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.