National Catholic Reporter, June 7,
week's front page
Priest child abuse cases victimizing families; bishops lack policy
In cases throughout the nation, the Catholic church is facing
scandals and being forced to pay millions of dollars in claims to families
whose sons have been molested by Catholic priests.
These are serious and damaging matters that have victimized the
young and innocent and fuel old suspicions against the Catholic church and a
celibate clergy. But a related and broader scandal seemingly rests with local
bishops and a national Episcopal leadership that has, as yet, no set policy on
how to respond to these cases. As the articles in this issue show:
In a decision following considerable internal discussion, the
National Catholic Reporter decided to publish the names of the priests
involved, though not those of the boys and their families. In each case, these
priests have already been named in open court or in legal depositions, and they
have been the subjects of national wire service or national magazine coverage.
That alone, however, is not justification for in-depth publication in this
- All too often, complaints against the priest involved are
disregarded by the bishops, or the priest is given the benefit of a doubt.
- Frequently, local bishops exhibit little concern for the
traumatic effects these molestations have on the boys and their families
even though mental disturbances and, in one recent case, suicide, have followed
- Only legal threats and lawsuits seem capable of provoking some
local bishops into taking firm actions against the priests. In some cases
reported here, the priests, once identified for their offenses, have been moved
to other parishes and again placed in positions of responsibility.
Publication at this length comes in order to explain the extent of
the serious nature of the problems involved:
Along with the rest of society, the church must examine the issues
of child abuse, drawing most critical attention to those aspects of the problem
involving church figures and structures that have victimized the young and
their families. The crisis facing the bishops and dioceses, depicted by the
stories in this issue, should help point out the extent to which the
institutional church needs to cope with the problem of pedophile priests. A
great deal is riding on the outcome of these cases beyond the pain and scandal
they have already caused:
- Below, the current and potential effect of these cases on the
bishops and dioceses is considered.
- Examples are given of the widespread nature of recent cases,
possibly reflecting a growing national attention given to the problems of child
abuse or a growing willingness by victimized parties to file civil suits
against the church.
- The problems are examined from the perspective of the
- There is a brief discussion of pedophilia by Catholic
Also in this issue is a separate, lengthy account of one case, in
Louisiana. It shows how, year after year, the suspicions of nuns in the
classrooms, of parents, of fellow priests and pastors and, finally, chancery officials failed to materialize into sufficient action against a priest who for more than a decade sexually preyed on his young charges.
- The possibility of class-action suits from parents.
- The possibility of exorbitant insurance premiums for all
dioceses resulting from the current crop of civil and criminal cases. In April,
Wilfred Caron, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) general
counsel, was in Lafayette, La., to meet with insurance lawyers preparing to
admit liability in that dioceses suits. Caron has to monitor the pace and
extent of criminal and civil suits filed in other dioceses across the country.
(Caron did not return NCR's calls.)
- In some states, bishops who fail to take action may be
criminally liable under state law for failing to report suspected sexual
- The privacy of diocesan personnel files may no longer apply. In
the Louisiana case, lawyers sought diocesan and seminary documents on reputed
homosexual priests, personnel records that related to sexual involvements with
- Cases may be initiated to see whether the statute of
limitations necessarily applies. Boys of families across the country, who have
otherwise kept quiet, on seeing dioceses paying out millions in settlements,
may consider the same course of legal redress.
- Future court cases may play on the fact that church authorities
fail to provide a mechanism to safeguard the children after an initial
complaint against a priest.
Yet the tragedy, and scandal, as NCR sees it, is not only with the
actions of the individual priests these are serious enough but
with church structures in which bishops, chanceries and seminaries fail to
respond to complaints, or even engage in cover-ups; sadly, keeping the affair
quiet has usually assumed greater importance than any possible effect on the
The main story was researched by Jason Berry in New Orleans and
Lafayette, La., Baltimore and New York, with additional reporting by Mark Day
in Los Angeles and Gordon Oliver in Portland, Ore. It was written by Arthur
-- The Editors
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National Catholic Reporter
Kansas City, MO