Five Years after the Scandal, I

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 18, 2007

Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin is chairman of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. On March 20th, he gave a speech at Georgetown University offering his personal view of the situation five years after the sex abuse scandal broke in early 2002. Here is a summary of his main points.

In the first section of his talk, Bishop Aymond identified six things the bishops have learned from the scandal and its aftermath. The first three of these are fairly obvious: (1) Sexual abuse within the Church is a sad reality; (2) Church leadership had dealt with this problem badly in the past and must follow “safe environment” procedures in the future; and (3) Sin is at the root of this problem, including sin in the weakness of Church leadership in failing to address the problem properly.

At a less comprehensive level, statistical analysis by the John Jay College of Criminology and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate has provided two insights: (4) Of the four percent of priests involved in abuse, just 149 priests (one-tenth of one percent) were serial abusers with more than two or three allegations against them; and (5) The bulk of the abuse occurred in the 1970’s by priests who were ordained between 1950 and 1979 (but the reasons for this are not yet clear). Finally, the Church has learned something from psychological studies: (6) People generally abuse when they are under stress, which raises questions about the Catholic support system for priests.

In his second section, Bishop Aymond identified six priorities for the Church’s ongoing action: (1) Continued efforts to identify and reach out to victims; (2) Continued education of bishops, priests and deacons “regarding boundaries in healthy, celibate and chaste lives”; (3) Increased vigilance in seminary formation and screening; (4) Creation of not just “safe” environments but “faith” environments “where people can trust one another and their leaders, the clergy”; (5) Implementation of outstanding safe environment and faith environment programs (including “boundaries” education for children which, Bishop Aymond laments, many parents do not approve); and (6) Sharing of the wisdom gained from the repentance and purification involved in this ordeal.

Finally, in the third section of his remarks, Bishop Aymond addressed three major challenges for the future. First, he expressed uncertainty about how to respond to the call for a national database of clergy accused of sexual abuse. Suffice it to say that he has serious reservations about the inevitable inaccuracy of such a database, and the consequent harm it may do both to reputations and to prudent decision-making. Second, he sees a pressing need for penance for past sins and for prayer to discern how God wants the Church to proceed to restore trust. Third, Bishop Aymond wants us not to forget that, amidst the sinfulness of her members, the Church still possesses the Holy Spirit, and the Church must not be so ashamed that she falters in her preaching of the good news or in her efforts to elevate the moral and spiritual character of society as a whole.

For my comments, see Five Years after the Scandal, II.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Jun. 10, 2019 7:49 PM ET USA

    I can tell you this: There is no conspiracy between Cardinal Burke and Steve Bannon. I've asked His Eminence on a couple of occasions now and he has assured me that, though, he has met him twice (the first time which he does not even remember - totally unusual for him), he has no idea what the guy is doing. Look at Harnwell for how that happened.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jun. 10, 2019 6:25 PM ET USA

    The conclusion can hardly be argued. Nonetheless, these days are laced with irony. We need to see. We ought not be divided amongst ourselves. We need Tradition; we need so much that has been set aside but slowly returns. We ought to unite around that which unites us- our shared baptismal promises; our Catholic faith. A striking example of the topsy-turvy, ironic climate is Rod Dreher's piece "Francis Swipes The Benedict Option." Wow. Stranger than fiction- these times.

  • Posted by: ml_callanan5009 - Jun. 09, 2019 5:26 PM ET USA

    When I was a child in Catholic grade school, the nuns were very strict. If I missed a "the" in my answer, I had to repeat it correctly. I thought it was very unfair at the time. Years later, my daughters in CCD were only learning "God loves you" and nothing else. The way I was taught was strict but we knew our religion unlike my children. I tried to teach them but gave up after a few months. Now, I have fallen away grandchildren due to poor training by myself, the CCD, and my children.

  • Posted by: ml_callanan5009 - Jun. 09, 2019 5:13 PM ET USA

    That is quite a predicament when we try to follow Christ and try to influence others to follow Christ. I have prayed and directly tried to influence others by posting on Facebook and it has backfired on me. With my atheist daughter, I batted my head against a stone wall for 16 years. We can discuss anything but I have not changed her mind nor has she changed mine. I have lost FB "friends" and some threaten to cut me off so I don't send them emails. I do pray for them and leave to God.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Jun. 07, 2019 1:52 AM ET USA

    The figures you cite describing the appalling changes in the moral opinions of American society tell me one thing for sure: our Catholic Church has utterly failed to guide the development of those opinions toward Catholic truth over the last 60 years. Instead of leading, we’ve largely followed the world. Whatever needed to be jettisoned to keep ourselves comfortable and well-liked, we got rid of. Whatever was unpopular to say, we ceased to say. Shame on us and on our leaders.

  • Posted by: john.aerts6220 - Jun. 06, 2019 8:44 AM ET USA

    Very good holy reminders. But I don't think it is always or substantially, that some make conclusions via 'prejudice'/ 'profile we created'. Perhaps it is simply a racing from a moral interpolation from previous actions to speculative to practical doubt to quickly, and then to real doubts on the authenticity that exists re DHI opponents and previous actions and deceits, but more is needed, as you rightly witness, to make a moral decision. Easter blessings and graces!!