Stephen Crittenden reports in NCR, this week end, that Hunter Valley in New South Wales, located in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, is noted for its beaches and vineyards; and more recently it has become the epicenter of Catholic sex abuse in Australia.
Now, a special commission of inquiry in Newcastle reports that leaders of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle knew of repeated sexual abuse by one of its priests, for at least for 50 years, but failed to notify police until 2003.
The inquiry was launched after allegations by a senior Hunter Valley detective that the Catholic Church “covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church.”
In this case, the detective reports that the abusive priest had up to 100 victims, mostly girls from age 4 to 12; and that he was moved from parish to parish in Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, even though four successive bishops of Maitland-Newcastle knew of his crimes but kept their mouths shut “to protect the good name of the church.”
“Protecting the good name of the church” is the theme song these days for a great number of our episcopal leaders, in Australia, in Europe, and of course in the United States where it has echoed loudly in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Los Angeles…and many points in between.
What we have seen and still see, as John Salveson strongly observes, in an excellent article in this summer’s Notre Dame Magazine, is Roman Catholic risk-management.
As Salveson, a survivor of sexual abuse on Long Island and later as a student at Notre Dame, observes:
“At the Long Island parish where I grew up, I spoke to 400 parishioners who were trying to oust their pastor. He was, according to a 2003 report issued by a grand jury in Suffolk County, New York, a central player in the cover-up of the abuse committed in that diocese. Throughout this period, I gave television, print and radio interviews, held press conferences and wrote Op-Ed pieces for newspapers…….
“Most alarming of all, nothing was improving. All those people in the pews, who kept telling me how wonderful I was and were asking if I could give another talk, were sitting quietly by. As far as I could tell, they were doing almost nothing meaningful or effective to attempt to change their Church. I had no doubt that they were genuinely upset, bitter and angry. But I wondered if they were capable of little more than listening to a survivor like me and showing the proper empathy…..
“But as a front-line soldier in this war, I could see clearly that many in the Church continued to do those things that created the crisis in the first place — treating victims like legal adversaries, refusing to identify and sometimes hiding abusive priests as well as allowing them to serve in active ministry and, most important, failing to hold a single bishop or cardinal accountable for their role in enabling the rape of thousands of Catholic children…..
“Slowly, eventually, I figured out the reason for the lack of progress within the Church. It really was simple. I had long believed the Roman Catholic Church considered the child sex-abuse crisis to be a moral issue. So I expected clergy to care about the victims and to do the right thing.
“But the simple truth I had learned over time was this: Much of the Catholic leadership does not view this as a moral issue. They view it as a risk-management issue. The focus is on managing settlements, keeping the topic out of the media, telling the faithful everything is taken care of and, most of all, doing everything humanly possible to ensure none of these cases ever make it into a court of law.
“An institution focused on doing the right thing would admit wrongdoing, immediately remove abusive priests from ministry, embrace victims, reach out to their families, do everything possible to help them heal, and work to change laws that hide perpetrators and deny justice to victims.”
Risk-management or moral action?
The answer should be clear. And at all levels in the church. And no one can sit quietly by, to protect the good name of the church.