The recent Pennsylvania grand jury report that covers six of the eight Catholic dioceses in the State of Pennsylvania names 301 “Predator priests” and over 1000 victims. The jurors themselves state that in their belief, they have not identified even half of the actual number of victims.
All around the globe for the past half-century, wherever an investigation of the Catholic Church has been undertaken, the same pattern of sexual abuse and cover-up is exposed, and the lengths that the Church’s hierarchy will go to to protect their own reputation and financial holdings is revealed, yet again.
This should come as no surprise. The Catholic Church has been dealing with the issue of the sexual violation of minors for nearly its whole existence. Catholic Church canon law regularly dealt with the issue of priests having sexual contact with young boys and other violations of celibacy. The Church’s own records over the centuries show these were not rare exceptions but reliable predictors of clerical behavior.
The first reference to the “sexual corruption of young boys” by priests, was in the fourth century at the Council of Elvira (Spain, 309 CE) and accounted for half of the canons (regulations) issued. Canon 71 stated, “Men who sexually abuse boys shall not be given communion even at the end.”
Alarms about the “solicitation of sex by priests in the confessional” and “sexual contact with young boys” were sounded in the year 1051. Not unlike the response to current alarms, Pope Pius V acknowledged the problem, promised to deal with it, but ultimately did little more than focus on the offending cleric’s repentance. Harm, done to the victims was never a consideration. In 1139, at the Second Lateran Council, celibacy became mandatory but to this day is not widely observed or ever enforced.
For nearly two millennia the Catholic Church has been normalizing this behavior within its own ranks and behind closed doors. At various points in history, the Church has been dominant in every aspect of life and law in Europe. The power structure of the Church is not only male-dominated but has been exclusively male for its entire existence, building an empire and ultimately becoming an independent nation-state in 1929.
Being accountable to no other authority and answering only to their own laws for centuries is why it is so hard for their leaders to respect the rule of law that everyone else is obliged to follow. To the hierarchy of the Church, the crime is not the abuse itself but getting caught and besmirching the Church’s reputation. The Pontifical Secret is an actual canon law against exposing the Church’s closely guarded secrets under threat of excommunication and assures that the Church could not and will not ever be able to police itself when it comes to sexual abuse.
I, myself am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse as an adolescent (age sixteen to seventeen). Although I was not abused by a member of the clergy, I was abused by a faculty member for nearly an entire school year while attending a prestigious Catholic High School on Long Island. It took me 20 years before I got the help to realize my life was in a shambles because of the effects of the abuse. It then took another 25 years of therapy and addiction recovery before I reported it to the school, the religious order and the diocese. I was virtually ignored by them all. When I applied for the Diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, I didn’t qualify because my abuser was not a diocesan priest.
It should be apparent to anyone with eyes to see that great harm continues to be done by the secrecy and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church’s clerical hierarchy despite all their claims that change has come and reforms are in place. We must acknowledge that improvement will not occur without an external intervention to make it happen.
Today’s #MeToo movement shows the Catholic Church is not the only organization with a sexual abuse problem. But it is the Church that, despite accounting for “only” six percent of all child sexual abuse, is spending millions of dollars lobbying politicians to block reforms to statute of limitations law. By their actions, they are denying justice and accountability for ALL of the survivors of childhood sexual abuse while also allowing predators to continue to abuse and their enablers to cover it up with impunity.
In New York State, the Attorney General is both the “People’s Lawyer” and the State’s chief legal officer and serves as the guardian of the constitutional rights of the citizens of New York. It is therefore incumbent upon the Attorney General to work with the Governor and all the state’s District Attorneys to facilitate and coordinate the impaneling of Grand Jury investigations into the cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse by the leaders of the Catholic Church.
When it comes to protecting our children from sexual predators, NY is the leader in not being the leader. It is long past the time for this to change. Pennsylvania has led the way, and it is time for New York to step up and follow that lead.