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Louis Freeh, I have another job for you

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 13, 2012

Things look grim for Penn State University this week. After investigating allegations of sexual abuse against a former member of the football team’s coaching staff, former FBI director Louis Freeh issued a scathing report.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," the report said. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

It’s a sad story, and a distressingly familiar one. We’ve heard it before.

Still, one tidbit of good news can be salvaged from the mess. Nobody—and I mean nobody—thinks that Penn State is still covering up, still withholding the truth. Freeh and his investigating team interviewed scores of officials and examined hundreds of email messages. The truth is ugly, to be sure. But we all know now that the truth is out.

Graham Spanier is out, too, by the way. The former president of Penn State was forced out by the school’s board of trustees, which took action long before the Freeh report was complete. Penn State’s legendary football coach, the late Joe Paterno, was forced out by the board, too. You can’t say that the board covered up evidence; it was the board that commissioned the Freeh investigation. And you can’t say that the board protected the men who protected a convicted molester; they were relieved of their posts months ago.

If only we could say the same about the US bishops’ conference!

For a decade now, we have had incontrovertible evidence that many bishops covered up evidence of abuse and shielded abusers from prosecution. But no American bishops have been forced to step down. (Cardinal Bernard Law resigned of his own volition.) Perhaps as a result, many Americans are still reluctant to believe that the bishops are being entirely forthright about the issue.

How many more times will we be surprised by new revelations about abuse and cover-ups—as we have been surprised this year by the news from Philadelphia? How much more unexploded ordinance is lying around, waiting to be detonated by a curious reporter? We don’t know. At least the people in Happy Valley, shaken by the Sandusky scandal, can be sure that all the bombs have now gone off.

Imagine how different the world would be for Catholic Americans if the US bishops’ had commissioned a thorough, no-holds-barred investigation of their scandal: something like the Freeh report, as opposed to the tame, carefully controlled John Jay studies. Some bishops would have been disgraced, no doubt; it would have been a disgrace they had richly deserved. If all of the ugly facts had been dredged out a decade ago, the Catholic hierarchy would not still be viewed with suspicion in 2012.

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Show 12 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: eblock42858 - Sep. 25, 2012 9:15 PM ET USA

    The recent prison sentence of Msgr Lynn issued in Philadelphia for child endangerment might not be possible in other countries like Mexico, Spain and Italy, where the child abuse laws are not as strong as in the U.S., so you have to keep this in mind. I do think criminal convictions are more important than monetary fines against offending members of the Church. Louis Freeh, yeah sounds great, but who will raise the money to hire him?

  • Posted by: eblock42858 - Sep. 10, 2012 11:55 AM ET USA

    The Congregation of the Holy Cross, the Dominican Friars, etc., the list is nearly endless of unreported abuses by superiors of orders. This is all happening at a time when we need strong Catholic Institutions in our country. Tough times.

  • Posted by: mgreen32234 - Jul. 18, 2012 11:39 AM ET USA

    I wonder if Sandusky's victims were girls instead of boys, would there have been a coverup? Or if the majority of Catholic victims were girls, would there have been a coverup?

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 18, 2012 1:09 AM ET USA

    How much better off would we be if the bishops had acted forthrightly to address the abuses, admit the cover ups, clean house at all levels, and adopt policies that addressed the real problems? Their new policies put new burdens on everyone except themselves! We would be in a much better position to defend ourselves against the attacks on our religious freedom if our bishops had not squandered and failed to recover their moral standing. They lost the respect of Catholics and non-Catholics.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 18, 2012 12:57 AM ET USA

    The bishops have never come clean about their failure to properly supervise the formation and selection of candidates for the priesthood. They persisted in calling the abuse "paedophilia," when the John Jay report showed that 80% of the abuse cases were homosexual attacks on adolescent boys. On returning from Rome in the Spring of 2002, Bishop Wilton Gregory, then president of the USCCB, said that the challenge was protecting the priesthood from homosexuals. He never said that again.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 18, 2012 12:49 AM ET USA

    The John Jay report was about instances of abuse that had been reported. It was not about the responses of bishops who had received credible allegations of abuse. The bishops' response in 2002 was to adopt a policy that made accused priests guilty until proven innocent and required laity to undergo criminal background checks before they could be anywhere near children on church property. When were laity ever accused of anything?

  • Posted by: FrMatthewG - Jul. 17, 2012 10:32 PM ET USA

    Something similar needs to be done for the Legion of Christ to clear up the Maciel scandal, and any related or similar abuse, if they hope to regain credibility and really change the institutional culture.

  • Posted by: GymK - Jul. 17, 2012 7:53 PM ET USA

    Amen. And by the way, when might our Shepherds get around to addressing the question of homosexuality in the priesthood? How can we believe them and/or feel that our children and grandchildren are safe in their care until they do? Oh dear, is this politically incorrect?

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 15, 2012 5:54 PM ET USA

    As today's Gospel clearly articulates, "by their fruits you shall know them." It has already been noted that the radio sports show hosts have identified the necessary course of action. "Operation Cleansweep" might be a good name for it. Why can't the bishops demonstrate such moral resolve? Our Lord's curse upon the barren tree is among the most unsettling stories of the Gospel. Mr. Lawler speaks the truth. There is an underlying darkness that must be annihilated. Hear our entreaties, Lord!

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Jul. 14, 2012 9:01 PM ET USA

    Sorry, Phil, but I disagree with you on this one. What evidence do you have that the John Jay studies were "carefully controlled"? The JJ College is a secular college, completely independent of the Church. And almost ALL of the failures of bishops took place decades ago, in the 1970s and 1980s. To punish them by 2012's heightened standards is unfair, uncharitable, and unChristian. If Freeh does another job, it should be to look at the public schools, where cover-ups still go unpunished TODAY.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 14, 2012 9:07 AM ET USA

    Thank you. Mr. Lawler, you have written courageously, candidly, reasonably, and with empathy for all Catholics victimized by this financial and political nightmare, and more importantly for the physical victims and their families. There are times when docility has no place. However, your proper docility in service of Justice and Truth is commendable. If prelates feel hurt, sobeit. Jim Rome, Dan Patrick and other sports talk hosts get it- to a man.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jul. 13, 2012 4:54 PM ET USA

    I heard a Penn State Board member say that the Board had failed to exercise due diligence on programs affiliated with the university, a very refreshing statement. I did not hear any seconds to it, however. Eerily familiar.

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