Posts Tagged ‘Sex Abuse Crisis’

The Crisis — Causes, Effects, and an Answer

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Two recent events have once again brought the issue of clerical sexual abuse to the forefront here in the Archdiocese. The first is a source of great sadness and anguish. The second is the source of indispensable wisdom about the causes and effects of sexual abuse in our Church.

The List

The first event is release of the list of 120 Archdiocesan clergy who were either (a) credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or possessing child pornography, or (b) the subject of a claim that our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) considered eligible for compensation.

The distinction between the two categories is important. Some of the clergymen on the list whose cases where our independent lay Review Board found that an allegation was credible and substantiated. It’s essential to note that neither the Review Board nor the IRCP is a court of law, they’re not bound by the evidence rules under civil or criminal law, and – most important – in the case of many of the IRCP cases the clergymen were either dead or already out of ministry and thus did not have the opportunity to defend themselves.

This list has gotten a lot of attention. And it will not be the last bit of bad news that we hear – far from it. But some very important facts haven’t gotten enough attention. No clergyman is currently in service who has had a credible allegation of child sexual abuse. The vast majority of the cases are old – most occurred between the 1960’s and the early 1990’s. There have been no credible claims against a clergyman who was ordained since the Bishops’ Charter was adopted in 2002. And we have only had two credible cases since 2002, although there are two others that are still pending in the criminal justice system. We have clearly been successful in mitigating the damage and risk.

Still, even one case is too many, and we have devoted enormous resources to preventing any further offenses and responding appropriately to any new allegations. Failure is simply unacceptable.

There is one thing that is particularly significant about this list, something that is missing from it – the victims. Behind the name of each one of the clergymen on that list there are victims, in some cases only one, but in other cases many. Over 350 victims received compensation from the IRCP, and there are more who never applied. Each one of those victims was betrayed, desecrated, violated and assaulted by one of the men on the list. The effect on them, their pain and suffering, and in many cases the destruction of their lives, cannot be adequately reflected in any list. Someone said to me recently that they feel sorry for the clergymen whose names are on the list. I understand that sentiment, but my primary sympathy is for the men and women whose names will never be revealed, who have suffered and continue to suffer in silence and anonymity.

Pope Emeritus Benedict 

The other recent event is something that should get much more attention, because it gets directly at the heart of the causes and effects of the scandal – an article written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse”.  This provides the key to understanding the deeper significance of the list and of the entire contagion of sexual abuse. It also shows us the way to hope out of this darkness.

Benedict identifies a number of key causes that led to the scandal. First and foremost, he finds its roots in the 1960’s in the sexual revolution:

… in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose…. Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.

This is undeniably true, as anyone who lived in the 1960’s and 1970’s could attest. The traditional morality that insisted on the link between sex and marriage, and sex and procreation, was swept away and replaced with a new mindset in which sex was merely a form of entertainment for which the only ethical rule was consent. And, as Benedict points out repeatedly, once the traditional moral standards were eliminated, there was nothing to stop some people from justifying sex with minors.

The second key cause was the internal collapse of Catholic moral theology, which had traditionally been rooted in Scripture and natural law, and which held firmly to the doctrine that there are some acts that are never morally acceptable. This was also swept away by academic theologians, bishops, and poorly formed priests who instead held to a morality that in effect served as a permission slip to sin. This was further facilitated by a rejection of the authority of the Church to pronounce definitive doctrines on matters of morality. Benedict says,

In the end, it was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. While the old phrase “the end justifies the means” was not confirmed in this crude form, its way of thinking had become definitive. Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgments. There no longer was the (absolute) good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.

In other words, anything could be considered morally acceptable under the “right” circumstances and with the “right” motives. It is easy to see where this leads – to a regime of no rules, of “anything goes”, where everyone is the ultimate judge of what is good and evil, and where “the Church should stay out of the bedroom”. Of course, once authentic morality is pushed “out of the bedroom”, any kind of sexual act becomes justifiable, including sex with minors.

According to Benedict, this corrosive anti-morality was conveyed to priests in flawed seminary formation and reinforced by bishops who “rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern ‘Catholicity’ in their dioceses”. Does anyone seriously doubt that this happened? One of the major initiatives of the papacies of Popes John Paul and Benedict was to push back against the “dictatorship of relativism” and to restore authentic Catholic moral doctrine – that was the purpose of the great encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

Benedict then shines a light on the heart of the matter. While speaking of the effort to make changes in the Canon Law to permit better enforcement of its criminal law in cases of abuse of minors, he says this:

In fact, it is important to see that such misconduct by clerics ultimately damages the Faith. Only where faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible…. A society without God – a society that does not know Him and treats Him as non-existent – is a society that loses its measure. In our day, the catchphrase of God’s death was coined. When God does die in a society, it becomes free, we were assured. In reality, the death of God in a society also means the end of freedom, because what dies is the purpose that provides orientation. And because the compass disappears that points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil…. Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.

Of course this is true. Nobody can legitimately and truly believe in God, and know and love him in their heart, and commit such heinous acts.

The loss of God can be seen vividly, Benedict argues, in the lack of reverence for the Eucharist and a lack of understanding of the true nature of the Church. For many, the Eucharist is treated as a mere ceremony to mark family events, without any sense of the Real Presence of Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Blessed Sacrament. The lack of reverence for the Body of Christ cannot help but lead to a lack of respect for the image of God that is in the body of every human being.

Likewise, the Church is seen only as a political apparatus that can be re-made by us into whatever we wish. Benedict sees the falsehood in that view: “The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.” This, he argues, is the agenda of the Evil One, who wants to lead us away from God – by considering the Church as purely a human entity created for human ends that is thoroughly corrupted by the evil acts of some of her members. This message of despair causes people to look at the list of offenders, reject the Church and turn away from God. That road leads to destruction.

The Answer

Benedict offers a solution to the problem. It isn’t a pragmatic program, agenda for legal reform, or bureaucratic structure. As such, it won’t satisfy anyone who sees the problem of clerical sexual abuse as purely a human phenomenon. All those things are vitally important but they aren’t sufficient. Benedict offers instead a response that gets to the real root causes:

It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. Today there are many people who humbly believe, suffer and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us. Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them….

Today’s Church is more than ever a “Church of the Martyrs” and thus a witness to the living God. If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering.

There are many who will look at the list of offenders and despair. But the true response to the list and to the crisis in general is instead one of hope. God offers us, through his Church, all we need to deal with both the causes and effects of this terrible scandal of sin. Prayer for and with those who suffer, the intercessory help of our Blessed Mother and the saints, acts of reparation, devotion to Divine Mercy, and above all the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist – all these will help us to be witnesses to the great goodness of God, to reject all the lies of the Evil One, and to purify the Bride of Christ so that nobody will ever suffer from abuse again.

Where Do Things Stand on the Sex Abuse Crisis?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

The news from the recent US bishops’ meeting came as a shock and disappointment to many Catholics – the Holy See blocked a vote on any plan to address the latest developments in the sex abuse crisis until after a world-wide meeting of the heads of national bishops’ conferences in February. And many are deeply frustrated because there is a lack of information about why this was done and what’s going to happen.

I’ve been hearing lots of angry questions about the situation from friends and correspondents. There is a plethora of opinion and speculation online, much of it colored by various ideological positions. There is a lot of mis-information, and lack of information, being spread through the media and the blogosphere.

I’d like to offer some of my thoughts and explanations to try to clarify where I see things being. Note that these are my personal opinions. They’re not official positions of the Archdiocese and I have no special inside information. But I am involved in child protection, so I’m going to use that experience to try to make some sense of things.

Why did Rome stop the bishops from acting? 

Just to review, the US bishops were holding their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore. The main issue on the agenda was how to address the sex abuse crisis, particularly the question of how to hold bishops accountable. There were two inter-related proposals on the table – to establish a lay-led commission to review complaints against bishops and to define a code of conduct for bishops. At the last minute, a letter was sent from the Holy See asking (in reality, a nice way of ordering) the bishops to postpone any vote on any kind of proposal until after the meeting that the Holy Father called in February to discuss the matter with the presidents of all the regional bishops’ conferences around the world.

It’s impossible to say why the Holy See stopped the bishops from adopting an American policy, because nobody in Rome explained the reasoning behind the decision. All we were told was that decisions should be deferred until after the February meeting. For Americans, this is, perhaps, the most frustrating part of what happened, since we are used to much more open debate about policy options. Many feel deeply offended and angry, and see this as another example of condescending clericalism and a culture of secrecy. Some have also found it bewildering to stop our bishops from voting on a plan that was going to have to be approved in Rome anyway, and wonder whether there is some kind of hostility to America going on.

It’s clear to me that the Holy See needs to be much more open about what they’re doing and why — especially because one of the most damaging parts of the sex abuse crisis was the loss of trust because of all the secrecy.

Why can’t the US Bishops just adopt their own policies for the US?

American Catholics naturally want our American bishops to offer solutions to our American problem. We respect the principle of subsidiarity, according to which there’s a strong preference that local bodies resolve local problems if possible, and that larger bodies only get involved if local solutions don’t work. Our experience since 2002 with the Bishops’ Charter shows that our bishops are perfect capable of developing successful ways to deal with sex abuse on a national scale.

So for many people, Rome’s decision to postpone any action on the US bishops’ plan, before there was a chance to see if it would work, seems to violate subsidiarity. On the other hand, the Holy Father may be convinced that the sex abuse crisis (including the problem of misconduct and poor governance by bishops) can’t be answered on a nation-by-nation basis and requires a world-wide discussion, if not a world-wide response. It’s hard to tell because Rome’s reasoning hasn’t been made public.

Regardless of the reasons, once Rome made the request (i.e., order) to our bishops, they had no choice but to comply. Unity with the Holy Father is an essential part of the collegiality among bishops and the catholicity of our Church, and great deference has to be given to his wishes.

One pragmatic matter is crucial to understand: the Church is present in virtually every country in the world. We in America are used to dealing with a good government with fair courts and laws, a free press and wide-open discussions. But in most other countries, dioceses operate in a completely different environment, with open hostility and persecution from their governments, limited free press and fear of retaliation for speaking one’s mind. So what may make perfect sense in one country or diocese could be a disaster in another. The Holy See has the difficult job of trying to make world-wide policy that will work in all nations.

So does Rome have a plan?

Again, we don’t know, because nobody at the Holy See has publicly proposed anything yet. The Vatican has just announced the names of some of the people who will be involved in the planning of the February meeting (none of whom are laypeople), they haven’t had any formal meetings yet, and there haven’t been any real hints about the actual agenda. Public statements by some of the organizers have been very general and have suggested that the meeting will only be the beginning of a longer process of developing policies.

That kind of statement is just astounding to me – we are very far from the beginning of the crisis, and we need to move quickly towards ending it. The crisis is now, not in the future. We need to see a sense of urgency and a concrete plan that has much more involvement of the laity, especially experts in the field, and much more openness and accountability.

For all those reasons and more, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical that the February meeting will result in any concrete proposals. In the past, high-level meetings run by the Holy See have usually been better at discussing general principles than for adopting practical policies. Just think of the most recent Synods of Bishops for examples.

There was also some discussion at the US bishops’ meeting of strengthening the role of archbishops in supervising the bishops in their province and in evaluating allegations of misconduct by them. There were even hints that this proposal might be favored in Rome. There is some merit to this idea, since it relies on existing structures, but it makes many Catholics nervous. Having bishops overseeing other bishops, unless they also have robust transparency and involvement by laity or independent investigators, will likely be perceived by many as perpetuating the kind of clericalism that has been a major part of the problem in the past. The Archbishop McCarrick case has been seen as a prime example of the failure of bishops to self-police.

In any event, it seems clear to me that to regain the trust of American Catholics, Rome will have to come up with more than just additional statements about how serious the problem is, how concerned they are, how committed they are to preventing abuse, and how serious they are about developing policies. There’s already been a lot of talk, and people are impatient for action.

What can our bishops do in the meantime? 

Seeing our bishops’ hands tied by the Vatican is very upsetting, because that means there are very few things they can do on the national scale while waiting for the February world-wide meeting. Cardinal Dolan and two other prelates have been appointed to a special task force to study the issue, and we can hope that there will be some positive results from that and an avenue for input from the laity in that process. And we can also hope that after the February world-wide meeting, the US Bishops will have the ability to adopt particular policies that would apply in the unique situation of the US.

Individual bishops, however, can use this time to increase their communication with the laity, particularly by being completely transparent about the cases that have arisen and how they have been handled, including apologizing for mistakes. The bishops can also be transparent by explaining the procedures they already have in their dioceses and how they can hold their brother bishops accountable. Greater attention can also be paid to the problem of unchastity among the clergy. More bishops are following Cardinal Dolan’s example and setting up compensation plans for victims of abuse, and more should also follow his example by calling on an independent monitor to evaluate what the diocese has been doing.

These steps help, but they don’t eliminate people’s impatience over the need for a strong national solution.

Is the Vatican dragging its feet on the Archbishop McCarrick case?

Not at all. The first allegation against the Archbishop was evaluated last Spring by our review board and found to be substantiated. That case was then sent to Rome, the Holy Father removed the Archbishop’s faculties to function as a priest and bishop, he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and he has been assigned to live in prayer and penance. A second allegation was made public this summer in the newspapers. It was referred to Rome, and they then sent it back to us for investigation. According to our protocols, we referred the case to the local District Attorney to determine whether there is any possibility of a criminal prosecution. Once they have concluded their handling of the case, we will conduct our own investigation and all the evidence will be submitted to our review board. If any other allegations are made, they will be handled the same way.

Investigating these kinds of cases takes time, and we all wish things would move faster. But the Holy See has been following its law and procedure, the DA’s offices have followed theirs, and so have we. These things can’t be rushed. We also have to make sure that the Archbishop, like anyone else, receives due process. People often forget that even the American justice system moves very slowly. The Bill Cosby sexual assault case took three years from the filing of charges through two trials, and the Larry Nasser/US gymnastics sex abuse case took over a year and a half for the criminal cases to end in guilty pleas (but the civil cases are still going on). Unfortunately, real life is not like an episode of “Law and Order” where everything is neatly wrapped up in sixty minutes.

Evaluating the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick is only part of the issue, though. The larger question is about how he was able to advance in office despite widespread rumors and even legal settlements about his misconduct. That’s a serious question that Rome will have to eventually answer.

Aren’t the bishops and the pope worried about losing Catholics? 

Many Catholics are baffled by what they see as the tepid and confusing response by Church leaders and think that the bishops “just don’t get” the level of anger and alienation they feel. What happened at the bishops’ meeting was more fuel for that feeling, and there’s a grave concern that ordinary Catholics are going to leave the Church in frustration.

We Catholics have great reverence for our Church, and our faith is inevitably shaken when Church leaders let us down. Throughout her history, the Church has struggled with scandals and failings in ourselves and our leaders. A quick read of St. Paul’s letters shows that in vivid detail (1 Corinthians is a good example). The offenses and failures of the clergy undermine our trust in their sincerity about the faith itself – people rightly think, “if they act that way, why should I believe anything they say?” Of course, we know that the validity of the sacraments and the integrity of the faith don’t depend on the worthiness of the ministers. And Church history is also a good lesson in patience and perspective – we’ve survived many, many crises before, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit.

But still, there is a critical element of trust that our bishops need to regain, before too many people are disillusioned and join the ranks of the “nones” – those who say they’re believers but who don’t belong to any church – or the legion of “ex-Catholics”.

What can lay people do about this?

Because complaints of clergy misconduct are handled according to internal Church processes (under the Bishops’ Charter and the Canon Law), it’s hard to see how regular lay people can get more involved. There is no clear avenue right now for raising complaints about bishops, and it’s hard to tell how Rome handles those complaints or even if anyone is listening to them.

One thing that is absolutely necessary is for people to respectfully let their bishop know how they feel about this situation and how much they want to see some positive action. The only way they’ll “get it” is if we give it to them – politely and reasonably. I know that some people are withholding donations to their bishops’ appeal to send a message, but I don’t think that gets the job done — that money goes primarily to the pastoral and charitable work of the dioceses, so the only people being deprived of money are the needy people who will lose services.

The most important thing that lay people can do is to pray for our bishops and priests, and especially for victims, and to lead blameless and holy lives ourselves. Good Christian lives are the best way to attract people to the Gospel, and to heal the wounds of sin.

How can the Church operate this way?

We Americans are very impatient and practical by nature. When there’s a crisis we want solutions right away. If there’s a natural disaster, we expect the President and the Governor to be on the next plane and for FEMA, the Red Cross and the military to be on the ground within hours — forget about red tape, just get the job done. We hold them all to a high standard and any slips are put under a microscope immediately.

Americans are also used to our government officials explaining in detail (both officially and through unofficial statements, leaks, etc.) why particular policies are being put forward, and we are comfortable with extensively debating about them. When our government isn’t open with us about what policies are being developed, we are immediately suspicious and often resort to conspiracy theories. Americans have an ingrained allergy to government secrecy, and we really believe in the expression that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

As a result, the deliberate pace and closed manner with which the Church operates can be bewildering and intensely frustrating to Americans. Most people, including many Catholics, don’t realize that the Church isn’t organized like a corporation with branch offices on every corner and policies that can be changed in a minute by the CEO. There are elements of both localism and universalism in the Church that work together and are sometimes in tension. Each diocese is governed by a bishop who has very broad authority, but the diocese is still part of the universal Church and the bishop is responsible for maintaining unity with the Holy Father. The Holy Father has ultimate governing authority over the Church, but he has to respect the autonomy of individual bishops. National bishops’ conferences like the USCCB are really coalitions like the Chamber of Commerce, and don’t have any actual governing power over individual dioceses.

The Church also operates under its own internal legal system. The Canon Law is a complex and ancient body of law that is very different in concept from our Anglo-American common law system. It reflects very rich and deep theological principles about the nature of the Church, and it has detailed standards and procedures that have developed over centuries. It is not designed for rapid-fire pragmatism like you would find on a TV court reality show or a legal thriller novel. The Holy Father has the authority to change Canon Law, but, as with any legal system, changes have to be done very carefully to avoid interfering with or undermining other important principles. For example, it would be easy to streamline a criminal trial to make it faster, but that can’t be done in a way that endangers due process rights or the presumption of innocence.

The Church operates in a way that is very strange to Americans. It’s hard to get used to, and sometimes even harder to explain.

What’s the take-away?

Ultimately, of course, our faith is not in man or in institutions but in Jesus Christ, and we believe that His saving power works even though imperfect people like our clergy and ourselves. As St. Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For the last 15 years, the Church has been implementing the Bishops Charter and has made tremendous strides in protecting children from sexual abuse and addressing past misconduct. The current state of things is very frustrating and there’s no easy answer, but we can’t lose hope. We will just have to continue working the best we can through the imperfect system that we have, with faith that the Holy Spirit is always active and guiding us.

What We’re Doing about Sex Abuse

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

The Church is once again facing the tragedy of child sexual abuse. My Public Policy Office recently had an open discussion with a group of young adults about the crisis, as part of our monthly Discussion and Discipleship series. It was clear in that discussion that it would be valuable to let people know in detail what efforts the Archdiocese has made to respond to and protect against child sexual abuse. Since I am also the Safe Environment Director, I put together this overview of what we’ve done and what we’re doing.

The vast majority of clerical sex abuse took place before 2000.

It’s important to understand the true scope and nature of the problem. Independent analysis by John Jay College and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University (which can be found here) confirm that the vast majority of reported offenses took place between the 1960’s and 1980’s, then declined sharply. The allegations that we have received in the Archdiocese follow that same pattern, as do the offenses reported in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Since 2015, there has been an average of 7 reported cases nationwide that are contemporary (i.e., they happened in the same year they were reported). Thank God, here in the Archdiocese we have not had a substantiated contemporary claim since 2011.

Obviously, the only acceptable number of cases is zero. But the fact is that we are primarily talking about a historical problem — one that was very badly handled by the Church at the time and which we can never, ever let happen again.

The 2002 Bishops Charter was a decisive moment.

In the aftermath of the revelations in 2002 about abuse in Boston, the Bishops adopted the Bishops Charter on the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter requires that: all allegations of child sexual abuse must be reported to law enforcement; every diocese is to have an independent review board to evaluate the legitimacy of these allegations; any priest who is found to have abused a child must be permanently removed from ministry (the “Zero Tolerance Policy”); and every diocese must establish a child protection (typically called “safe environment”) program to implement preventive measures. It also requires that pastoral assistance be offered to all victims of abuse and that dioceses cannot demand that settlements of lawsuits be kept confidential.

The Charter led to a fundamental and comprehensive change in the way that the Church addresses sexual abuse of minors. The Archdiocese has vigorously implemented the requirements of theCharter and, in fact, has adopted policies that are above and beyond the CharterAll of our policies are online and can be consulted by anyone. 

All allegations are reported to the authorities and thoroughly investigated. 

Under our policies, “Child Sexual Abuse” and “Sexual Misconduct” are defined very broadly, to include virtually any sexual offense under state and federal law, as well as Canon Law and Catholic moral teaching. We deliberately defined the offenses as broadly as we could, in order not to miss any kind of conduct that harms children. We also included offenses against vulnerable adults (e.g., those who cannot make decisions due to a developmental or cognitive impairment) in the category of offenses against minors, and other offenses against adults.

The first contact we usually have with a complainant is by email, but some people also call. We have a form on the Safe Environment Office website that allows a person to write out the basic facts of their complaint, and our phone numbers are also listed there. We get back in touch with them as soon as possible (usually within one business day), and we then interview them over the phone. This is done either by me or by our Victim Assistance Coordinator, Sr. Eileen Clifford. This is a hard conversation. For many, this is the first time that they’ve told anyone or the first time they’ve ever spoken to someone who will believe them and do something for them. For just about all of them, it’s the first time that anyone has apologized to them.

Once we see that the allegation is credible (i.e., it isn’t obviously false or absurd) and we identify the priest, we report it to the appropriate District Attorney. We give them all the information we have and we fully cooperate with their investigation. We have an agreement with the DA’s not to remove the priest from service at that point, so that they can investigate the case fully, but if there’s a current threat to children we will place the priest on leave right away.

Unfortunately, virtually all of the allegations we receive can’t be criminally prosecuted because they’re too old. In New York, the statute of limitations for most criminal sex offenses is five years after the victim turns 18. As a result, the authorities share the results of their investigation and refer the case back to us to handle.

We then conduct our own investigation. Our interest is in finding the truth, regardless of where the chips may fall. We have hired a firm of retired federal law enforcement agents to ensure independence and transparency in the investigations. We have two in-house attorneys (I’m a former state and federal prosecutor, my colleague is a very experienced civil litigator) to help them. The accused priest is notified of the allegation and he is given an attorney to represent him. We interview the complainant and any possible witnesses, and search for any other relevant evidence. The accused priest is also interviewed, and we follow up on any leads that he gives us.

The key thing is to find any independent evidence that bears on the allegations, to try to determine what (if anything) happened. These cases are very difficult to investigate, because the alleged conduct took place so long ago and our complainants were very young at the time (mostly under 14). Memories are tricky and fade or change over time, witnesses are dead or missing, no physical evidence has survived, and many victims don’t report things right away so there’s no contemporary record of it.

When all investigative steps have been taken, the results are presented to our independent review board for a decision. This board consists of distinguished members of the community – judges, doctors, lawyers, a woman religious and a senior priest. They review all the information we’ve gathered, and sometimes they ask that the complainant and the priest give live testimony. Their task is to decide whether the allegation is substantiated – essentially whether it is more likely than not that the offense took place. Our experience is that at least three-quarters of the allegations are supported by sufficient evidence.

The Zero Tolerance Policy in Action.

As required by the Charter, anyone (clerical or lay) who is found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor is removed permanently from ministry and/or employment. Since the Charter, approximately 50 priests who had been in active service or retired were permanently banned from ministry. We’ve had many more credible  complaints against priests who are dead or were already expelled from ministry.

This is the “zero tolerance policy” in action. There are no second chances, no return to ministry after psychological testing, and no moving offenders around. Those days are over forever.

Once that has happened, the Canon Law process begins to have the priest “laicized” (i.e., degraded from the clerical state, or “defrocked”). This can only be done by the Holy See, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This can take a long time, because the file of documents that have to be submitted is very large, the number of experts who can do that is limited, and the office at the Vatican that handles the cases is very overworked. But we still do this with every substantiated case against an active priest.

Our Policy on Sexual Misconduct also covers offenses committed against adults, including sexual harassment, conduct in violation of professional standards within a pastoral or counseling relationship, and sexual acts that involve abuses of positions of power. The “zero tolerance policy” applies here too. Any person who commits a criminal offense against an adult is reported to law enforcement and if the allegation is substantiated they too will be permanent removed from ministry or employment. Persons who commit sexual harassment may also be punished and even fired, depending on the severity of the offense.

All victims who come forward are offered help.

The Charter requires that every diocese appoint a Victim Assistance Coordinator whose responsibility is to provide pastoral care to victims. Our coordinator is often one of the first contacts for victims, and she offers them support, including help getting professional counseling. Any victim, no matter how old the offense, is offered help. In addition, in 2016 the Archdiocese instituted anIndependent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that offers financial awards to victims. Over 350 victims have taken advantage of this program.

How do we know you’re doing all of this? 

The Charter requires that every diocese be annually audited to ensure that the requirements were being implemented. The audit is conducted by outside experts, and it involves statistical evidence, examination of files, and personal interviews.  The Archdiocese has been found to be fully compliant with the Charter in thirteen consecutive audits since the Safe Environment program became fully operational in 2005. All the policies and procedures of the Safe Environment program are also subject to the on-going oversight of our independent review board.

Every year, a report is published on the U.S. Bishops’ website, summarizing the results of the audits of every diocese in the United States. Statistical information about abuse cases is also submitted to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University for analysis, and their results are also published in the bishops’ report. These multiple levels of transparency will hold us accountable for implementing the Charter and our Policies.

What are you doing to protect children going forward? 

The Charter requires that every diocese implement a child protection policy, which we call our Safe Environment Program. Everyone whose duties involve contact with minors must be screened, including a background check for criminal convictions and sex offender status; they have to obey our policies and Code of Conduct; and they have to complete a class in child protection. The training includes how to identify warning signs of victims and offenders, how to respond and report incidents, and the requirements of our Code of Conduct and other policies (e.g., electronic communications, social media, and proper professional boundaries). We currently have approximately 49,000 people (clergy, employees and volunteers) whose duties involve contact with minors.

Since 2003, the following steps have been taken:

130,000+ background checks have been completed;
114,000+ clergy, employees, and volunteers have received training on keeping children safe;
129,000+ children received age-appropriate, morally sound safety training during the 2017-2018 school year.

The bottom line.

No system of child protection is infallible. Mistakes are always going to be made. Any failure is a horrendous tragedy. But perhaps this brief outline shows that we are doing everything we reasonably can to address the crimes of the past, and prevent anything like that from happening ever again. We can always improve these efforts and we’re constantly reviewing them to make them better. The Cardinal’s appointment of Judge Barbara Jones as an outside evaluator and monitor of our programs is proof of that, and I’m very optimistic about strengthening our program even more.

The Church I See

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

We have all seen the horror stories over the past few months about sexual abuse in the Church. We have all been disgusted and enraged by them. For some, it has been too much. They have decided to leave the Church because of all the ugliness they see.

I understand that. I see the same ugliness, more close up and personal than most people do. I have been working in the child protection program of the Archdiocese since 2005. I have read the public reports and I’ve read through the files of priests who have been abusers. I’ve read academic studies of child molestation and the testimony of victims. Part of my job is to help investigate allegations, so I’ve talked personally and at length to many victims of abuse. I see the raw ugliness of the sins that were committed against these innocent people. At times it’s overwhelming, and it is always depressing. I’ve also seen the poor responses, the indifference, sometimes the hostility of Church authorities who have tried to ignore, deny, deflect, or conceal what was going on. So yes, there is much ugliness.

But that’s not all I see when I look at the Church I love. Even with everything that’s been going on, and all the sin and evil in the Church, I still see so much beauty. I see things like:

  • The Holy Hour of Prayer for the victims of sexual abuse that we held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What could be more beautiful than adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the devotion of those who were there —  mostly young adults.
  • The deep reverence of priests towards the Eucharist during exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and even during daily Mass.
  • The profession of final vows by the Sisters of Life. A spectacular liturgy, sublime music, and the powerful witness of women who were dedicating their entire lives to the Lord and his least ones.
  • The consecration to Mary that my wife and I made on the feast of Our Lady of Knock. Mary has been a source of so much grace and consolation to us that it was wonderful for us to offer ourselves back to her.
  • The Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, which we visited recently. Such a powerful devotion, and a wonderful, peaceful location for prayer and reparation.
  • The ardent curiosity and commitment of the young adults who come to our monthly Discussion and Discipleship group. We talk about Church teaching on tough topics like contraception, life issues, and sex abuse. You can sense the yearning and hunger for truth in the hearts of these wonderful people.
  • The sublime beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass and the noble simplicity of the ordinary Mass.
  • The sight of members of the Legion of Mary, praying the Rosary at the Grand Central subway station. Such a wonderful public witness of the power of prayer.
  • The dedication of so many loyal Catholics whose hearts burn with love for Christ and his Church, and who are desperately looking for something to do to correct the abuses.

There certainly has been much ugliness in the Church, and we need to be ruthless in eliminating it. But I refuse to dismiss the whole because of the rot in some of its members. Without the Church, I would know nothing of God, I would never have encountered Christ, and I would still remain in my sins without hope. I totally relate to what St. Peter said when Jesus asked if the apostles would leave him because of his hard teachings, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

St. Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27)

We wicked foolish humans have done our worst to deface and desecrate the Bride of Christ. We now have to do our best to cleanse her so that she can truly be without blemish and we can present her back to the Bridegroom as he desires. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but the Church I see is worth fighting for.

That’s because the Church I see isn’t the one tarnished by ugliness, but the one whose beauty remains eternal.

The Truth is Our Most Important Ally

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an abundance of news stories about the crisis facing the Church. The letter released by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States has begun a new phase of the crisis, by leveling some deeply troubling allegations. There is a great deal of anger and concern among the faithful, but there is also a lot of confusion about what is actually going on and what can and should be done about it.

At this troubled time, a relentless pursuit of the truth will be our best ally in dealing with the current crisis. But we have to leave ideologies, axe-grinding and agendas behind. We need, as the old TV character Sgt. Joe Friday insisted, to stick to “just the facts”. Here’s my attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

I think it’s vital to be clear about the specific issues that are in play right now. Some of them overlap, but at their heart they are separate problems that require particular corrective responses. As I see it, there are four basic issues.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy. This was the primary focus of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and it has been a major issue for the Church since at least 2002, when the Boston abuses became public. I consider this problem to be largely behind us, and it is no help for people to act as if nothing has changed since the adoption of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. We are still unearthing old cases of horrible abuse, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything like widespread abuse of minors by clergy taking place now. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary, and even the Grand Jury Report notes the dramatic changes that have occurred since 2002.

The dioceses across the United States have spend millions of dollars on prevention efforts, including training and background checking, and there has been a vast improvement in the way that cases are handled. In fact, we should have no problem with any outside organization auditing our files to see how we’re doing. If there are deficiencies, we need to have them identified right away so that we can correct them. But we also need to make abundantly clear that we will redouble our efforts and be held accountable to our absolute adamantine commitment that any offender will be excluded from any contact with minors in any program or institution of the Church.

Sexual harassment and oppression of seminarians. This is the major focus of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, and many of the other allegations that have been made since those became public. These allegations are particularly appalling. The idea that priests (or upper classmen seminarians) who are in positions of authority would exploit the power disparity between them and their students is utterly reprehensible, a sin that must be extirpated as soon as possible. These offenses corrupt vulnerable men and they poison the entire ethos of a seminary, which is to form young men in a life of holiness.

So little is known about the scope of this problem, and much needs to be done to get to the facts. Investigations clearly need to be done, which means that people need to come forward on the record with testimony and supporting evidence. To ensure that will happen, we have to institute and enforce robust whistleblower protections for priests and seminarians who provide evidence. Boards of Trustees of the seminaries need to take the lead on this, in conjunction with independent investigators. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, then they should be replaced by those who are, or outside help such as accreditation boards should be welcomed.

Sexual infidelity by clergy. This has primarily been centered on the issue of “gay priests”, although infidelity is not limited to them. From what we know so far, though, there is certainly a some connection between active homosexual clergy and both of the prior issues.

The exploitation of seminarians is clearly a homosexual problem. The Holy See issued a strong directive in 2005 that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”. A seminary should be a place where holiness and human formation are the priority, and sexual dynamics have no place distracting the men from that work. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to a man with same-sex attraction to be put into an all-male environment, which would necessarily be a constant occasion of sin. Just imagine putting a young adult male with normal sexual desires into an all-female dorm for four years.

It has to be noted that the sexual abuse of minors is not primarily a problem of homosexuality, although there clearly is some overlap. Pedophilia is a very complicated phenomenon. The clinical definition of pedophilia is a prolonged sexual attraction to minors 13 years old or younger. The large majority (over 70%) of the victims nationwide fall into that age group, but over a quarter were older teens. Studies have shown that the vast majority of men who have clinical pedophilia actually consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the clinical studies do not support the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious that same-sex attraction has to be a relevant factor in the sexual abuse of mid-to-late teenagers.

The response to sexual infidelity of clergy is not limited to those with same-sex attraction, and it certainly is nothing new. If you read the biography of every saint who was a bishop or an abbot, you will see that they struggled with reforming the clergy away from sinful behavior. Clearly, every priest and bishop must be called to (and helped with) fidelity to their obligations of celibacy (not getting married), continence (no sexual activity), and chastity (properly ordered sexual desires). Careful attention must be paid to friendships and activities that undermine those commitments. Worldliness in general must be addressed, since moral laxity is contagious.

No matter what celebrity priests might say, it is imperative that the Holy See’s directive about homosexuals in the priesthood and seminary be taken seriously and implemented. This should not create an open season or “witch hunt” for gay priests, but a time of cleansing and purification of the clergy.

Ensuring the holiness and fidelity of the clergy is the responsibility of individual bishops, but they should not hesitate to seek assistance from lay people in pursuing investigations. We need people to come forward with facts, not with rumors or innuendo. In fact, we lay people can be a big help in this regard — we all need to live in a way that is less worldly, more ascetic, more chaste. It is hard to expect our clergy to be pure if we are not pure, but a renewed commitment to reforming our lives and living according to the Gospel can’t help but aid our brothers in their own path to holiness.

The failure to correctly handle abuse cases. This includes covering up, moving offenders around, failing to report to law enforcement, punishing whistleblowers, and creating a culture of silence. Clearly, in the past, the three problems discussed above were poorly dealt with by Church authorities. The revelations in 2002, subsequent disclosures in dioceses around the nation, the Grand Jury Report, and the McCarrick case make that abundantly clear. And while the first problem (sexual abuse of minors) is being dealt with, the other two problems need serious and vigorous attention — immediately.

In this, we need our bishops to step up to the plate and exercise the governance responsibilities that are part of the charism and burden of their office. This has to be done at the local level, since the problems stem from specific local characteristics and activities, not from broad national generalities.

Cardinal DiNardo, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the other day that said some good things, but he left others out:

I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop [i.e., Archbishop McCarrick] could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò [the former Nuncio] brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t even address what will be done about the problems of sexual harassment of seminarians or sexual infidelity of clergy. Amazingly, it gives no indication that there is any sense of urgency. And it is a sad irony that the “plan of action”, which will supposedly enhance transparency, hasn’t been shown to anyone and nobody even knows who is involved in developing it. There are hundreds of people in our dioceses, and thousands in the private sector, who could offer excellent help and guidance in producing a plan to ensure internal integrity and whose involvement would assure greater public confidence in the process and the result. After all the terrible results of years of insularity and secrecy, USCCB needs to understand that the old ways don’t work any more if they’re to retain any credibility they might still have.

One thing is perfectly clear — in all of this, the truth is our most important ally. We are in a burgeoning crisis, and time is short. We have to get past politics, personalities, self-preservation, ideologies, agendas, fear of legal liability and personal embarrassment, and get to the truth. The truth is all that matters. After all, we have it on good authority that “the truth will set you free”.

Calling Sin by its Real Ugly Name

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

As reparation for my sins, and to help me be a better protector of children, I have been reading the Grand Jury Report from Pennsylvania. The Report documents the history of clerical sexual abuse in six of the Pennsylvania dioceses (excluding Philadelphia and Johnstown-Altoona, which have been the subject of other reports). It is truly horrifying reading, enough to make your blood boil with rage at the men who did these wicked evil demonic things and the foolish incompetent men who failed to properly respond to them.

The most horrifying thing about the report is not just the cold, clinical way in which these awful sins are described by the Report. That’s somewhat understandable, because it’s an official document and they should strive for a tone of objectivity. Rather, it’s the cold, clinical, impersonal way that the internal Church documents discuss the offenses and how diocesan officials were reacting and handling them.

The Report singles one statement that is really beyond belief, but it is sadly not untypical:

In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist. (6)

That kind of indifference to the victims and solicitude for the offenders is all too typical of the internal Church documents cited in the Report. It is incomprehensible to me that those diocesan officials did not die of shame when they read Matthew 18:6 (“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”) and 19:14 (“Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”).

One of the hallmarks of the culture of silence and cover-up was the systematic use of euphemisms to describe what was happening. Terms such as “inappropriate sexual relationship”, “boundary issues”, “this difficult time”, and priests being “reassigned” or “out on sick leave” were used to conceal the true nature of what was happening. Plain words like “crime”, “sin”, “rape”, “sodomy”, and “torture” were rarely if ever used.

We have to call sin by its real name. Yes, those names are ugly, but not as ugly as the sins they describe. Nothing is as ugly as that. The Catechism provides a full panoply of very blunt talk about sexual sin, such as:

  • “Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.” (CCC 2356)
  • “sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents entrusted to their care… is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the violation of responsibility for their upbringing.” (CCC 2389)
  • “Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.” (CCC 2396)
  • “intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (masturbation, CCC 2352)
  • “gravely contrary to the dignity of persons” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “grave scandal when there is corruption of the young” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure” (lust, CCC 2351)
  • “a grave offense” (pornography, CCC 2354)
  • “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.” (CCC 2357)

You hear none of that plain language in the internal documents of the Church cited in the Report. Indeed, you get little sense that the gross immorality of the abusive behavior was even on the radar. Nor do you feel any degree of moral outrage at the evil behavior of the offenders, nor any effort to seriously discipline them. There is virtually no indication that any bishop ever seriously considered using the ample penal procedures of the Canon Law. All the priests were treated as if they had an illness to be treated quietly, not as if they had committed grevious sins for which they needed to repent and do reparation.

The only way that this horrendous scandal can be adequately dealt with requires first and foremost that we tell the truth. About the failures to respond to allegations appropriately. About the failures to bring law enforcement into the picture. About the failure to protect others from known offenders. And, to be fair, about the strides that we have taken in the last decade to improve things.

But more than anything else, we need to call sin by its real ugly name. And treat it with the revulsion it deserves.

Preaching, Practicing, and Conversion

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Last week, the Church marked the 50th anniversary of the great encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. This event is being commemorated by Catholics around the world who share the Holy Father’s beautiful vision of marriage and love. We are particularly noting the Holy Father’s prescience in foreseeing all the ills that would befall society if contraception and sex outside of marriage were to become accepted.

This year also happens to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s comprehensive declaration on sexual morality, Persona Humana, which is best-known for its unequivocal condemnation of all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual acts and masturbation. It also marks the 37th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, which is noted for its magnificent teaching on the beauty of marriage and the integrity of married sexuality, including a rejection of any form of contraception. It is also the 26th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which comprehensively catalogued Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, again including an unequivocal condemnation of all sexual acts outside of marriage and any contraceptive act. It is also the 23rd anniversary of the Pontifical Council for the Family’s compendium of Church teaching and advice for families in educating their children, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

We can also note the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (13th anniversary), theUnited States Catholic Catechism for Adults (from the U.S. Bishops — 12 years old), and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (also USCCB — 9 years old), all of which reiterate the same immemorial Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.

All of these teachings offer us a beautiful, uplifting and affirming understanding of the nature of the human person, the meaning of our bodies, the way to experience true love, and the means to embrace the gifts of fertility and new life. If people accepted and abided by them, there would be an immeasurable increase in human happiness, and many of our social ills would be eradicated. Just imagine what life would be like for women in particular. There would be no more abusive objectification of women through pornography, no degrading hook-up culture, no sex trafficking, and no sexualization of young girls. Marriages would thrive in a climate of actual mutual self-giving and respect. The #MeToo movement would be incomprehensible and unnecessary.

Tragically, that’s not the case. The destructive legacy of the sexual revolution is everywhere to be seen and is even worse than Blessed Pope Paul predicted. The signs are all around us and are  almost tiresome to repeat  — the saturation of culture with pornography, denigration of women in popular music, out-of-wedlock births, a dehumanizing dating scene based on meaningless sex, the decline in marriage, the breakdown of families, abortion, and on, and on, and on. Hearts have been twisted into thinking that this is all normal and acceptable, instead of being an abberation from God’s plan for human life and love. Opinion surveys repeatedly show that Catholics generally do not accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality and are largely no different from the rest of society in approval of non-marital sex, homosexual acts, contraceptive use, cohabitation, etc. We are definitely not practicing what our Church is preaching, and we are paying the price.

In fairness, it has to be said that regular Mass-goers are more likely to accept Church teaching, but the numbers are still appallingly low. It is also enormously encouraging that there is a core group of Catholics — especially young adults — who not only accept but cherish the teachings of the Church and see them as the liberating and life-giving gift that God intends them to be.

The sex abuse crisis that we have been going through as a Church and society is certainly an outgrowth of the sexual revolution. It stems from the evil lie that sex is merely a physical act with no deeper meaning and no necessary connection to marriage. It then adds the perverse idea that it can be used as an instrument of power, exploitation and oppression. The sins of abusive clergymen are wicked on several levels. They are violations of the absolute prohibition on sex outside of marriage; they are an inexcusable breach of the obligation of perpetual continence for the clergy; in most cases they are acts that the Church has called “acts of great depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”; they are horrific betrayals of trust that corrupt the innocent; they cruelly mistreat people made in the image and likeness of God as if they were mere instruments for use; and they are egregious acts of violence that leave lasting scars. They also weaken — if not destroy — the credibility of the Church in teaching the will of God for sexuality, and lead people to believe that there is no truth in it. In characterizing these acts, weak phrases like “disappointing” or “morally unacceptable” are nowhere near sufficient. They must be condemned in no uncertain terms as wicked sins that cry out to heaven for justice.

In this context, it’s hard for our priests to preach the truth about sexuality. It must be disheartening that so few of their flock are practicing what the Church preaches, and to read the headlines about the sins of other clergymen. But we cannot be satisfied with this status quo. Those of us who treasure and live by the teachings of the Church must stand up and speak the truth, and encourage our clergy to do the same. Even with all the negative factors in play, this is no time for defensiveness, it is a time for boldness. God’s truth about sexuality is good for us and good for society, and is the ultimate answer to all the sexual sins that horrify us.

The Church has given us a wealth of teachings about sexuality. We need more preaching. We need more practicing. And we all need more conversion.

Cardinal McCarrick and the Integrity of the Church

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

The news about the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has produced a great deal of heat in secular and Catholic circles, and very little light. Several online pundits have used this news to bash the Church as thoroughly corrupt. One even claimed that “of all the institutions and societies that intersect with my life, the Church is by far the most corrupt, the most morally lax, the most disillusioning, and the most dangerous for my children”.

These are outrageous calumnies. They leave people with the false impression that the Church has done nothing to combat child sexual abuse. And they totally misunderstand the real significance of the Cardinal McCarrick story — as much as it is a tragedy and a crime, it is also in reality a success story.

It proves that nobody is above the law, and that the system in place to handle allegations of sexual abuse really works. It proves that people can rely on the Church to root out corruption and to protect everyone who comes to her. And it encourages other victims to come forward and tell the truth about what happened to them.

I am a lay person who loves the Church and wants to keep the Bride of Christ “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). If you look around the country, you will see hundreds of people like myself — safe environment directors, victim assistance coordinators, review board members, diocesan attorneys — who are doing the same thing in every diocese. The vast majority of them are lay people, and there is no question that they have the support of their bishops and clergy. I know that because I hear it all the time from my Archbishop and our priests.

Every diocese has elaborate procedures in place to handle complaints about sexual abuse of minors. I am part of the team in the Archdiocese that does that. In the Cardinal McCarrick case, as in all other cases involving allegations against clergy, we followed our process precisely, gathering all the relevant evidence and pursuing the truth wherever it led. (I should note that I was not an active part of that investigation, which was conducted by other members of our team.)

Our procedure is that whenever a complaint comes to our attention, we always refer it immediately to law enforcement. Every time. Always. We then step back and let law enforcement do their investigation. We cooperate 100% and let them do their jobs. In most cases, the allegations cannot be prosecuted because they took place too long ago. So law enforcement notifies us of their conclusions and we take over from there.

The Archdiocese then does our own investigation. We have hired an independent firm of private investigators who are former federal law enforcement agents, and they spearhead the investigation. They interview witnesses, gather documentary evidence, all the things that seasoned investigators do. Archdiocesan staff also assist in the investigation. Our diocesan attorney has a vast amount of legal experience and has conducted literally hundreds of investigations. I am a former Assistant United States Attorney and Assistant District Attorney and I have done hundreds of criminal investigations. We are professionals, we take this work very seriously, and we leave no stone unturned. We are given complete discretion in carrying out these investigations.

These cases are very, very difficult. The allegations usually involve events that took place decades ago. Many of the potential witnesses don’t remember any relevant details from so long ago or may even be dead. Very few of the incidents were reported to anyone at the time they occurred. Independent evidence that can corroborate or contradict the allegation is very hard to find. There is no physical evidence that can be examined forensically. Assessing the credibility of witnesses is a critical factor, and can be very challenging even to experienced professionals.

At a certain point in the investigation, the accused priest is interviewed. He is represented by an attorney and has been given access to all the results of the investigation. He has every opportunity to present his side of the story.

Once the investigation is complete, the case is presented to our Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board. This consists of several judges, a psychiatrist, a religious sister, a priest and several lawyers. They all have a great deal of experience and wisdom, and they are very engaged and proactive. If they think that more investigation is warranted, they ask for more information. In some cases (like the Cardinal McCarrick case), they ask the accuser and the accused priest to personally appear before them to give their testimony. They evaluate each case based on the hard facts, not on rumors or innuendo. If they find the evidence sufficient to substantiate the allegation, they say so. And they don’t hesitate to exonerate priests when there is insufficient evidence. They call them as they see them.

Backing all this up is an intensive program of child protection that is designed to minimize the risk of future incidents. We don’t do a good enough job letting people know about this. We background check everyone who works with minors, whether paid or volunteer – we’ve done almost 130,000 checks since our program began. We train everyone who works with minors in the signs and prevention of child sexual abuse, and we provide age-appropriate lessons to children too. We have a team of former police officers who conduct onsite visits to our parishes and schools to see if our policies are being implemented. We have detailed Codes of Conduct and policies to make our standards of behavior clear. And we are audited every year by an independent team that makes sure we’re doing our jobs. This involves a huge amount of labor and money, and it represents a major commitment by the Church.

There is also a separate and extensive process that takes place to determine if a cleric is has committed a crime of sexual abuse against a minor as defined by Canon Law. That process is initiated and conducted by officials here at our Tribunal Office. It can ultimately lead to a proceeding in Rome before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which can decide to dismiss the accused from the clerical state (i.e., “laicize” him). I am not a canon lawyer, so I am not qualified to explain that process and I have no idea how it will play out in the case of Cardinal McCarrick. But it is a vital part of the way that the Church addresses these terrible offenses.

So when people allege that the Church is not doing enough to police herself, that defames all of the people across the country who are doing everything they can to the best of their ability to make sure that justice is being done and that future crimes are prevented. When people claim that the Church doesn’t care, or that we haven’t improved, they are just showing their ignorance of the facts.

It is especially aggravating when people claim that the laity is somehow part of the problem for either not caring or not taking action. Every single person who was involved in the Cardinal McCarrick investigation was a lay person. With two exceptions, our Review Board consists entirely of lay people. Everyone who works in my Safe Environment Office is a lay person, and the vast majority of those who implement and enforce our policies in the parishes and schools are lay people acting under the leadership of their pastors. Here in the Archdiocese, lay people are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It’s also not fair to accuse the bishops or the priests of not caring. Our Archbishop, and I believe the other bishops in the United States, are all sincerely trying their best. The priests of the Archdiocese have been very supportive of what we have been doing. We’re not perfect, and neither are our bishops or priests. But the number of priests who have been found guilty of sexual abuse is still minuscule and the vast majority of our clergy are good and holy men. Of course, we can always do better, and even one offense is a horrendous crime. But this isn’t the 1970’s anymore, and we’re never going back to those bad old days.

The ultimate lesson of the Cardinal McCarrick case is that nobody is immune to sin. And these sins are terrible. For those of us who are working in this area it’s like swimming through a sewer every day with your mouth open. It’s horrible work, and you can feel the presence of the Evil One, who would do anything to corrupt the Church and scandalize God’s faithful people.

Writing blog posts from the sidelines, repeating rumors and conspiracy theories, and publishing anonymous allegations and grievances are no help whatsoever in fighting this evil. We need more people to do what’s best for the church and God’s people – help us root out the corruption no matter where it is so that we can ensure the integrity of the bride of Christ.

Sowing, Reaping, and Protecting

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Our nation has been horrified over the past few months with revelations of sexual misconduct by major political and artistic figures. This follows the disclosure last year of the President’s sexual misconduct and the rehashing of past sexual scandals involving powerful political figures like President Clinton. Along with the new allegations have been numerous instances of cover-up conspiracies, cultures of fear and silence, and punishing and intimidating of victims and witnesses.

All of this is way too familiar for us in the Church. It is startlingly similar to the crimes of clerical sexual abuse against minors, and the failure to respond to those allegations, all of which began to come to light in 2001. We have learned many hard lessons from our past failures, and we are continually challenged to keep improving.

One thing we have learned is that sexual abuse of vulnerable people comes from many causes, and that there are many ways that we can respond to it.

One major contributing factor has been the destruction of all norms of sexual morality that came about from the Sexual Revolution. A climate of “anything goes as long as there’s some kind of consent” seems to be the only operating principle of sexual ethics in our culture. And even that standard seems to be optional among the rich and powerful. Gone are the virtues of modesty, chastity, continence, self-control, respect, and temperance. They have been replaced by a hedonistic worldview that treats human beings as mere bodies to be used for pleasure – a pornographic culture. Virtue has been superseded by vice. And we are left with the disordered sexual feelings that have eclipsed healthy sexuality and replaced it with lust.

This cultural ethos certainly infected the Church – we are not at all immune from social trends and attitudes. And it definitely pervades the entertainment industry, which has also been its principal propagandist. And, of course, the political world has been inundated with it. This shouldn’t surprise us, especially when you consider the toxic formula that produces it. The loss of sexual virtue plus the glorification of vice plus tremendous power imbalance in relationships equals a structure of sin that inevitably harms weak and vulnerable people – and in our culture, that principally means young women and men, and especially children.

St. Paul hit it on the nose: “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). And we have certainly reaped the whirlwind. The calamitous results of the Sexual Revolution are uniformly depressing and tragic, as the daily headlines demonstrate. Just consider: 50+ million unborn children lost; the destruction of the nuclear family in large parts of our nation as marriage rates have gone down and out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed; robbing children of their innocence and normalizing early sexual activity, which has disastrous consequences for mental and physical health; confusion about sexuality that even leads people to doubt the reality that we are made as male and female; an epidemic of sexually-transmitted disease, some of which are fatal and incurable; massive increases in depression in women and young people; the explosion and mainstreaming of pornography, which is fed by the appallingly exploitive human trafficking industry; and on, and on, and on. The number of victims grows daily.

And the behavior we’ve seen reported falls right into this disgraceful legacy. Some of it is as bad as it gets: rapes committed on the “casting couch”;  forcible grabbing and groping of private parts; pursuing, grooming and molesting minors. Others are not as grave but still appalling, particularly the persistent and egregious courses of sexual harassment like repeated lewd comments and unwelcome solicitations of sex. Organizations have rallied around the powerful to cover up their abuses, and the weak have been cast aside. I’ve been involved in policing this behavior for a long time and it still astonishes me how brazen and unprincipled some people are.

We’ve learned from our own history in the Church that there are concrete ways to prevent – or at least minimize – sexual abuse and harassment. The willingness of victims to come forward is the first and most important step in preventing the whirlwind from taking more casualties. That is the only way that we can remove offenders from circulation and prevent future victimization.

Of course, victims won’t come forward unless they know that they will be listened to and that justice will be done. Recent events and campaigns like #MeToo have shown that many are willing to speak up once they know that people will listen. Unfortunately, it’s also obvious that some people would rather re-victimize them in order to protect a powerful person like Harvey Weinstein or an institution like a Hollywood studio, to advance the political career of a person like Roy Moore, or to preserve a GOP advantage in the US Senate. We have to make clear that this kind of re-victimization is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible, and that there is no excuse for overlooking sexual abuse to serve some utilitarian agenda.

It’s also essential that victims understand that we want to help them to heal. The transition from victim to survivor is difficult to manage, and it’s a very individual thing. If an organization is serious about responding to sexual misconduct, they have to be willing to invest time, effort and money to helping victims heal. We’ve done that recently and successfully here in the Archdiocese with our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

We also have to have an up-front commitment that there will be no toleration of sexual abuse or harassment, and that an organization’s efforts will be held accountable and be transparent. There have to be clear standards and they have to be enforced consistently and reasonably. This is especially important in the sexual harassment arena, because the boundaries of acceptable behavior are malleable and uncertain right now, and it would be a tragedy if normal human relations are deterred because of unnecessary fear and suspicion.

The ultimate response to the scourge of sexual misconduct is to re-develop a climate of virtue. Authentic sexual desire is a gift from God, intended to lead us ultimately to the mutual self-gift of marriage. It can also be expressed in altruistic and chaste friendships, and in many other positive and healthy relationships in the workplace and elsewhere. If we could restore an ethos of sexual virtue, then that would be a genuine Sexual Revolution.

A Culture of Protection

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

In the past few weeks, we have seen a series of lurid and shocking stories about sexual exploitation in the entertainment industry. Accounts by actresses of disgusting sexual harassment and assault by powerful industry leaders. The continuation of the infamous “casting couch” where sexual favors are the price for advancing a career. Abuse of child actors that is excused, overlooked or explained away. And the conspiracy of silence and retribution that prevents victims from coming forward and allows offenders to act with impunity.

In the Church, we have seen more than our share of this. When the major scandal broke out in 2001, we were all horrified at the extent of child sexual abuse that had occurred, as well as the ineffectiveness (and in some cases culpable inadequacy) of the Church’s response.

But things have changed dramatically in the Church. In creating a safe environment for children, a protective corporate culture is the most important element. In the Church, we have successfully made child protection a key part of our regular course of business and we have made it unequivocally clear that any kind of sexual sin against minors is utterly unacceptable. We have put into place strong policies that are aimed to prevent any abuse. These policies are taken very seriously by the leadership of the Church (the Archbishop, Chancery, pastors, principals, DRE’s, etc), who have all demonstrated repeatedly that they are committed to the program. We have demonstrated over and over again that we are open to receiving complaints, we take all allegations seriously, we vigorously investigate them, and we are firm in correcting any problem.

Like every other diocese in the country, the Archdiocese has put into place comprehensive policies for child protection. We require all those who will be in contact with children to be screened (including a criminal background check) and trained in our policies and in how to recognize and respond to potential child abuse situations. Our policies address a wide range of potential situations, including overnight and day trips, online safety, professional boundaries, and child pornography. We regularly review and adapt our policies to address new situations. And we have a team of retired law enforcement officers who visit our parishes and schools to evaluate the effectiveness of our policies at the local level and to recommend any changes or updates that are needed. We are audited annually by an independent firm hired by the US Bishops’ Conference, and the audit results are submitted to the National Review Board and made public.

We have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity. All reports of child abuse are immediately reported to law enforcement authorities (typically local district attorneys, state child protection authorities, and local police). We fully cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, conduct our own internal  investigation as well. If it is determined that the allegation is substantiated, then the offender is permanently barred from any ministry. We have also tried to offer some closure and peace to past victims by setting up our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

The net result is a corporate culture in the Church that has demonstrated a clear commitment to child protection, as well as transparency and accountability for how we put that into practice.

The contrast with the entertainment industry couldn’t be more stark. In that world, there is a widespread acceptance and promotion of all kinds of sexual vice, including the gross sexualization of children (especially young girls). There has been no demonstrated commitment to identifying and excluding offenders, and there is no systematic approach to prevent further abuse. Repeated allegations by actors about having been abused as children have been ignored. Known offenders continue to work and in some cases are defended and given prominent honors. And the recent revelations make clear that powerful people in the industry can act with impunity, can intimidate victims into silence, and that there are many people who will turn a blind eye to abuses.

At the root of all of this, of course, it is a question of good and evil, vice and virtue. For all our faults, the Church has always upheld the virtues of sexual purity and chastity. That gives us a guiding star to orient all of our policies and programs. Failure to abide by those high standards is a terrible betrayal, but we can always re-orient ourselves back to the ideal with the help of God’s grace.

The entertainment industry, sadly, is not guided by any such principle. It is the leading promoter of sexual license and immorality, and as a result has created “structures of sin”. Pope John Paul had an important insight into this kind of phenomenon:

“such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world, and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16)

As he also noted, structures of sin “grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behavior.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)

Corporate culture is rooted in individual actions. When an organization is committed to doing the right thing, the corporate culture will reinforce those efforts and make them more effective. In child protection, there is nothing more important than that.