I have recently published a book about Catholic clergy sex abuse and its effect on the declining number of Catholics in the United States. I timed the release of the book and my petition to the Pope to coincide with his arrival in New York. Clergy sex abuse is under a fairly high level of control in the United States due to media coverage, in particular revelations published by The Boston Globe in 2002. We have seen what media coverage can do to calling attention to problems and getting the appropriate laws enacted. Without the revelations in the Boston archdiocese, it is not likely that clergy sex abuse in the United States would have fallen as much as it has. Indeed, the Church resists responsibility for abuse and to do the right thing by the victims. At a hearing of the Maryland legislature to extend the statute of limitations for clergy abuse, the Church testified against the then pending bill. Cardinal Timothy Dolan attempted to shelter $57 million while he was the archbishop of the Milwaukee archdiocese. It took the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that those funds are available for victim compensation in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy. A priest in Uganda was suspended indefinitely for exposing child sex abuse. He was told to help cover up the crimes because “that’s what one is supposed to do.” He refused and was suspended.
My book is primarily about abuse in less-developed countries. I traveled to the Philippines late last year and I was appalled at the status quo. In 2002, when the revelations in Boston became front page news, the Church in the Philippines acknowledged that 200 of its priests had abused women and children. Here we are 13 years later and not a single, solitary priest has been convicted of a sex crime in the Philippines. The same is true in Mexico. A widely publicized case of clergy sex abuse in Mexico resulted in the priest being “sentenced” to a life of prayer and penitence by Pope Benedict XVI. There has never been a priest criminally convicted of a sex crime in Mexico. The Pope has set up a 17-member papal commission on abuse. There is not a single member from SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), which has great expertise in clergy sex abuse. SNAP has over 10,000 abuse victims internationally among its membership. Why isn’t its voice being heard or included?
Pope Francis announced that he will be giving the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) the ability to discipline bishops who do not report clergy sex offenders in their charge to the civil authorities. This is the fox watching the chicken coop. On June 5 of this year, the state of Minnesota filed charges against the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Two weeks later, the archbishop and auxiliary bishop of this archdiocese resigned. In April Bishop Finn of the archdiocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph resigned. He was criminally convicted of failing to report a priest who had child pornography on his laptop computer.
Pope Francis has the ability to issue a motu proprio (executive order) to require bishops to report clergy sex offenders to the police, in addition to the CDF. It is Church policy that bishops are not required to report offenders to the authorities unless the law requires them to do so. There are few such laws in the less-developed countries. Sadly, there are 23 American states, including New York, which do not have mandatory reporting for clerics.
My petition asks the Pope to issue an order requiring bishops to report offending clerics in their charge and in addition make it mandatory for all Catholic personnel to take the following oath, “I will not abuse women and children, intimidate them or their families, cover-up for fellow clergy or subordinates, nor tolerate among us those who do so.” This oath is patterned after the Cadet Honor Code at the U.S. military academies.
Let me end this note with a quote from Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “Clergy sexual abuse is a global problem. It is imperative that individual nations assume responsibility for the welfare of their young citizens and take steps to protect their youth from this type of abuse…One of the reasons that governments must step up is that we have a clear sign from the Vatican that sex abuse is not a priority.” In less-developed countries, the most likely children and women to be abused are the poorest people. Indeed I describe in my book how priests seek uneducated and indigent parents and target their children for abuse, especially those kids who come from single-parent homes.
I would like to call your attention to a clergy abuse petition I have set up online and which I hope to present to the Pope when he arrives in New York in September of this year. It was in October 1517, nearly 500 years ago, that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This acted is considered the spark which ignited the Protestant Reformation. I plan to post my petition on the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I may even dress up like Martin Luther when I post my petition on St. Patrick’s door if I can get the appropriate media attention.