The Editors
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In this issue, America deals with a crisis that is causing enormous pain and great scandal in the churchsexual abuse by priests. These crimesthere is no other word for themhave physically, psychologically and spiritually damaged hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children and their families. They have torn apart parish communities and smeared the reputation of anyone wearing a Roman collar. The attempts by some bishops to cover up the crimes have shocked those in and outside the church more than any other event in memory. The fact that abusive priests were reassigned to other parishes, where they again violated children, is deplorable and inexcusable.

While many bishops did not understand the gravity of the issue before the mid-1980’s, the national attention and the jury award in the Lafayette, La., case in 1986 should have awakened the church. Some bishops took action. In 1993 Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh fought for the removal from ministry of a priest all the way through the church’s highest tribunal in Rome. And when it overruled him, he demanded another hearing, which ultimately upheld the bishop. In the late 1980’s, the U.S. bishops’ conference held closed-door discussions on the issue, during which individual bishops acknowledged mistakes they had made and warned their colleagues not to do the same. But even when insurance companies excluded coverage of liability for sexual abuse, some bishops still did not get the message. They continued to believe that the problem was being blown out of proportion by the media and complained about the coverage given the issue by The National Catholic Reporter.

Only in 1993 did the conference leadership go public with guidelines and discussion. But the conference has repeatedly said that it has no authority to impose rules in this area and that it must respect the autonomy of each local bishop. This is unconvincing to many, considering that the conference has passed national legislation micromanaging such things as when people can kneel and stand during the eucharistic prayer.

What can be done to protect children and restore the credibility of the church? It is probably too late for episcopal resignations to make much difference. If early on some bishops had been willing to claim full responsibility and resign, victims, parishes, the media and juries might have been less inclined to vent their anger on the church as a whole. That not one bishop (except the two who were themselves abusers) has resigned during this 15-year-long crisis is astonishing.

What can the bishops do now? The sacrament of confession, penance and reconciliation points the way. Bishop after bishop has now apologized, but it would be appropriate for the bishops at their next national meeting to have a penance service. In this way they could publicly and sacramentally express their sorrow and need for forgiveness. Victims of abuse should be invited to participate in this service to the extent they find healing. Similar services could be held in dioceses around the country.

Second, the bishops must be willing to listen humbly to their people’s complaints and opinions, as Cardinal Bernard Law recently did at a public meeting in Boston. A climate of secrecy and reluctance to challenge those in authority helped cover up the abuse. It is also time to stop saying that certain topics are off limits for discussion in the church. The Boston Pilot’s editorial of March 15, which raised questions about celibacy and the ordination of married men, is certainly an exemplary beginning. Honest research and discussion about the extent of homosexuality in the clergy also must occur. Don’t ask, don’t tell does not work in the U.S. military; it is even more corrupting in seminaries and in the church. The ignorance displayed by the Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls in questioning the validity of the ordination of gay men should not be passed over in silence, nor should the false equating of homosexuality and pedophilia.

Third, there is need for a new system for investigating allegations of sexual abuse. Guidelines are in place; they must be strictly enforced. No professional grouplawyers, police, accountants, doctorsis good at policing itself. For the clergy, this is even more difficult not only because they are investigating their brothers, but also because their whole training urges them toward forgiveness rather than punishment. The bishopseven those who have done the right thingnow have no credibility in policing the clergy. No one will trust a clean bill of health given by a clerical board. Needed instead is an independent lay board in each diocese empowered to investigate every allegation against a priest or church employee. If the bishop does not follow its advice, it should be free to publicize its findings. Only such a board could credibly clear priests falsely accused of a crime.

The crisis of sexual abuse should never have happened. But as with every sin and failure, there is an opportunity for examining our conscience, confessing our failures, doing penance and firmly resolving that the church not be part of the problem but part of the solution to the wider plague of sexual abuse in our country. Such a program can take us out of darkness into the light of Easter.

Comments

(Most Rev.) Benedict C. Franzetta | 1/26/2007 - 4:14pm
I write respectfully with reference to the editorial “Healing and Credibility” (4/1). More specifically, I refer to the words “smeared the reputation of anyone wearing a Roman collar.” This is not intended as a critique of America, which I consider a valued arm of Catholic literature, both educationally and inspirationally. Nor is it intended as a critique of the editorial which was honest and straightforward.

Preferable to the wording quoted above, and much appreciated, would have been some nuanced phrasing recognizing that reputable priests must live and work under the shadow cast by others’ smeared reputation.

Considering the low percentage of known pedophile priests versus the high percentage of good priests with high integrity intact and demonstrated stability, it seems unfair to make the blanket statement covering “anyone wearing a Roman collar.” That high percentage demonstrates loyalty, consistency, devotion and willing commitment. Yet they have to live and minister in the shadow of a shameful, disheartening and disappointing church scandal. Those good priests have to face the public and continue their ministry under challenging circumstances and sometimes with personal sacrifices. This letter is intended to express support for those good priests in our country who bring honor and respect to the church and the priesthood in the face of this outrageous and overwhelming scandal which has infected our church. I thank them.

Joseph S. Costantino, S.J. | 1/26/2007 - 3:11pm
While you are recommending to the bishops in your editorial, “Healing and Credibility” (4/1), that they need an “independent lay board in each diocese empowered to investigate every allegation against a priest or church employee,” you might also make a similar recommendation to the major superiors of religious communities, including the U.S. Jesuit provincials. I know of no Jesuit province with this practice. Do you?

Sam Miglarese | 1/26/2007 - 3:30pm
The barrage of publicity that the media has given to the recent events in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere has deeply dismayed me. The scandal is bad enough when trust is betrayed by clergy who abuse the little ones, but it is multiplied many times over when diocesan bishops cover up perpetrators in secret. I am particularly pleased with the editorial “Healing and Credibility,” because the previous editorial was so balanced that it lacked moral outrage. Thank you. I pray you are heard.

Robert Eme | 1/26/2007 - 3:26pm
Your editorial “Healing and Credibility” (4/1) hit the nail on the head when it observed that “Honest research...about the extent of homosexuality in the clergy must occur.” But it let the bishops off the hook by overlooking the fact that it is precisely because they have opted for invincible ignorance and failed to promote “honest research” that “reliable statistics are hard to come by” (“The Importance of Perspective,” by Joseph Guido, O.P.). Unless the bishops experience a metanoia and decide for honesty, Paul Morrissey, O.S.A., (“Are Gay Priests Living a Lie?”) will continue to declaim fatuously, “Not all gay priests are sexually active....” Of course not. For any reasonable person, the question has always been one of magnitude, proportion, as it is with most questions of this nature. Is the percentage 99 percent, or 1 percent or what? If the bishops give the order, any semi-competent researcher can provide the same kind of reliable data on this question as exists in many areas of psychology and sociology.

Rev. Charles J. Norman, OSFS | 4/1/2002 - 6:12am
To every article in this edition. I respond with affirmation and admiration. Each essay provided needed information through compellingly reasoned, purposeful development. Though my library shelf is now stacked with years of previous AMERICA magazines, I can recall no edition more worthy of praise and deserving of gratitude. I thank every writer and the insightful, courageous editorial staff. As I have shared various articles of this edition with friends, collegaues, and collegians, I know my response will resonate harmoniously among thoughtful pursuers of truth everywhere.

Victor Susai | 3/26/2002 - 4:26am
I am one of the thousands of catholics, who have been deeply hurt by the actions of some of our priests and bishops, in whom we have great trust and respect. Your editorial is in the right direction and I strongly urge all the bishops to act accordingly.

Daniel Ross, SJ | 3/25/2002 - 1:24am
Thank you very much for hitting hard and straight on this. Please keep it up. Amid all the saddness caused by these scandals your editorial gives me some feeling of hope that good will come out of all of it. Recently, traveling in the U.S. I did not want to wear a Roman collar in public. I pray that one day I will be comfortable with it again.

sam miglarese | 3/24/2002 - 6:43pm
The barrage of publicity that the media has given to the recent events in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere has deeply dismayed me. The scandal is bad enough when trust is betrayed by clegy who abuse the little ones but it is multiplied many times over when Diocesan Bishops listen cover up perpetrators in secret. I am particularly pleased with the editorial on "healing and credibility" because the last editorial published was so balanced that it lacked moral outrage. Thank you. I pray you are heard.

Patrick Daly, MD | 4/4/2002 - 6:00pm
I cannot agree that the sacrament of penance points the way for what the bishops can do now in reponse to their crisis in leadership. In my experience, the sacrament has been seriously marred by bad faith since the time of Humanae Vitae. Another instance of the policy, "Don't ask, don't tell."

As far as the relation between homosexuality and pedophilia in the clergy, the impression exists that pedophiles have not been disciplined, in some cases at least, because they may know damaging information about gay clergy, including bishops, who remain sexually active under 'dispensation' of the sacrament of penance.

If a physician has sexual relations with an adult consenting patient, he or she is subject to loss of license. Some similar standard needs to be established for Catholic clergy. For the crime of pedophilia, stricter censure should be considered, including loss of all financial support.

As other writers have asked, what is Jesuit policy regarding pedophilia and clergy sexual misconduct? I would like to see a response to this question with commentary published in 'America.'

najib A. shamam | 4/1/2002 - 4:00pm
I would like to make a comment regarding sexual abuse. Jesus selected 12 apostles, one was Judas. The priests are apostles and some will sucumb to temptation. the church must do every thing to weed out priests who break their vows, cause injury to others and to the church. Those who repent and correct should be treated with charity and compasion and reassigned promptly to duties that do not involve children. Lay people should be part of some kind of review board untill the abuses are eliminated or shrunk to negligible. If guilty priests become subject of criminal or civil proceedins, the church should cooperate. The lay people are part of the church and are also apostles, and many are willing and capable of serving the church if given the opprtunity. Programs should be instituted to enable them to serve the church along side the dwindling number of priests. We live in a secular world where the faithful are encouraged, rather intimidated, to keep their faith personal and hidden as if it where some dirty underwar. Lay catholics working actively along side the priests will be the best apostles to evangelize and spread the Gospel of Christ more effectivly than priests who are burdened with administrative details. It is not easy to be a priest, especially in this age where we all swim in endless ocean of temptations heaped on us by groups with agendas and profit motives. The church should also consider ordination of older married or widowed men. All the apostles (most of them?) where married. Celibacy is not an article of faith, it is dictated by circumstances. Women always served the church as nuns. As in case of priests, the number of women choosing to be nuns has shrunk. There are women who are willing to serve the church without being a nun. They should be encouraged. In closing, caholics should be careful not to react to every suggesion in a liberal secular media. The liberal seculars and some special interest groups are not friends of the church (church=priesthood and lay people), they have their agendas and consider the church an impediment to imposing their goals on humanity.

Joseph S. Costantino, S.J. | 4/1/2002 - 9:51am
While you are recommending to the bishops in your editorial, "Healing and Credibility" (4/1/02) that they need an "independent lay board in each diocese empowered to investigate every allegation against a priest or church employee," you might also make a similar recommendation to the major superiors of religious communities, including the 10 US Jesuit Provincials. I know of no Jesuit Province with this practice. Do you?
Paul Kendrick | 4/1/2002 - 7:30am
I am a graduate of two Jesuit schools, Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine and Fairfield University.

During the past two and a half years, I have watched with utter dismay and disappointment at Cheverus' handling of sexual abuse allegations against a former lay track coach and a former teacher, soccer coach and Jesuit priest, Rev. James Talbot, S.J.

When the rubber hit the road, as it did with these "embarrassing" allegations, my Jesuit alma mater acted just like everyone else...corporations, lawyers, politicians.

The nine former Cheverus students who corageously came forward with their allegations of sexual abuse against these two popular coaches and teachers were met with silence and skepticism by The Administration. The victims became the enemy, the troublemakers, the problem. People asked, "Why are you bringing this all up now? Why hurt the school? It happened so long ago."

Talbot, the Jesuit priest, invoked his protection under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution when asked if he had sexually molested former students at either Cheverus or B.C. High. In June 2001 a civil lawsuit against Talbot was settled after three years of litigation. Now, more allegations of sexual abuse against Talbot have been reported at B.C High.

Legal fees for many of the victims are still unpaid. Cheverus claims that these bills are not their responsibility.

The lawyers representing Cheverus made every effort to blame Talbot's victim for the abuse. They attempted to disparage the victim's family. And yet, they never once denied that Talbot had committed the sexual abuse.

The Jesuit ideals of social justice that I first began to learn about as a 14 year-old freshman at Cheverus have become much more important to me these 38 years later. Our Jesuit education calls us to speak out for victims regardless of where and by whom they were victimized. The Gospels do not give us any choice. We cannot be silent.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Sincerely.

Art Evans | 3/29/2002 - 3:10pm
Why haven't pastors in other Christian denominations been accused in large numbers for this kind of misbehavior? To me, there is one and only one reason: the opportunity to marry.

Joe Walker | 3/27/2002 - 9:09am
Your article on Healing and Credibilty is commendable.

What are the root causes of the abominable conspiracy of silence among some bishops? Why have they habitually covered up patterns of criminal activity? Why have they been guilty of harboring felons? Why does the U.S.C.C.B. hypocritically claim powerlessness to decree diocesan guidelines for handling clerical sexual abuse? Why are so many Vatican prelates publicly minimizing and denying the seriousness of this situation?

Frankly, I believe the solutions to these problems may be found by a major overhaul and restructuring of the Church as an administrative organization.

Hopefully, the Catholic Church will soon renew itself by morphing into a more modern organizational structure, one in which the laity, as well as nuns, priests, and deacons, have a democratic voice in electing its "governors" and/or curial executives.

Periodic elections, recall procedures, and the like, could work toward making the shepherds and their staffs far more accountable to their flocks. The painful cases of abuse, the cover-ups, the paying of hush money to victims, etc. clearly demonstrate that the present outmoded and unworkable structure is producing a number of wolves who are shepherding their flocks.

Hopefully, though improbably, Vatican III's voting delegates will be elected by the rank and file members of the Church. I do, however, believe that if sunshine and light are not brought to the Church's managerial aspects, the Catholic Church will shrink and wither until such times as its moguls suffer a lot more heat and pain than they now are able to tolerate.

Lofty platitudes they will continue to preach; pain they will obey!

Rev. Charles J. Norman, OSFS | 4/1/2002 - 6:12am
To every article in this edition. I respond with affirmation and admiration. Each essay provided needed information through compellingly reasoned, purposeful development. Though my library shelf is now stacked with years of previous AMERICA magazines, I can recall no edition more worthy of praise and deserving of gratitude. I thank every writer and the insightful, courageous editorial staff. As I have shared various articles of this edition with friends, collegaues, and collegians, I know my response will resonate harmoniously among thoughtful pursuers of truth everywhere.

Victor Susai | 3/26/2002 - 4:26am
I am one of the thousands of catholics, who have been deeply hurt by the actions of some of our priests and bishops, in whom we have great trust and respect. Your editorial is in the right direction and I strongly urge all the bishops to act accordingly.

Daniel Ross, SJ | 3/25/2002 - 1:24am
Thank you very much for hitting hard and straight on this. Please keep it up. Amid all the saddness caused by these scandals your editorial gives me some feeling of hope that good will come out of all of it. Recently, traveling in the U.S. I did not want to wear a Roman collar in public. I pray that one day I will be comfortable with it again.

sam miglarese | 3/24/2002 - 6:43pm
The barrage of publicity that the media has given to the recent events in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere has deeply dismayed me. The scandal is bad enough when trust is betrayed by clegy who abuse the little ones but it is multiplied many times over when Diocesan Bishops listen cover up perpetrators in secret. I am particularly pleased with the editorial on "healing and credibility" because the last editorial published was so balanced that it lacked moral outrage. Thank you. I pray you are heard.

Patrick Daly, MD | 4/4/2002 - 6:00pm
I cannot agree that the sacrament of penance points the way for what the bishops can do now in reponse to their crisis in leadership. In my experience, the sacrament has been seriously marred by bad faith since the time of Humanae Vitae. Another instance of the policy, "Don't ask, don't tell."

As far as the relation between homosexuality and pedophilia in the clergy, the impression exists that pedophiles have not been disciplined, in some cases at least, because they may know damaging information about gay clergy, including bishops, who remain sexually active under 'dispensation' of the sacrament of penance.

If a physician has sexual relations with an adult consenting patient, he or she is subject to loss of license. Some similar standard needs to be established for Catholic clergy. For the crime of pedophilia, stricter censure should be considered, including loss of all financial support.

As other writers have asked, what is Jesuit policy regarding pedophilia and clergy sexual misconduct? I would like to see a response to this question with commentary published in 'America.'

najib A. shamam | 4/1/2002 - 4:00pm
I would like to make a comment regarding sexual abuse. Jesus selected 12 apostles, one was Judas. The priests are apostles and some will sucumb to temptation. the church must do every thing to weed out priests who break their vows, cause injury to others and to the church. Those who repent and correct should be treated with charity and compasion and reassigned promptly to duties that do not involve children. Lay people should be part of some kind of review board untill the abuses are eliminated or shrunk to negligible. If guilty priests become subject of criminal or civil proceedins, the church should cooperate. The lay people are part of the church and are also apostles, and many are willing and capable of serving the church if given the opprtunity. Programs should be instituted to enable them to serve the church along side the dwindling number of priests. We live in a secular world where the faithful are encouraged, rather intimidated, to keep their faith personal and hidden as if it where some dirty underwar. Lay catholics working actively along side the priests will be the best apostles to evangelize and spread the Gospel of Christ more effectivly than priests who are burdened with administrative details. It is not easy to be a priest, especially in this age where we all swim in endless ocean of temptations heaped on us by groups with agendas and profit motives. The church should also consider ordination of older married or widowed men. All the apostles (most of them?) where married. Celibacy is not an article of faith, it is dictated by circumstances. Women always served the church as nuns. As in case of priests, the number of women choosing to be nuns has shrunk. There are women who are willing to serve the church without being a nun. They should be encouraged. In closing, caholics should be careful not to react to every suggesion in a liberal secular media. The liberal seculars and some special interest groups are not friends of the church (church=priesthood and lay people), they have their agendas and consider the church an impediment to imposing their goals on humanity.

Joseph S. Costantino, S.J. | 4/1/2002 - 9:51am
While you are recommending to the bishops in your editorial, "Healing and Credibility" (4/1/02) that they need an "independent lay board in each diocese empowered to investigate every allegation against a priest or church employee," you might also make a similar recommendation to the major superiors of religious communities, including the 10 US Jesuit Provincials. I know of no Jesuit Province with this practice. Do you?
Paul Kendrick | 4/1/2002 - 7:30am
I am a graduate of two Jesuit schools, Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine and Fairfield University.

During the past two and a half years, I have watched with utter dismay and disappointment at Cheverus' handling of sexual abuse allegations against a former lay track coach and a former teacher, soccer coach and Jesuit priest, Rev. James Talbot, S.J.

When the rubber hit the road, as it did with these "embarrassing" allegations, my Jesuit alma mater acted just like everyone else...corporations, lawyers, politicians.

The nine former Cheverus students who corageously came forward with their allegations of sexual abuse against these two popular coaches and teachers were met with silence and skepticism by The Administration. The victims became the enemy, the troublemakers, the problem. People asked, "Why are you bringing this all up now? Why hurt the school? It happened so long ago."

Talbot, the Jesuit priest, invoked his protection under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution when asked if he had sexually molested former students at either Cheverus or B.C. High. In June 2001 a civil lawsuit against Talbot was settled after three years of litigation. Now, more allegations of sexual abuse against Talbot have been reported at B.C High.

Legal fees for many of the victims are still unpaid. Cheverus claims that these bills are not their responsibility.

The lawyers representing Cheverus made every effort to blame Talbot's victim for the abuse. They attempted to disparage the victim's family. And yet, they never once denied that Talbot had committed the sexual abuse.

The Jesuit ideals of social justice that I first began to learn about as a 14 year-old freshman at Cheverus have become much more important to me these 38 years later. Our Jesuit education calls us to speak out for victims regardless of where and by whom they were victimized. The Gospels do not give us any choice. We cannot be silent.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Sincerely.

Art Evans | 3/29/2002 - 3:10pm
Why haven't pastors in other Christian denominations been accused in large numbers for this kind of misbehavior? To me, there is one and only one reason: the opportunity to marry.

Joe Walker | 3/27/2002 - 9:09am
Your article on Healing and Credibilty is commendable.

What are the root causes of the abominable conspiracy of silence among some bishops? Why have they habitually covered up patterns of criminal activity? Why have they been guilty of harboring felons? Why does the U.S.C.C.B. hypocritically claim powerlessness to decree diocesan guidelines for handling clerical sexual abuse? Why are so many Vatican prelates publicly minimizing and denying the seriousness of this situation?

Frankly, I believe the solutions to these problems may be found by a major overhaul and restructuring of the Church as an administrative organization.

Hopefully, the Catholic Church will soon renew itself by morphing into a more modern organizational structure, one in which the laity, as well as nuns, priests, and deacons, have a democratic voice in electing its "governors" and/or curial executives.

Periodic elections, recall procedures, and the like, could work toward making the shepherds and their staffs far more accountable to their flocks. The painful cases of abuse, the cover-ups, the paying of hush money to victims, etc. clearly demonstrate that the present outmoded and unworkable structure is producing a number of wolves who are shepherding their flocks.

Hopefully, though improbably, Vatican III's voting delegates will be elected by the rank and file members of the Church. I do, however, believe that if sunshine and light are not brought to the Church's managerial aspects, the Catholic Church will shrink and wither until such times as its moguls suffer a lot more heat and pain than they now are able to tolerate.

Lofty platitudes they will continue to preach; pain they will obey!

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