Archive for the ‘Sexual Abuse Crisis’ Category

Missing the Story, Yet Again

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Once again, the Newspaper of Record has completely failed to get the full story about the Catholic Church’s record on child sexual abuse.

In an online piece published the other day, the Times once again rehashed old allegations about the sins of priests and the failures of bishops.  This story, as with many others like it, irked me to no end.  If a news outlet is going to report a story, it should, in fairness, report the full story.  It shouldn’t just report the bad news.

And so, I wrote a letter to the editor, which they published today:

The church hardly needs another reminder that some priests were abusers and that some bishops were negligent in their leadership. Obviously, sexual abuse of minors is a terrible evil and must be rooted out from every institution.

The real story is the incredible amount of human capital and financial resources that have been expended by the church on prevention of future incidents of child abuse.

We have more than 48,000 people working with children in the Archdiocese of New York, and two million more across the country. The church spends tens of millions of dollars each year in prevention and safety programs.

Our staff members have been screened and trained and are being supervised by dedicated leaders committed to protecting children. We have tight policies to ensure that predators can’t have access to our children, and we react promptly and decisively to root them out and bring them to justice.

Other institutions study and model themselves on us. And we have been open and transparent in allowing outside auditors and scholars to study our efforts.

The Catholic Church in America has done something no other organization in the world has done — we’ve made a huge, across-the-board change in our corporate culture so that now every leader and every worker has child protection as a high item on his agenda. And we’ve been a great success.

That’s the real news: a story about learning from tragic mistakes and then committing to a course of transformation and success.

Let’s be clear.  Any incident of sexual abuse is a horrific tragedy, and there’s no doubt that some Church officials didn’t do enough to protect children.  It’s also undeniable that mistakes are still made — we are all far too human to be perfect. And there’s always room for improvement in how we help victims to heal.

But it is just fundamentally unfair, and bad journalism too, for the Times to continue to ignore the herculean efforts of thousands of pastors, principals, directors of religious education, Church administrative staff — and yes, bishops too — for the protection of children.

If you’re going to report the story, tell the full story.


The Real Story on Sex Abuse

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

In recent weeks, we have once again seen “news” stories in the papers about sex abuse and the Catholic Church.

These “news” items related to a disclosure of some documents by the Archdiocese of Chicago, relating to old cases dating back many decades, and a hearing before a UN board at which the Holy See was questioned about how sex abuse cases were handled and how many priests have been laicized in response.

Obviously, the sexual abuse of minors is a great concern to us, and to society as a whole.  It is a terrible evil, and must be rooted out from every institution.  The Church hardly needs the release of ancient personnel files, or some hearing before an international organization, to remind us that some priests were abusers, and some bishops were negligent in their leadership.  Every case of sexual abuse is a tragedy, and we are completely committed to helping victims heal from their ordeal.

But all these stories, and dozens like them, completely miss the real news.  The fact is that the Catholic Church has become a model for child protection, and that other organizations emulate us and wish that they could have as good a record as we do now.  This is the key — what’s being done to ensure the protection of children today and in the future.

We should never be afraid to take a long, hard look at mistakes that were made in the past, in order to try to learn how we can do things better in the future.

So, what’s wrong with much of the reporting of these old incidents?

First, many of these “news” events are orchestrated by trial lawyers and self-appointed victim advocates, who are supporting lawsuits or litigation that target the Church. In almost every case,  the incidents took place years, even decades ago, and most of the priests have long since died or have been removed from the priesthood.  And the reports raise serious questions about fairness.  No other institution is subjected to constant reminders of the misconduct of former officials — certainly not the public school system, which has a much higher rate of sexual abuse.

The hearing before the UN committee that is supposedly dedicated to defending the rights of children has its own problems.  The committee is filled with nations that have terrible records of human rights abuses.  (The committee has also never said a word about the worst abuse of human rights that it taking place around the world, legalized abortion, which takes the lives of tens of millions of children each year.)  And no other organization has been called before the committee to explain its policies regarding sexual abuse — certainly not the UN itself, which has failed to address the systematic sexual abuse of children and women by UN peacekeeping forces in various countries around the world.  The UN committee even had the audacity to recommend that the Church change our teaching on abortion and contraception — tipping their hand to their real, anti-Catholic, anti-life biases.

The only “news” here is that the UN would have the chutzpah to pass judgment on any other organization at all.

So what is the real story?

The real story is the incredible amount of human capital and financial resources that have been expended on prevention of future incidents of child abuse.  Let’s put some numbers on it.  We have over 48,000 active people working with children in the Archdiocese of New York alone, and two million more across the nation.   The Church spends tens of millions of dollars each year in prevention and safety programs.  All our people have been screened, trained, and are being supervised by dedicated leaders who are committed to protecting children.  We have tight policies to ensure that predators can’t have access to our children, and we react promptly and decisively to root them out and bring them to justice.

Other institutions study and model themselves on us.  Experts, like Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University, have said that “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”  We have been open and transparent in allowing outside auditors and scholars to study our efforts.

And we’ve seen the results of all this investment in child protection.  There has been a dramatic drop in the number of credible reports of present-day sexual abuse of minors by clergy — in 2012, there were only eleven minors who reported allegations in the entire nation.

Nobody can match our efforts or our accomplishments.

Why is this the bigger story?

Just think about it — when a big company like Apple makes a tiny design change in a popular product, it makes headlines around the world.  Everybody pays attention, and thinks it’s a big deal.

But the Catholic Church in America has done something even more important, something that no other organization in the world has done.  We’ve made a huge, across-the-board, change in our corporate culture, so that now, every leader and every worker has child protection as a high item on their agenda.  Nobody does as much as we do to protect children.  It’s not just superficial window-dressing, but a massive substantive commitment. And all of that has been done voluntarily, in the midst of hostile and intense scrutiny, because it was necessary to avoid and correct the mistakes of the past — and because it was the right thing to do.  This is a huge accomplishment.

That’s the real news that the media should be writing — not yet another rehash of old tragedies, but a story of  transformation, commitment and success.

Justice for Cardinal Egan

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

There has been some controversy regarding comments attributed to Cardinal Egan in an interview published in a Connecticut magazine.  These comments have been interpreted by some in the worst possible light, and His Eminence has come in for some rough criticism.

In fairness to His Eminence, perhaps people should first take a look at the statement he released about this matter, explaining things in his own words, and not through the filter of a reporter.

I also have to add something more as a matter of justice, so that people understand the full story.

I worked closely and personally with the Cardinal for over five years on the child protection programs of the Archdiocese of New York. You could not have had a more supportive, committed bishop. He was absolutely dedicated to the full and vigorous implementation of the Bishops’ Charter, and to the protection of children. I was not directly involved in clergy cases, but from what I saw, his handling of them in the Archdiocese was exemplary. I know from first-hand experience that his handling of cases with non-clergy offenders was absolutely appropriate.

In fact, just about the only complaints that I heard during that time about the Cardinal was that he was too rigorous — an assessment with which I utterly disagree. He was a real leader in our Archdiocese in the protection of children — we couldn’t have asked for a bishop to handle it better than he did.

Without a doubt, this issue brings up strong feelings. But in public comments on the actions and character of a Bishop of our Church, may I suggest that people take a look at Catechism 2478 and think about it before commenting? That section says:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: ‘Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.’ [quoting St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises]

Cardinal Egan was instrumental in implementing a very successful safe environment program here in the Archdiocese.  He is rightly proud of that, and he certainly has nothing to apologize for what he did as our bishop for the protection of our children.


Friday, November 11th, 2011

I’m sure that many of you have seen the news of the serial sexual abuse of young boys by a trusted football coach at Penn State University.  Reading the grand jury report on the case is a harrowing look into the reality of evil — demonic evil.  It tells the story of the charming, charismatic father-figure who, for years, was abusing children in the most horrendous way.

Looking back at the situation,  you can see all the warning signs that were overlooked — the “special” relationship, the gift-giving, the rough-housing and wrestling, the private time alone.  At the time, people didn’t understand their significance — the warning signs of a predator are hard to distinguish from the behavior of a charismatic, empathetic mentor to needy children.

The worst part of the story is that on two separate occasions, people caught the predator in the act of raping young boys.

Twice.  In the act.  Rape.

And nobody rescued them.

This story is very, very real and very, very disturbing to me.  I am having a hard time getting it out of my head.

I am the director of the child protection program here in the Archdiocese.  This means I think about child sexual abuse on a daily basis.  Every day, I dread answering the phone, because of what it might bring.  From time to time, victims of sexual abuse come and speak to me about what happened to them.  Men and women sit in my office and describe the abuse they suffered, sometimes as long as forty years ago.  I sit there while grown adults weep over the suffering they endured as children.

Because nobody rescued them.

We in the Church have learned from our failures in the past.  We can only hope that others will learn the lessons from the Penn State catastrophe.

Awareness.  Prevention.  Vigilance.


Deeper Causes and Responses

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Previously, I posted about the new John Jay College report on the causes and context of the Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis.  I noted some of the important and valuable lessons from the report, which we here in the Archdiocese have already been acting upon.  On the whole, I believe that this report is a positive step forward for child protection in the Church and beyond.

However, I have to confess that I’m a bit dissatisfied about what this report — and, in fact, virtually every other report I’ve seen on the crisis — has failed to talk about.  These kinds of studies are conducted by social scientists, and they naturally tend to look at the problem of child sexual abuse as if it’s a pragmatic issue that can be solved by practical measures like more education, safe environment programs, talk about boundaries, etc.  All of those things are crucial, and go a long way to preventing further abuses.

The report seems to be based on an assumption that prevention is the best deterrent to crime.  That’s certainly true, up to a point, but in the final analysis it isn’t sufficient in this situation.  Prevention efforts and proper responses are necessary — largely because they were inadequate in the past, and that contributed to the problem (and in many cases caused further harm to victims).

But we’re missing a crucial point if we fail to understand that the fundamental challenge is spiritual — a struggle against the inclination to sin that rests in the human heart.  In the final analysis, it’s not prevention, but conversion that is the best deterrent to sin — the way to avoid sin is to turn to God to be liberated from the sin in our hearts.

A point of decision is reached in every single case of sexual abuse — a moment at which the abuser chooses to sin, and thereby to do grievous harm to another in order to satisfy their own disordered desires.  We as a Church have a special expertise and an obligation to talk about that decision and what led up to it in spiritual terms — speaking openly of sin, virtue, and spiritual battle, and not just using secular psychological/social science concepts and language.

Back in 2004, the National Review Board, established by the Bishops to oversee the implementation of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued a report on the crisis.  In a very insightful part of that report, the Panel stated that “the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness”.  They went on to say,

The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The Church must be holy; her ministers must be holy; her people must be holy. The foundation of holiness is a strong spiritual life, a life of prayer and simplicity. Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.

No prevention strategy can succeed unless we stress this point.  Our seminary formation program, and all our education programs for laity, must be dedicated to helping people develop the essential virtues — chastity, temperance, fortitude, and prudence.  We must devote our energies tirelessly to fostering holiness.  Ultimately, only in the union of virtue and vigilance can we expect to provide a truly safe environment for the children entrusted to our care.

That is what we are irrevocably committed to.

Causes, Context and Prevention

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

One of the most valuable responses to the sex abuse crisis that embroiled the Church in the United States has been a series of scholarly studies, conducted by John Jay College  of the City University of New York.  The most recent report, issued today, contains conclusions about the “Causes and Context” of sex abuse by clergy.  As a person who is in the work of preventing that crisis from ever recurring, I took a keen interest in what this report had to say.

There are many important insights here, which have already shaped the prevention efforts here in the Archdiocese and elsewhere.  The conclusions are valuable because they apply not just to incidents involving clergy (which, of course, are a tiny minority of cases of sexual abuse), but can help us to prevent any such incidents from happening in the future.

The following are some of the conclusions about the abusers.  The report’s conclusions are in plain text, my comments are in parentheses and in italics.

  • Individual characteristics do not predict that a priest will commit sexual abuse of a minor. No single psychological, developmental, or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.  (In essence, “profiling” does not work — you can’t find the single magic characteristic that will identify a potential abuser, and screen your staff to eliminate those people.)
  • Some factors, however, increase the risk that a person will become an abuser.  (We’re not at a loss here.  There are some factors that we can look for in potential abusers, in order to stop them before they have a chance to offend.)
  • In particular, men who were sexually abused themselves when they were minors were significantly more likely to commit acts of abuse than those who were not abused.  (This highlights one of the most insidious effects of child sexual abuse, which I have seen in those victims and survivors I have dealt with — child sexual abuse gravely damages people, and it leaves a legacy that in many ways is life-long and difficult to cure.  Of course, we also have to remember that history is not destiny — just because someone has been abused doesn’t mean that they will become an abuser.)
  • Other vulnerabilities, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk of abuse: isolation, loneliness, insecurity, poor social skills, lack of identity, confusion over sexual identity, psychological immaturity, poor relationships with their parents when they were youths, and alcohol abuse.  (It’s important to note that ad hoc factors — stresses and opportunities — are a significant factor.  That is very useful in identifying effective prevention strategies.)
  • Other conclusions relate to the situations in which abuse occurred, and give insight into how to prevent it:

  • Child sexual abuse is often a crime of opportunity, and the abusers typically took advantage of situational opportunities to groom their victims over a long period of time so that they could build trust and create opportunities for abuse to take place.  (Limiting a potential abuser’s opportunities to groom a child is a critical prevention step — that’s the main purpose of codes of conduct, policies, etc.)
  • The best way to protect children from abuse is to create safe environments where appropriate boundaries between and adults and children are maintained, particularly by preventing situations and locations where children and adults are alone together.  (It is impossible to over-stress the importance of maintaining proper boundaries, not just physical boundaries, but relationship boundaries — the signals and expectations that define the nature of a healthy and proper relationship.)
  • Seminary formation, particularly in areas of human formation and how to live a life of celibate chastity, are essential to prevention. (This is absolutely crucial, and not just for clergy, but for everyone who works with children.  Virtue must go hand and hand with vigilance.)
  • Prevention policies should focus on three factors: education, situational prevention models, and oversight and accountability. (The most effective safe environment and prevention programs have redundancy and overlap — multiple levels of child protection that serve to back each other up, so that if one fails another will compensate.)
  • Many of these lessons, and the best way to respond to them, are already being implemented here in the Archdiocese and in other dioceses around the nation.  The testament to that, I believe, is the extraordinarily low number of recent incidents of abuse in Church programs.  For more information about our child protection efforts, check out our website.

    I have some additional thoughts about the report, but I’ll save them for a second blog post to give them the emphasis they merit.

    Time Magazine Slanders the Holy Father

    Friday, December 17th, 2010

    Few careful observers would still expect much in the way of journalistic professionalism from the publication that used to be Time Magazine, particularly when it comes to religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.

    In its latest issue, Time proclaims its “Person of the Year”, accompanied by a list of “People Who Matter on Our World”.  As one might expect, many of the people on the latter list are athletes, actors and singers who, I imagine, “matter” to the kind of people whose world consists of the office of a mainstream magazine and who live in the cultural cocoon of New York City.  Hence the presence on the list of such giants as Ben Stiller and Justin Bieber.

    At least they recognized that the Holy Father “matters”.  After all, he only heads the largest single religious group in the world, and his words are instantly transmitted to virtually every nation on earth and studied closely by people of all faiths.

    But when you look at the inaccurate and tendentious profile they present of the Holy Father, it’s hard even to get past the first sentence without a strong constitution.  As the head of the child protection program of the Archdiocese, I was particularly astonished at the number of easily-proven falsehoods the story contained on that issue alone.

    Let’s look at what they have to say, as they present what they consider to be the “Highs” and “Lows” of the Holy Father, but which are actually a series of “lows” in journalistic professionalism.   The text of Time’s story is in italics, my analysis follows in bold:

    Highs: While the Pope remains firm on his decree that ordaining women as priests is a grave crime (the same designation given to pedophilia),

    Immediate Fail.  It is strictly true that in a revision of some provisions of the Code of Canon, the crimes of invalid ordination and clerical sexual misconduct were both classified as “grave crimes”.  But does anyone with any sense at all think that they are considered to be on an equal plane of seriousness?  After all, the United States Code classifies both assassinating the President and defacing coins as felonies — the civil equivalent of “grave crimes” — and nobody in their right mind would consider them to be on the same level.

    What is most astonishing is that anyone would consider that decision to be significant enough to include as the first item among the “Highs”.  After all, there was only the little matter of the Pope’s Apostolic Visit to the United Kingdom, which drew huge crowds and confounded the professional atheists.  Or the new document he issued on how to read and interpret the Bible, which will influence theology for the next generation at least.  Or the new book-length interview with a journalist — an unprecedented move for a Pope.  Those don’t even get mentioned.

    he was willing to loosen up — albeit ever so slightly — on another firmly-held edict. But while headlines around the world claimed Pope Benedict XVI endorsed the use of condoms, what the Pope actually said was a bit different. He still strongly disapproves of condom use as contraception, and said only that a male prostitute may choose to use a condom to prevent the spread of the HIV infection.

    This minor  comment by the Holy Father in the book interview is far from the most significant thing he said this year, by any rational standard.  And the characterization of the Pope’s comment is so far off the mark that one can only conclude in charity that the reporter didn’t read anything other than the wire reports about it.

    The Holy Father said nothing remotely close to “a male prostitute may choose to use a condom to prevent the spread of the HIV infection”.  Instead, he was clear that condoms were never a “real or moral solution” to the problem of HIV, that a life of virtuous sexuality was the only real answer, and that the only thing to be said in favor of the use of a condom was that it might reflect the first glimmers of the awakening of a person’s conscience.

    As an attempt at journalism, this must set some kind of record:  telling us that the media got the Holy Father wrong, and then going right ahead and getting it egregiously wrong anyway.

    Lows: Accusations of sexual abuse first from Ireland and later mainland Europe smashed any remaining perception that predatory priests were an American anomaly and thrust the Vatican into its greatest crisis since the 2002 revelations of abuse in the U.S.

    There is no doubt that sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy members were a personal low point for the Holy Father, who grieved for the victims and for the scandal caused to the Church.  But this completely misses the most significant story about clerical sexual abuse in 2010, and the thing that “mattered” the most — the Holy Father’s strong response to the crisis, particularly in Ireland.  His Letter to the Catholics of Ireland is a masterpiece of leadership, containing moral clarity, genuine contrition, and a commitment to rooting out the problem.

    But the Holy Father did even more — he ordered an independent review of Irish dioceses and seminaries, and undertook a review of procedures for dealing with clerical misconduct that would apply worldwide.  Those are real, concrete, and significant steps that “matter”, and will continue to “matter” for decades.

    The scandal brought the church’s standing to a new low among believers in Europe and, in March when allegations surfaced in Germany, turned the spotlight on the Pontiff himself. It seems 30 years ago, during a brief tenure in Munich, the Pope, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, had transferred a known abusive priest to his own archdiocese, ostensibly for therapy. But just days after his arrival, the priest was allowed to serve among the flock and subsequent sexual assaults occurred.

    This is really a new low for unprofessional and tendentious journalism.  The case referred to was never more than a tissue of unproven accusations on the flimsiest of evidence.  There has never been any evidence that the Holy Father (who was Archbishop of Munich at the time) participated in any way in the decision to transfer that priest to a new parish.  It’s just flat out false, as any review of the evidence would show.

    Indeed, all the persons who were involved in the actual decision have stated unequivocally that the Pope was not involved.  Even the New York Times, a consistent enemy of the Church that is always willing to cast Her in the worst possible light, couldn’t uncover any evidence other than that the Pope was copied on a memo about the transfer.  That’s all.

    While Benedict has done a number of substantial things to deal with the crisis, including meeting with abuse victims and accepting the resignation of high-ranking clerics, he remains silent on his time in Germany.

    This grudging, backhanded concession that the Pope has done “a number of substantial things to deal with the crisis” is really, really rich.  No man in the entire worldwide Church has done more to combat the stain of clerical abuse than the Holy Father.  For years he worked to strengthen penalties and improve procedures on the handling of the cases.  All parties recognize that he has been diligent and strong in the cases that he personally oversaw as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  He has met with a number of victims in his Apostolic Visits, and has issued statement after statement condemning the sin and asking for the forgiveness of the victims.

    In fact, if anyone would like a lesson on the proper way to respond to the problem of clerical sexual abuse, the Holy Father is a good model.

    A few mistakes in a story like this is understandable.  But this many shows nothing short of a flagrant disregard of the truth that can only stem from hostility.

    In this issue of Time Magazine, professionalism doesn’t seem to “matter”.  But slandering the Holy Father — that seems to “matter” very much.

    New Norms, Renewed Commitment

    Thursday, July 15th, 2010

    Today, the Holy See issued revised rules, approved by Pope Benedict himself, that will govern how the most serious offenses under the Canon Law will be handled.  Since the most prominent of these crimes is the sexual exploitation of children, I fully expect that the secular press will fail to understand these norms and present a distorted or incomplete view of them, permit me to propose a few observations.

    This new legislation reflects a great deal of knowledge that has been learned from hard experience during the “Long Lent” of the past decade, and specifically our American experience under the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

    One such lesson is that the process of dealing with sexual abuse cases needed to be standardized across the Church.  The Canon Law already contained rules that, if used prudently, would have been sufficient in many cases in addressing these offenses.  But in many cases these rules were either not being used at all, or were being applied inconsistently from diocese to diocese.  These new norms do what good law should do — make the rules and procedures clear, and make it easier to come to a fair and final determination of guilt or innocence.

    Another positive factor is the broadening of the kinds of sexual exploitation that will be treated as grave crimes.  The new norms include possession of child pornography and the exploitation of developmentally disabled adults among the most grave offenses that will be disciplined.  These crimes were not clearly included in the definition before, so it will be helpful to investigators and judges in the future to have this clarification.

    It will also be helpful that the process has been streamlined, including easing the process of laicization, the relaxation of rules that permitted only priests to serve as canonical judges, and the ability to resolve clear cases without a trial.  While it always has been true that diocesan bishops had the authority to remove offenders from active ministry at any time, the complex and cumbersome canonical process has at times impeded efforts to bring some cases to a definitive conclusion.

    What does all this mean in the big picture?  I think it shows that the Catholic Church, to the highest level, has renewed her commitment to protecting children and vulnerable adults from the wicked sin of sexual exploitation.  For those of us who work for the Church, it is yet another reminder that one of our most solemn obligations, during this time in which the the Bride of Christ has been entrusted to our care, is to ensure that we preserve Her “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

    Sunlight is the Best Disinfecant

    Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

    The Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, writing about the need for transparency in government as a way of ensuring responsibility and accountability, famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.  Our Church has painfully learned this lesson in dealing with the problem of child sexual abuse.

    The recent news articles over the past few weeks about particular cases, both here and in Europe, have fostered wide confusion about how the Church handles sex abuse cases, and about the causes of the crisis.  I’d like to offer a few reflections to shed a little sunlight on each of these topics.

    The Church, like any organization, operates according to certain rules and regulations.  These can be found in the Code of Canon Law, various papal and curial documents, and in the ordinary course of doing business in chanceries and departments of the Holy See.   The failure of Church officials to govern and discipline according to the Canon Law was one of the major problems in dealing with sex abuse cases in the years before 2002.  In those days, overlapping jurisdiction, painfully slow deliberations, communication difficulties between Rome and other nations, inconsistencies between dioceses, failure of some high-ranking officials to grasp the big picture, irresponsibility and buck-passing all created significant problems and left children at risk.  These problems exploded in 2002, and damage has not yet been healed.

    The Church has learned many hard lessons from this experience.  But dwelling on the failures of the past do not really help us much in moving into the future, nor does it help heal the wounds caused by evil acts and negligent leadership.

    Since the American scandal broke in 2002, things have changed significantly.  The process for removing offenders from active ministry and for resolving their cases has been regularized and streamlined, due to the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.  The Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the new canonical rules that go along with it, are a model for Church governance and for child protection.  Victims are not treated as threats and adversaries, but we are doing much more to reach out to them and help them heal.  And herculean efforts are being made to prevent sexual abuse in our institutions.

    For those who are interested in knowing how cases are now actually handled (and who rightly do not trust the American press to describe it accurately), the Vatican has posted a short primer on their website, along with information about the response of the Church around the world.  For more information about how the Church in America has responded to the crisis, and has instituted significant reforms, you should visit the website of the U.S. Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.

    Another major source of heat and smoke, but very little light, has been the question of the cause of child sexual abuse in the Church, particularly by clergy.

    Some people have ignorantly blamed celibacy, as if living a single life necessarily disposes a person to child abuse.  Others have cited “homosexuality” as the primary cause, reasonably noting that about 80% of the victims of sexual abuse by clergy were teenaged boys.

    In this inflammatory situation, we need to be very careful with our terminology. In my opinion, the problem is not “homosexuality”, as that term is ordinarily understood.

    The Catechism defines “homosexuality” as “relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.” (2357)  Note the emphasis on “relations” — that is, on conduct, and not on the disordered sexual attraction alone. In the popular understanding of the word “homosexuality”, it also means that the person has accepted these feelings and actions as “normal” for them, and has organized their affectional and sexual life around them.

    The real problem in the sex abuse crisis is not “homosexuality”, understood in that way.  The root of it is in the disordered sexual feelings — particularly feelings of same-sex attraction — that are experienced by men who are not well-formed in their psychological and sexual development.  On top of this is the inability or unwillingness of some men to conform their conduct to the virtue of chastity.

    Merely saying “it’s a homosexual problem” finds a handy scape-goat, but doesn’t get at the real problem or the real solution — helping men who are preparing for the priesthood and who are already ordained to achieve a normal sexual and psychological development, helping them to reject any sexual feelings towards young people — again, particularly same-sex attraction — for the distortions and lies that they are, and training them spiritually to live lives of chastity and continence.

    If anyone is interested in further information about homosexuality, and how it can be addressed by the Church and by mental health professionals, the best document is “Homosexuality and Hope” by the Catholic Medical Association.  The U.S. Bishops’ statement on Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination is also an excellent resource.

    In the end, sunlight — the truth — is the indispensable tool if the Church, and society as a whole, is ever going to understand the causes of child sexual abuse, heal the victims, and prevent further problems.

    What We’ve Learned

    Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

    In addition to the work I do with the Respect Life Office, I am also the Director of the Safe Environment Program here at the Archdiocese.  That means that I’m responsible for overseeing the implementation of some of the key provisions of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, particularly the sections that are aimed at preventing child sexual abuse in our institutions, and in responding appropriately to any incidents that do occur.

    It’s a terrible task, because you have to talk to people about the unspeakable, and you have to prepare for the worst.  And, you have to face the fact that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, or how diligently we work, no system of child protection is 100% effective.

    But it has taught me some things that I think are relevant to the current media frenzy about child sexual abuse in the Church.  Much ink has been spilled, and many electronic pixels have been created, in the last few weeks about this dreadful issue.  Much heat, but really very, very little light.

    Let me offer a few ideas about what we have learned in the actual work of dealing with, and preventing, child sexual abuse:

    • The media is incompetent and biased against the Church.  Well, we knew that already, but this latest flare-up reminded us of how poorly journalists understand (or care to) the way the Church is structured and how it works in reality.  It’s funny that political reporters love to write “inside baseball” stories about how campaigns and legislatures work, but never seem interested in learning how the Church actually operates.  Of course, the media is not the ultimate problem, and we have to get over that.
    • The vast majority of our priests and bishops are good, holy men.  Well, we knew that already, too, but it can’t be emphasized enough.  The “bad apples” amounted to a tiny percentage of our clergy.  It is grossly unjust and iniquitous that all priests and bishops have been lumped into the same category as the offenders.  We need to be very careful about how we speak about our clergy, especially to make sure that they know how much we love and respect them.  We also need to be sure to understand that our priests are an essential part of the solution to this issue — their leadership and example is indispensable.
    • The problem is not limited to the Church.  Yes, the vast majority of sexual abuse takes place not in Church institutions, but in other places — particularly in schools and in homes.  But, in the end, that doesn’t matter.  We can’t get hung up on pointing fingers at others.  We have to look in the mirror at ourselves, and make sure that we’re doing whatever we can to make our institutions safe.
    • The problem is not celibacy.  Just to clarify our terms, in the Roman Catholic Church, priests undertake two obligations — celibacy and continence.  Celibacy means that they will remain unmarried, continence means that they will not engage in any kind of sexual activity.  To suggest that marriage is a cure-all for sexual abuse, or that being single and continent is a cause of sexual abuse, is absurd.
    • The victims are not the enemy.  One of the worst things that the Church — and law enforcement officials — did in the past was to treat the victims of sexual abuse in an adversarial way.  Too often, they were ignored, disbelieved, and treated as potential litigants to be kept at arms’ length.  You will recall the disgusting comment by former-Archbishop Weakland that “Not all adolescent victims are so innocent.  Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise.”  If we’ve learned anything, it’s that victims are to be healed, not blamed.
    • The problem is not  “homosexuality” or “gay” priests.  These terms are thrown around very loosely, and we have to be careful about what we’re saying.  As used in ordinary speech, the term “homosexuality” refers to a settled affectional and sexual preference for members of the same sex, which one accepts as an organizing principle of one’s life.  The word “gay”, which is primarily a political term that means not just accepting “homosexuality” but celebrating it as the equal of heterosexuality, is not helpful to the discussion.  It is unfair and unjust to allege or imply that child sexual abuse can be blamed exclusively or primarily on homosexual persons.
    • Nevertheless, we would be deluding ourselves if we didn’t admit that same-sex attraction has been a factor here.  All we have to do is look at the profile of victims of priestly sexual abuse (about 80% have been adolescent males), and we see that reality.  This is not true of sexual abuse in society as a whole, but we can’t address the problem in our Church unless we acknowledge it.
    • The sexual abuse of children is primarily the result of disordered psycho-sexual development.  If there’s one thing that everyone should agree upon, it’s that a normal adult should not be sexually attracted to children or adolescents, and that such feelings are a symptom of a problem in the person’s psycho-sexual development.  Good sexual development has to be an essential part of the formation of priests.  But we lay people have to recognize that we bear a considerable burden here too.  We cannot expect our priests to have good sexual development if we aren’t doing our share to create a culture of virtue in our Church.
    • The problem can’t be dealt with by therapy alone.  In many, many cases, our bishops, acting in good faith, trusted the word of therapists who assured them that offending priests could be returned to ministry because they were in treatment, or had completed a course of therapy.  This proved to be a disastrous mistake.  Therapy can certainly help those with problems in their psycho-sexual development.  But some people just cannot be allowed to be around young people, and strong steps have to be taken to ensure that they are not.
    • A key answer to the problem involves life-long training in sexual virtue — in chastity.  All persons — married, single, clergy — are called to live a life of  chastity (see the Catechism, no. 2348).  This means that we must integrate our feelings into a healthy adult sexuality, and live according to our state in life.   We all experience difficulties in this, as the result of original sin, the temptations of the Evil One, and the sex-saturated culture that we swim in.  We are sinners, and we sin.  But chastity is possible, even if it is difficult, with the help of God.  Everybody, including those with seriously disordered sexual feelings, and those who experience same-sex attraction, can still live chaste lives.  Good spiritual development, and the formation of healthy chaste relationships, are essential in this task.  This is where the Theology of the Body can be a powerful tool — it is a wonderful way to foster sexual virtue, no matter what one’s state in life.

    Much of what we’ve learned from the problem of child sexual abuse in the Church comes down to two words — virtue and vigilance.  We have to be vigilant in screening all those who deal with children, training them as to the proper ways to behave with minors and in how to recognize potential dangers, supervising them, and responding properly to any incident.

    But we must also foster a culture of virtue — especially chastity and prudence.  That’s the most important lesson we’ve learned.