I hardly know where to begin after reading Bishop Charles Chaput’s response to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s October 26th report “Stolen Childhoods”, an article cataloging devastating and ongoing consequences of one priest’s sexual abuse of children. The bishop seemed to take exception at how few times the church’s good deeds were mentioned.
The bishop does not understand that no matter how hard he tries to spin this, the church can never claim the role of the wounded party. He begins with how “harsh” the 2011 Grand Jury report was. That report was truthful and accurate, which made it horrific, but not harsh. Harsh is the word to use when you believe someone has punished you more severely than you believe you deserved. This report wasn’t even a punishment, only a revelation. Perhaps Bishop Chaput is thinking ahead to the release of all the other Grand Jury reports on clergy sexual abuse in the rest of Pennsylvania’s Catholic Diocese.
He tells us that the church’s many efforts to reform its outreach, its handling of abuse allegations, and other actions should not be seen as mere “window dressing”. Why? Because the suffering of past victims is a scar on the church that will last for generations and isn’t fair to the priests, deacons, and bishops who love their people and protect them. I’m sure they do love their congregants, but he conveniently makes no mention of the very real scars those whom the church failed to protect will bear for the rest of their lives and the repercussions which will likely reverberate through their families for generations to come.
According to Bishop Chaput, the church hasn’t gotten enough credit for what they do, especially the amounts of money they are dedicating to ameliorate the problem. Making this right again isn’t an act of charity on the part of the church for which they should be applauded! He seems to forget that the deviant behavior of the clergy and the self-protecting coverups by the bishops are the doings of the church and allowed it to metastasize over decades until it became this crisis. Parishioners who week after week put their hard earned money in the collection plate, had no idea this is why they were contributing. Instead of hearing remorse for what was done and compassion for those it was done to, we hear defenses and claims of “it’s not fair”. Have you no shame?
Bishop Chaput then deftly tries to pull a switch on his readers by claiming that “unjust penalties and laws” are hurting the people and “not some disembodied religious corporation”. People who were sexually abused as children by the representatives of the church that they were taught to trust are the ones being hurt when the current laws prevent them from even seeking justice. The church leadership appears to be incapable of seeing that the church is not the victim of abuse. It was those who trusted the church to keep them safe who are.
Next, the bishop attempts to discredit the messenger (in this case the Inquirer) by complaining that not enough has been said about how other institutions are doing the same things. Seriously? You are actually going to use a “Why are you always picking on us? We aren’t the only ones who abuse children! Why aren’t you writing about them more?” defense? Could it be because no other institution uses so much of its power and money influencing politicians to block the reforms which could enable survivors to hold the church accountable for the harm done and perpetuated by covering it up?
Bishop Chaput does list many of the band-aid solutions the church has introduced in order to appear to be addressing the problem. They are definitely positive things, but it is clear to anyone who looks closely that these measures were designed more to protect the church and its hierarchy than to actually protect today’s children, or help those who have already suffered and lost so much. There is a saying in 12 Step recovery that goes “We are only as sick as our secrets”. By that standard, the church is still a long way from healthy.
The bishop must believe the best defense is a good offense so now comes the indignant declaration, it is “flatly, demonstrably false” that the church and their insurance companies fight efforts to hold abusers accountable. He accuses the Inquirer of “aggressive advocacy journalism” for reporting how the church opposes the reform of civil statutes of limitation on the sexual abuse of minors. These are the laws that prevent victims from identifying their abusers once a short window of a few years has gone by. Since it has been shown to be highly unlikely a victim will be capable of coming forward so soon after experiencing such a trauma, they are basically allowing predators to remain at large and continue to victimize the vulnerable.
Bishop Chaput closes by reflecting how personally difficult it has been for him to actually meet with and listen to the stories of survivors. What he leaves out is that by the time they have gotten the bishop’s ear, they have spent years (if not decades) being ignored, disbelieved, lied to and forgotten. Only their personal courage and the hope they might yet be able to right a terrible wrong kept them coming back. Difficult indeed.
For me, the last two sentences encapsulate how Bishop Chaput and the church hierarchy as a whole, are incapable or unwilling to appreciate. By equating the church’s responsibility to prevent child sexual abuse with the media’s responsibility to accurately report on what a good job they are doing, two things which are hardly on a par with each other, we clearly get to see what the Catholic Church thinks is important.