We were going to post a copy of the most recent Pilot column by Vicar General, Msgr. Deeley, entitled The Gift of Our Priests, but after seeing the latest letter to priests that seems as though it serves to reopen old wounds, we decided to do a different post. This is not “news” today but is the opinion of BCI. If you do not want to read our opinion, feel free to skip today and come back next time.
In “The Gift of Our Priests,” Msgr. Deeley said:
Certainly we would count among the most difficult periods the last ten years when we have been shocked by the revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests unfaithful to their vocations. Terrible crimes were committed. The lives of those who were victims of such abuse were damaged horribly. For our faithful priests this was a new kind of difficulty…The sexual abuse crisis brought embarrassment, shame, and much questioning to the entire Catholic community but especially to our priests. At times priests found themselves and their ministry ridiculed. Simply wearing a Roman collar led some to become suspicious of them and they experienced people turning away because of a general lowering of trust in priests.”
As we look back now from a distance on the past decade, we can see how our priests responded. In their own grace-filled way, and despite their own pain, they continued to do what they were ordained to do. They offered Mass. They visited the sick. They incorporated new safety guidelines for the protection of children in their parishes. Often they saw the financial resources with which they had to administer the parish diminish, but they continued to preach and lead, and encourage their people. In sum, they continued to bring their priestly presence to the community, serving God’s people as best they could and trusting in the Lord.
At this moment in our history, we give a new challenge to our priests. In a recent convocation of our priests, Cardinal Seán and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission presented a proposal to them and asked for their input on the idea of serving all parishes through new groupings called Pastoral Service Teams (PSTs). The thrust of this new approach would be to enhance our evangelization and outreach activities through a greater sharing of resources and collaboration with nearby parishes…
BCI thought the column was pretty good. Then just a few days after the Pilot published the column saying, “as we look back now from a distance on the past decade,” we saw the letter the Vicar General sent out to priests informing them that the archdiocese is going out of its way to reopen old wounds of the sexual abuse crisis from a decade ago. The folks at 66 Brooks are proactively “marking” the ten-year anniversary of the January 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight Series that exposed decades of prior sexual abuse by Catholic priests with a series of media interviews by the Cardinal, a letter by the Cardinal, and prayers of the faithful in church.
Yes, you read this correctly. The Boston Archdiocese and Cardinal are commemorating the ten-year anniversary of a series of Boston Globe newspaper articles. How can we be “looking back from a distance” one week, and a few days later, the distance is gone and we are reopening the old wounds?
In the early days of January in the New Year we will sadly recall that 10 years ago we were shocked by the revelations in the media of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of our own Boston clergy. Cardianl Sean and the archdiocese will be marking this in a number of ways. Among those will be a series of media interviews in the coming days in which the Cardinal will reflect on the events of that time, the harm caused to the victims of such crimes, and the many steps that have been taken to protect children in the Church. The Cardinal will also release a letter during the first week of January speaking of the contrition of the Church for the harm that has been done, but also recalling with gratitude the help so many people have offered in responding to this crisis, and the commitment the Archdiocese continues to give to the safety of children.
It seems very appropriate that the Church throughout the Archdiocese join together in prayer in these days. With this letter is a series of sample intercessions for use in the Prayer of the Faithful in your parish Masses the weekend of January 7/8. We ask you to use these prayers, and to continue to pray for all affected by sexual abuse in any way.
- For all those who have been hurt in body, mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them: that the Lord Jesus, who turns darkness into light, will join their pain and suffering to his own, and grant them peace. We pray to the Lord.
- For the Church in Boston and throughout the world: that as we recall the painful memory of abuse in our community we may find in Christ the grace and strength to recommit ourselves to providing a safe place for all God’s children. We pray to the Lord….
Wishing you and the people whom you serve God’s many blessings during this Christmas season.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Rev. Msgr. Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
BCI acknowledges the horrendous actions and crimes committed against children by some priests and the terrible damage done to children and families. BCI is all for apologizing and continuing to work to bring healing to the victims. The current Cardinal Archbishop and his predecessor–along with two popes and dozens of bishops–have apologized countless times already. And approximately $3 billion has been paid to settle abuse cases across the U.S. alone. But at what point do we let those wounds finally heal in Boston, stop publishing yet more expansive lists of clergy subject to legitimate and unproven claims, and stop dredging this up over and over again?
For How Long Do We Keep Apologizing?
To be fair, the Catholic Church has a fair number of major errors to apologize and repent for. The sexual abuse crisis is a major one of them. There were also brutal excesses of the Crusades and Inquisition. Catholics turned their back on the Holocaust. As we know, in 2000, Pope John Paul II made a sweeping apology for 2,000 years of violence, persecution, blunders, and sins committed against Jews, women, indigenous peoples, the unborn, and other groups . “We humbly ask for forgiveness for the part that each of us with his or her behaviors has played in such evils thus contributing to disrupting the face of the church. At the same time, as we confess our sins let us forgive the faults committed by others towards us.”
With that, the public apology and call for repentance for those sins and wrongs was done. Do we keep dredging up those sins every year, or every five years, or every ten years? No.
Other violations of public trust and scandals have occurred in recent history, and after apologies, action to prevent the problem from recurring in the future, and (hopefully) appropriate restitution are made, at a certain point there is no “marking” of those scandals after the passage of time. Here are a few examples that come to mind:
- Does the government publicly mark the anniversary of the June 1972 Watergate break-in and scandal, and the 1974 resignation of President Nixon?
- Does the government, and does the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, “mark” the anniversary of the March 1979 nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island?
- Does the federal government keep publicly revisiting the Iran-Contra affair and scandal, which came to light in October 1986?
- Does the federal government keep marking and publicly flogging themselves on the anniversary of the Tuskogee Syphilis Study becoming public in newspapers in July 1972? (In this 40-year government sponsored study, hundreds of black men diagnosed with syphilis were never told of their illness, were denied treatment, used as human guinea pigs in order to follow the progression and symptions of the disease, and all died from the disease without they or their families knowing it was treatable).
- Does the federal government keep marking and publicly apologizing for the failure to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered within 100 days?
- Does the government publicly mark the anniversary of the December 1994 issuance of the Rockefeller Report, which revealed that for at least 50 years the Department of Defense had used hundreds of thousands of military personnel in human experiments and for intentional exposure to dangerous substances? Materials included mustard and nerve gas, ionizing radiation, psychochemicals, hallucinogens, and drugs used during the Gulf War.
- Does the federal government publicly mark the anniversary of the September 2004 publishing of the Iraq Survey Group report that showed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the world had been misled about a key reason for invading Iraq?
Why January 2012?
Beyond the question of whether it is appropriate and necessary to proactively dredge up this issue again, there are questions of the timing and concept behind the initiative.
If the Boston Archdiocese wants to “mark” the 10-year anniversary of the Globe Spotlight series, why not also give the Globe reporting team a Chevrus Award for outstanding service to the Catholic community in Boston while they are at it? And why not then mark the sexual abuse crisis every year, or every week, rather than just after ten years? How long will this go on for? Five more years? Ten more years? Fifty years? And why not mark the multiple decades of prior abuse that were exposed in 2002, rather than just marking the initial publication of the Spotlight Series?
Furthermore, if this is done in Boston, what should other dioceses do?
Should the Los Angeles Archdiocese “mark” the 10-year anniversary of when the news hit the front pages of the LA Times? Should Ireland, Philadelphia, and other dioceses each mark their respective meltdowns that came after Boston on the one-year, 5-year, and ten-year anniversaries of when it hit there? If every other diocese follows suit, the drumbeat could run over several years, where each diocese marks the anniversaries of when their diocese was the subject of a newspaper series exposing decades of wrong-doing.
In Boston, the archdiocese has done a great deal over the past ten years to address the problem of child sexual abuse and provide a save environment for children. Public apologies have been made. Financial restitution has been made. Child protection programs and employee screening programs have been implemented. Priests with valid claims against them have been removed. Some priests have been imprisoned. Many priests falsely accused have been unable to return to normal ministry. List of priests accused or found guilty of sexual abuse have been published. This archdiocese still spends more than $2M annually on therapy and victim outreach services. None of this has been done by other institutions in society that care for and educate children. Yet, the likes of SNAP and the lawyers keep asking for more, and this archdiocese apparently continues to capitulate to them, failing to realize that SNAP and the lawyers will simply never be satisfied.
The Catholic Church is no doubt the safest place in the world for children, especially here in Boston. Surely, with everything that has been done over the past decade and is still being done, the wounds to Catholics in Boston should be allowed to heal at long last. Yet now, with wounds healing and many priests getting back to normal ministry, the archdiocese goes out of its way to pick off the scabs.
BCI thinks the proactive move to publicly open the old wounds is not well conceived, and the time and energies of the Archbishop of Boston would be better spent elsewhere. If you concur, click below on the “Email” graphic and send a copy of this blog post to the Vicar General (Vicar_General@rcab.org) to let him know what you think.