The National Catholic Review
The Editors

When the U.S. bishops meet in Dallas, Tex., on June 13-15, the sexual abuse crisis will be at the top of their agenda. The media, the laity and the nation will be watching, ready to pass judgment on the bishops if they do not meet expectations. Two issues have become litmus tests to measure how well the bishops meet their challenge: mandatory reporting and zero tolerance for sex abusers.

Mandatory Reporting. Good citizens are supposed to report crimes and assist the police in their work, but one is not normally arrested and prosecuted for not reporting a crime. It is presumed that the victim of a crime will report. But some crimeschild abuse, spousal abuse, abuse of the elderly, for examplefrequently go unreported because the victims are afraid or helpless. As a result, certain professions are designated mandatory reporters of these crimes: doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers and teachers.

In 29 states, priests are already mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, either because the law specifies them (11 states) or because everyone is required to report such suspicions (18 states). But normally, the law applies only if the victim is still a minor. Because of this, most of the recently revealed crimes by priests would not be covered by mandatory reporting laws; the victims are now adults and can report the crime themselves. In addition, the law usually limits reporting to credible allegations and suspicions, which leaves some discretion to the reporter. We believe that the church should report allegations of sexual abuse by priests even if the allegation is flimsy or concerns victims who are now adults.

Traditionally, priests and psychologists were not required to report crimes because society believed that victims would be helped and crime reduced if both victims and criminals had access to confidential professional help. Similarly, journalists are not normally required to reveal their sources because the public good of a free press outweighs any individual conviction. If the laws are changed, whatever is required of priests should also be required of other professionals, such as psychologists, doctors and teachers. But no matter what is determined regarding counseling sessions, the secrecy of the confessional must be respected by law.

Zero Tolerance. When faced with multimillion-dollar liability judgments, the simplest and safest policy for the church is to expel any priest guilty of sexual abusesimply throw him out on the streets and be done with him. On the other hand, this may not be what is best for society at large, let alone the most Christian response.

Sexual abuse cases are spread over a wide spectrum of types. There are the true pedophiles, who are compulsively attracted to prepubescent children and tend to be serial offenders. These are sick and dangerous people who will require lifelong supervision by the state and should never be allowed near children or in ministry. But most of the abuse by priests has been with post-pubescent teens. Some are true ephebophiles, who are sexually attracted only to such teenagers. These serial offenders should not be in ministry.

On the other hand, many adult heterosexual males, who are normally attracted to adult women, find some 16- and 17-year-old girls sexually attractive. Because of moral training, social constraints and sexual outlets with adult women, heterosexuals do not normally fall to this temptation. Likewise, many adult homosexual males, who are normally attracted to adult males, find some 16- and 17-year-old boys sexually attractive. Because of moral training, social constraints and sexual outlets with adult men, homosexuals do not normally fall to this temptation.

But some heterosexuals and homosexuals do fall, often with step-children, relatives, students or teenagers under their care. In many cases, alcohol, depression, loneliness and lack of adult sex facilitate the abuse. Although still criminals, these are not serial, compulsive abusers. Such abusers have lost the right to work with or care for children, but should they be defrocked for something that occurred 20 or 30 years ago and was not repeated? Could such priests’ work be confined to adults or to some kind of office work?

We believe that it should be national policy that no priest guilty of abusing a minor should remain in priestly ministry. Any exception to this policy should require the approval of a lay board and public disclosure of the priest’s past to any community to which he ministers.

But even if such priests never minister again, what should the church do with them? Throwing them out is an easy answer, but some of them are in their 70’s and 80’s and retired, with no means of support. It may also be safer for society if the church continues some supervision of such priests, although the risk of legal liability for doing so may frighten many bishops. These are not simple issues. When the bishops meet in Dallas, we should beware of simplistically passing judgment on them and listening only to sound bites.

Comments

Gerry Cassedy | 1/29/2007 - 9:14am
Your editorial on June 3 was the first hint of hope in the ongoing crisis. To be subjected to the otiose response of the Catholic hierarchy is painful to watch and personally embarrassing as a believing churchgoer.

The low point had to be the deposition of Cardinal Law. “I don’t know,” “I can’t remember” are not worthy responses to this self-inflicted moral crisis.

The question to be asked is not what did he know and when did he know it. The question is what would Jesus Christ have done and when would he have done it?

Thomas Smolich, S.J.<BR>Provincial Superior | 1/26/2007 - 4:36pm
Thank you for your editorial on June 3 about the current crisis. I agree with your observation about the need for lay boards. No matter how “zero tolerance” is defined, there will always be situations where judgment is needed; that judgment must include the people of God.

I would disagree, however, with one point: the automatic reporting of a past incident with a minor where the minor is now an adult. We as church do have an obligation to make sure that no one is at risk by the accused offender. But beyond that, each case is different.

Having dealt with this situation, it is important to help the victim take the lead so that however the process evolves, he/she is in control of it and is not victimized again. Often, informing church authorities is the first step in dealing with painful memories. Adult victims who come to us rather than to law enforcement are looking for pastoral care and, most of all, an apology. When they are ready, they have the power to tell civil authorities on their own terms, perhaps assisted by the church representatives who have accompanied them in the process.

Leo C. Sprietsma | 6/6/2002 - 9:28am
If the US Bishops were truly wise, they would invite Fr. Thomas Doyle to address their meeting in June. And afterwards assign him as their spokesman for these issues of sexual abuse in the Church.

Of all the people I have seen interviewed on TV he is the one Catholic spokesman who seems to come across with the most "presence" and the most sense, and the greatest compassion for the victims of abuse.

Fr. Leo C. Sprietsma, OFM | 6/4/2002 - 10:00am
When the Bishops meet in Dallas, I hope that they have the good sense to invite Fr. Thomas Doyle to address the assembly.

Of all the people on TV Interviews, he seems to come across with the most sense and the most "presence."

The Bishops may have ignored him the first time around back in 1985, but it is time for them to use him to the fullest extent possible, perhaps even making him their official national spokesman!

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J. | 6/3/2002 - 11:31am
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be meeting in Dallas two weeks from now. The bishops will be under unprecedented scrutiny from the media for what they will say about the crisis in the American Catholic Church stemming from clergy sexual abuse. By now, after these months of agony, the bishops should already know that they need to respond to this crisis in a forthright manner to regain the trust of the country. They should not need further advice on that.

But not only the media will place this meeting under unusual scrutiny. So will the American Catholic people. In this regard I believe the bishops do need advice. I will offer some even though I have not been asked. I have been a provincial superior overseeing 350 Jesuits and am now president of a Catholic University of 6000 students. If I haven’t been asked, who has? Therein lies the problem.

The Catholic people are looking for far more than an adequate response to the problem of clergy sexual abuse. That would only be a patch on an old garment. Jesus says in the gospels: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.” Catholics want a new garment, not a patched one.

We understand the American bishops are not free to do many things about church structures because these things are not within their regional authority but rather fall under a universal jurisdiction. So we don’t look to them, for instance, to change the rule of celibacy for priests or to ordain women priests. They can’t. But there is much that is within their power to make new the garment of the American Catholic Church that has been so badly torn.

In addition to responding to the immediate issue of clergy sexual abuse, I hope the bishops make a “Declaration from Dallas” that restores the credibility of the church to its own people. Here are some things I hope they say.

As bishops we speak as the servant leaders of the American Catholic people, and thus we see ourselves as accountable to them and as needing to consult them far more than we currently do.

This October marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In scripture “forty years” means “a very long time”. We have decided to initiate at the time of this anniversary a process of pastoral assemblies with majority representation of lay people in all dioceses of the United States. These will lead to a national pastoral assembly to advise us on the pastoral priorities today of our people in light of Vatican II and subsequent church documents.

We will make known in a clear manner the process for the nomination and appointment of bishops in this country. We will seek ways, allowable within the requirements of this process, to consult our people and priests about the persons and the characteristics needed for these appointments.

We will review the actual practice of parish councils and parish financial councils to ensure that they are functioning as intended and genuinely provide meaningful voice to Catholics on the local level about their communities.

We embrace and support the 230 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States as a predominant way in which our church engages and influences American culture. We seek not to exert external control over these Catholic institutions of academic freedom but to support them as important means by which the church does much of its thinking. We recognize them as a unique strength of our church and the envy of the rest of the world.

We reaffirm the dignity of homosexual persons, welcome their contribution to the church, and renew our pastoral care of them. In light of the present crisis we affirm unmistakably the suitability of homosexual persons to be ordained as priests and to live faithfully the requirements of celibacy. We apologize for any statements on our part that have called their lives and minis

Leo C. Sprietsma | 6/6/2002 - 9:28am
If the US Bishops were truly wise, they would invite Fr. Thomas Doyle to address their meeting in June. And afterwards assign him as their spokesman for these issues of sexual abuse in the Church.

Of all the people I have seen interviewed on TV he is the one Catholic spokesman who seems to come across with the most "presence" and the most sense, and the greatest compassion for the victims of abuse.

Fr. Leo C. Sprietsma, OFM | 6/4/2002 - 10:00am
When the Bishops meet in Dallas, I hope that they have the good sense to invite Fr. Thomas Doyle to address the assembly.

Of all the people on TV Interviews, he seems to come across with the most sense and the most "presence."

The Bishops may have ignored him the first time around back in 1985, but it is time for them to use him to the fullest extent possible, perhaps even making him their official national spokesman!

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J. | 6/3/2002 - 11:31am
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be meeting in Dallas two weeks from now. The bishops will be under unprecedented scrutiny from the media for what they will say about the crisis in the American Catholic Church stemming from clergy sexual abuse. By now, after these months of agony, the bishops should already know that they need to respond to this crisis in a forthright manner to regain the trust of the country. They should not need further advice on that.

But not only the media will place this meeting under unusual scrutiny. So will the American Catholic people. In this regard I believe the bishops do need advice. I will offer some even though I have not been asked. I have been a provincial superior overseeing 350 Jesuits and am now president of a Catholic University of 6000 students. If I haven’t been asked, who has? Therein lies the problem.

The Catholic people are looking for far more than an adequate response to the problem of clergy sexual abuse. That would only be a patch on an old garment. Jesus says in the gospels: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.” Catholics want a new garment, not a patched one.

We understand the American bishops are not free to do many things about church structures because these things are not within their regional authority but rather fall under a universal jurisdiction. So we don’t look to them, for instance, to change the rule of celibacy for priests or to ordain women priests. They can’t. But there is much that is within their power to make new the garment of the American Catholic Church that has been so badly torn.

In addition to responding to the immediate issue of clergy sexual abuse, I hope the bishops make a “Declaration from Dallas” that restores the credibility of the church to its own people. Here are some things I hope they say.

As bishops we speak as the servant leaders of the American Catholic people, and thus we see ourselves as accountable to them and as needing to consult them far more than we currently do.

This October marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In scripture “forty years” means “a very long time”. We have decided to initiate at the time of this anniversary a process of pastoral assemblies with majority representation of lay people in all dioceses of the United States. These will lead to a national pastoral assembly to advise us on the pastoral priorities today of our people in light of Vatican II and subsequent church documents.

We will make known in a clear manner the process for the nomination and appointment of bishops in this country. We will seek ways, allowable within the requirements of this process, to consult our people and priests about the persons and the characteristics needed for these appointments.

We will review the actual practice of parish councils and parish financial councils to ensure that they are functioning as intended and genuinely provide meaningful voice to Catholics on the local level about their communities.

We embrace and support the 230 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States as a predominant way in which our church engages and influences American culture. We seek not to exert external control over these Catholic institutions of academic freedom but to support them as important means by which the church does much of its thinking. We recognize them as a unique strength of our church and the envy of the rest of the world.

We reaffirm the dignity of homosexual persons, welcome their contribution to the church, and renew our pastoral care of them. In light of the present crisis we affirm unmistakably the suitability of homosexual persons to be ordained as priests and to live faithfully the requirements of celibacy. We apologize for any statements on our part that have called their lives and minis

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