvivable.)

    The pervasiveness is just….. overwhelming. And I agree with your thesis about being culturally hard-wired.

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    • The thing is, though, we’re *not* hard-wired against witch hunts, or we wouldn’t have done them so many times in so many contexts (McCarthy’s Red Scare, for eg). What we seem to be hard-wired against is specifically allegations of abuse against the already status-laden and/or relatively powerful (even if it’s just “father of the family” relatively powerful, but the more power, the harder the wiring), not against just anyone in general….

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        • It’s not that a pedophile might have hidden in priest’s robes, nor that a powerful organization might have tried to bury the truth. That’s not what we resist — we love conspiracy theories, and we all know bad people like to hide behind public displays of goodness.

          No, it’s the combination — that a beloved or trusted institution would hide these particular crimes that breaks belief. It’s very much something we don’t want to believe.

          We’re happy to believe that a big company would hide nasty truths about their products to make money, or that politicians would take bribes for votes, or any number of understandable ills.

          It’s believing an institution we trust, one that is at the core of many people’s lives, would fail their own mission and their own members like this? That’s where we struggle. We can’t reconcile the motive (“protect our powers and interests”) with what we believe about them (“Good, Christians who are cornerstones of the community and our civilizations”).

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  2. I was thinking of this in the other thread where I mentioned that the history of the human race regarding those who are powerless is not encouraging.

    Almost all civilizations I am aware of had some form of institutionalized class system where certain members were stripped of power and agency.

    Sometimes it was slavery, sometimes serfdom, sometimes a caste system.
    Often it was merely poverty or some type of rigged system excluding groups from power.

    Almost always, though, it was sorted out by gender and age. Women and children were always on the bottom of the hierarchy wherever they landed.

    Where I am coming to, is that it doesn’t seem to be an aberration, something that went wrong with the system. This WAS the system.

    When Romans bought Greek slaves, what do we imagined happened to the children? When medieval Europeans formed workhouses for orphan children, what do we think went on with these tiny people who were essentially nonpersons, without any form of rights or representation?

    I read an article by one of the software engineers for Second Life, where he noted the exhilaration of a world where you could create an avatar of literally anything.
    But very quickly they realized what people wanted to create, were little children for ugly purposes.

    So this is where I approach the idea of artificial sentient beings with dread. The dream of having powerless slaves, living beings we can do with what we will, hasn’t slackened one bit over the centuries.

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  3. So I have a couple FB friends that are Trad Catholics. The first thing I saw when I opened FB, before I saw this post or heard about it on the news, was a post suggesting the return of female Deacons, something I didn’t even know ever existed in the RCC. The comments were pretty uniform in rejecting such a vile suggestion and proceeded to blame teh gays, feminists, secular society, etc and deflect with a heaping helping of whataboutism. Anything to avoid having to admit that something may be deeply rotten in their precious Church.

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  4. … the larger, more fundamental issue: that we are culturally hard-wired to disbelieve reports of abuse. There can be no other explanation …

    I hear ya, but I don’t think that’s quite right. If we’re hardwired at all about these things I think its to not challenge powerful people in cases where meeting the burden of proof upsets multiple highly valued apple carts. Either way, it’s pretty sickening stuff and most likely no one will do jail time. (I’d be very happy to be proven wrong about that.)

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  5. But of course, the problems are bigger, and so to fantasize about an Ozymandiasian end to those institutions ignores the larger, more fundamental issue: that we are culturally hard-wired to disbelieve reports of abuse.

    This. We’ve seen this over and over again. With Sandusky. With Michigan State. With Ohio State. With priests. With politicians. We don’t want to believe it’s true.

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  6. It is tempting to imagine the day that every single institution guilty of this sort of wanton criminal conspiracy is disassembled, brick by brick by brick, until the only thing left is the weeds that emerge from the earth left behind. Those institutions certainly deserve nothing better, kinder, or gentler.

    So here’s Burt Likko the atheist, the lapsed Catholic, feeling an instinct to say that these institutions do a great deal of good as well. Not to apologize for the hellish awfulness of the crimes under discussion, but to question whether the RCC really ought to be dismantled brick by brick.

    We have little history in our culture of blaming institutions for crimes; we blame individuals and sometimes punish them and sometimes don’t. Now, I’d be a blind fool to not see that institutions often play a role in deciding when individuals who deserve punishment escape it. And I’m 100% for limiting the power of non-judicial institutions to interpose that kind of power. All should stand equal before the law and a Roman collar is no defense to rape.

    In another context, I wrote recently of how the RCC had been a source of strength and solace and support for my recently-department grandmother. It offered a cultural continuity that she needed when she immigrated to the United States. It offered her a venue by which she made friends in a new community. It does this for others as well; it also performs a great deal of charity work to help make up for the shameful shortages in our governmental social welfare system. While I dislike certain things about how they go about doing their business (e.g., refusing to dispense contraception and indoctrinating the impressionable at vulnerable moments), the hospitals and schools run by the RCC’s various entities are a net positive for our society.

    When we talk of dismantling institutions, the remnants of my mostly-withered conservatism come alive again and I am animated to counsel caution. Remove individuals from positions of institutional power who have betrayed the trust and responsibility placed in them, to be sure. Encourage and foster meaningful reform within them to prevent future abuses. But we may well miss institutions such as these when they are gone, and we may well like what is erected in their place afterwards even less.

    Please let nothing in this comment hint or suggest that any of the victims of these crimes deserve less than the best justice our society is capable of delivering.

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    • Burt,

      Yours is, of course, a fair point. I am extreme in my position on this, having long ago adopted the Dan Savage perspective that we wouldn’t keep Denny’s open if Denny’s had done what the Catholic Church has done. His point is made out of anger. Mine is too.

      So I very much respect your perspective. But I cannot help but believe that this will not stop. These institutions have doubled and tripled and quadrupled down. Is there an example of any of them stepping forward and voluntarily opening their books? Is there an example of any of them taking the sort of meaningful responsibility that they demand of everybody else? I don’t think there is. And I’m not sure how to view that as the sort of contrition I would expect or want to see before willingly agreeing to anything.

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      • we wouldn’t keep Denny’s open if Denny’s had done what the Catholic Church has done

        Wouldn’t we? Remember when Denny’s was caught red-handed blatantly discriminating against black people? Yet today even black people go to Denny’s. And Denny’s pretty much sucks even apart from that.

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    • Remove the individuals from positions of power, sure – but 300 individual priests? And every other priest who covered up for them? The are only about 2500 Catholic priests in the whole state

      That’s approaching the kind of statistics I’d expect to hear about, i don’t know, prison guards or the hell’s angels or something.

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    • I see your point and half of me agrees with it, but half of me wonders what it will take to get the people who are in charge of governing these institutions to start thinking that the best way to protect their institutions when someone in their ranks is abusing children [1] is to remove them from their position and alert law enforcement.

      [1] Or adults.

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    • So here’s Burt Likko the atheist, the lapsed Catholic, feeling an instinct to say that these institutions do a great deal of good as well. Not to apologize for the hellish awfulness of the crimes under discussion, but to question whether the RCC really ought to be dismantled brick by brick.

      The question of whether the RC Church does a great deal of good is almost beside the point. The chances that the Church and its buildings are going to be dissembled and torn down brick by brick are, to any reasonable number of significant digits, exactly zeros. Mind you, this isn’t a point about what should happen; it’s a point about what will happen.

      So, as long as we are in the realm of wishful thinking, a better wish would be something more like hoping that the offending parties and their enablers are rooted out, punished and replaced with people who will use the resources of the Church to make amends to the victims and prevent future victimization. Razed ground is great for all of those Old Testament, revenge urges that we have, but piles of bricks aren’t very useful for doing good.

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  7. At first, I thought this was discovering stuff that had happened in the same era as all the stuff that happened in Boston. (i.e. later half of 20th century, all coming to light circa 2000 or so). But then I read something that the local Diocese was covering up actions that happened as late as 2010, and I was flabbergasted.

    That these events were front page news, that the Boston Diocese had literally declared bankruptcy (of the financial kind) and someone thought it was *still* a good idea to follow the same institutional behavior?

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        • Its larger than Wuerl in my circles… the McCarrick scandal and the Boston Seminary Scandal (and others too numerous to list) have caused many to question the competency of the entire episcopate. In the larger context the PA report connects some dots to the Bishops in ways that were not connected before. I’m hearing calls for a complete forensic audit of finances and a full inquest (Inquisition, if you prefer) into each diocese and the network of Bishops.

          Maybe the simplest way to put it is this: previously it was thought that the problem was priests and priestly formation; and proper protocols (aka the Dallas Charter) if properly followed would begin to address the problems (and it has, per the PA report); but now there’s a much stronger perception that the problems in the priesthood stem from the failure of the episcopacy, or worse, that the episcopacy is complicit not just in the cover-up, but in the actual crimes and the perpetuation of the formation problems. This alone is a pretty major shift.

          It gets complicated after that because while Rome has the authority, there’s doubt it has the proper judgement (or maybe fortitude is the better word) to address or oversee the inquest… without getting in to inside baseball… if there’s one potentially new upshot is that the traditional side is lining up in favor of a Lay-run inquest under Papal authority. It is not clear that such a thing could or would happen… but that’s a pretty titanic shift if it does.

          {There are also practical considerations in that there are around 200 dioceses in the US, and managing an inquiry of that scale would take years… but then all proper inquisitions last a good while}

          Also seeing public airing on the traditional side is a reconsideration of the practicum of unmarried priests. Plus much fainter musings on whether we have too many Bishops or too few, or whether we burn our bishoprics down to the ground and go back to mission status (both more and less radical than it sounds… but definitely a minority view).

          I can’t ascertain yet whether the winds of reform will be sustained or possibly artfully dispersed and redirected in factional fights. But as of now, the gusts are strong.

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  8. From what I can tell, some would pray for their mother, were she to fall sick, while others would sharpen knives against her.

    From the most reliable (i.e., non-governmental) numbers I can find, roughly 1 in 3 girls in the U.S. and 1 in 6 boys is molested sexually.
    So, I’m always a bit skeptical when I see grandstanding on the matter, especially where I see a thick coat of absolutism.

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