“They hid it all.”
It says so right there, on page seven, of the redacted report of a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into the sexual abuse of minors committed by priests and systematically concealed by the Catholic Church over a period of 70 years. The grand jury report covers the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton and reveals that over seven decades, the Church covered up the molestation of more than 1,000 children by 300 priests. If you’ve watched the movie Spotlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015, the topic should be familiar territory; though in a different setting, the film re-told the investigation of clerical child abuse and cover-up in Boston, Massachusetts. At the end of the film, accounts of other instances of molestation include—surprise, surprise—the Philippines.
The full report consists of more than 1,000 pages so a shorter version was made available; I am still digesting the contents, the details of which are, frankly, enough to turn one’s stomach. Two sins were committed: the child abuse, and then the cover-up. Which is the greater sin is up to readers to decide, but the grand jury found the concealment so systematic that they enlisted the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze typical Church response in handling accusations. The FBI saw a clear pattern emerge.
First, euphemisms were preferred rather than more graphic terms; for example, instead of “rape,” “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” were the words of choice. Second, genuine investigations with properly trained personnel were avoided; instead, those accused were investigated by their own peers who asked inadequate questions.
Third, for sheer optics, the predator-priests were sent for “evaluation” to church-run psychiatric treatment centers where experts “diagnosed” whether the priests were pedophiles based on the latter’s “self-reports.”
Fourth, when it becomes necessary to remove a priest, no reason would be given; instead, parishioners would be informed that he was on “sick leave” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion,” or, no explanation would be given. Fifth, the Church would continue to provide housing, and living expenses to priests even though they were raping children and using the same resources to facilitate the abuse. And sixth, if a priest’s reputation catches up with him in the community, the answer was not to defrock him but to transfer him to another parish where no one would know of his transgressions.
If ever there were any doubts about the scope of the problem, the Pennsylvania grand jury report should dispel any that remain. The report covers only one state in Philadelphia, but according to the BBC, there are more than 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, so the scale of abuse is potentially bigger, with the greater proportion going unreported or uninvestigated or worse, concealed. It took the Vatican two days to issue a reaction: a seven-paragraph statement of 286 words: three of those words, “criminal” and “morally reprehensible,” were used to describe the abuse, yet no adjectives were used to describe the Church’s cover-up. Instead, the statement would offer a congratulatory pat on the back: “Most of the discussion in the report concerns abuses before the early 2000s. By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse.”
In light of these horrendous revelations, it’s no wonder that many Catholics are turning away from the religion. Some lapse, some become atheists, some become agnostics, others turn to a different faith. And that’s the key word: faith. I am still Catholic because of it. And that’s all it takes. It is not as easy as it sounds; Catholicism is the hardest religion in the world, I think. It thrives on guilt and relies overly on flawed individuals who preach “do as I say, not do as I do.” Which goes to the heart of the problem: many Catholics are turned off because they sense the hypocrisy of those who are supposed to be the Lord’s shepherds here on earth. I see the dichotomy, too, but in the face of all that, it takes an exercise of free will to keep believing. It is as Timothy says, one has to fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith.
Only the closed of mind would see the Pennsylvania grand jury report as a blasphemy against the Church. We’ve progressed beyond that, I believe, as we have come to realize that the Church is composed of flawed human beings who, hopefully, see the need to evolve. The jurors pointed out that many of them were practicing Catholics, as were the victims and witnesses. But, as they said, “Child abuse, after all, is not just illegal; it is against the creeds of every major religion, including Catholicism. People of all faiths and of no faith want their children to be safe.” I find no reason to disagree with that.
If you remove the fundamentalism, the judgmentalism, the hypocrisy, the closed-mindedness, you will discover that the religion is pure and beautiful. That is why I am what the title says, for otherwise, I would be asking myself, why am I still Catholic?