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Catholic World News News Feature

Why the Sex-Abuse Crisis Continues March 01, 2004

"The terrible history recorded here is history," said Bishop Wilton Gregory, speaking to reporters about the latest and most comprehensive report on the sex-abuse scandal.

We're heard that line many times before. Every previous time, it's been proven false. This time will be no exception. In fact, I'll prove it false right now.

Bishop Gregory, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, assures us that the sex-abuse scandal is now behind us, since "known offenders are not in ministry."

That's demonstrably not true. Archbishops Weakland and Sanchez-- known and confessed offenders-- have resigned their archdiocesan assignments, but they continue to function as bishops, performing Confirmations and receiving the full dignity of the office they disgraced. Several other less prominent bishops remain "in ministry," even after resigning in the face of sex-abuse accusations.

The American bishops are still not being held accountable.

In their long-awaited report, unveiled Friday, the National Review Board called attention to the blatant double standard in the bishops' policies regarding sexual abuse, the "Dallas Charter:"

The Review Board also believes that any discussion of the Charter's zero-tolerance provision would be incomplete without noting that there is no equivalent policy of zero tolerance for bishops or provincials who allowed a predator priest to remain in or return to ministry despite knowledge of the risks.

What should have been done about the bishops who failed to carry out their responsibilities? The answer, as the National Review Board pointed out, is found in the Code of Canon Law :

Nevertheless, although Canon 1389 provides for a penalty, including dismissal from office, for a Church official who with culpable negligence fails to perform an act of ecclesiastical governance, Church officials in the United States rarely enforced Canon 1395. Nor have any bishops in the United States been punished under Canon 1389 for a failure to enforce Canon 1395.
If the bishops who tolerated or overlooked or covered up sexual abuse were also subject to effective discipline, we might finally reach the point at which the sex-abuse scandal was truly a question of past history. But even now, despite the near-universal condemnation of their response to the sex-abuse scandal, the American bishops show no inclination to police themselves.

The National Review Board had another trenchant observation on this issue:

According to many people interviewed by the Board, outspoken priests rarely were selected to be bishops, and the outspoken bishops rarely were selected as archbishops and cardinals. The predictable result was that priests and bishops did not speak out when that is exactly what the situation demanded.

The "audit" of diocesan records, performed by the John Jay College, dodged the question of whether sexual abuse was related to homosexuality. In their public reactions to the published data, dozens of psychologists have applauded their auditors for their reticence on the issue. It is terribly important, they tell us, not to jump to conclusions from the available data.

But the only reason to collect data is in order to draw reasonable inferences. Although the National Review Board does not blame homosexuals for the crisis, the group's report does acknowledge the facts. More than 80 percent of the reported sex-abuse cases involve male victims. Moreover, the Review Board notes, "more than three-quarters of the victims were of an age such that the conduct does not meet the clinical definition of pedophilia…." What's more, while the incidence of complaints of "true pedophilia" (cases involving very young victims) has remained constant for 50 years, the incidence of complaints involving adolescent males soared during the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, the number of female victims of priest-molesters remained fairly constant, while the number of male victims soared from 1960 through 1980.

What went wrong during that period? The full analysis by the National Review Board is certainly worth reading. Let me pick out just two very important points:

First, the Board found ample evidence to support the argument that in the aftermath of Vatican II, American seminaries abandoned traditional discipline, began questioning Church moral teachings, and produced a generation of priests ill equipped to handle the demands of celibacy. The report said:

A large number of witnesses, both "liberal" and "conservative," agreed with the sentiment of one bishop who stated that, from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, "seminaries lost their way."
Second, the National Review Board confirmed suspicions that predatory priests have been protected by a homosexual network in seminaries and diocesan chanceries:
In the 1970s and 1980s, in particular, there developed at certain seminaries a "gay subculture," and at these seminaries, according to several witnesses, homosexual liaisons occurred among students or between students and teachers. Such subcultures existed or exist in certain dioceses or orders as well. The Board believes that the failure to take disciplinary action against such conduct contributed to an atmosphere in which sexual abuse of adolescent boys by priests was more likely.

Notice that the Review Board does not see that gay subculture as a thing of the past; the report says that the homosexual networks "existed or exist." If the networks had been exposed and uprooted, we would have seen dramatic changes in chancery staffs throughout the country. We have not seen those changes. If the bishops were serious about removing offenders from ministry, they could demonstrate that seriousness by denouncing the molesters in their own midst. We have not seen those denunciations.

The crisis continues.

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