When Pope Francis met with five victims of sexual abuse this past weekend it made headlines, not only because he confessed that he “deeply regret[s] that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children,” but because it was the first time he met with survivors on American soil.
The Pope’s post-meeting remarks to the assembled Bishops, that “God weeps,” may be a hint of what the next phase of the sexual abuse scandal holds. In his words to the Bishops gathered, Pope Francis said, “The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors may no longer be kept secret; I commit myself to ensuring that the Church makes every effort to protect minors and I promise that those responsible will be held to account.”
The very next day, in response to a question about the attendance of Cardinal Justin Rigali at the papal mass, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia testily told reporters that, “In some ways, we should get over this wanting to go back and blame, blame, blame. The church is happy to accept its responsibility, but I’m really quite tired of people making unjust accusations against people who are not to be blamed—and that happens sometimes.”
Some Bishops never learn.
I’ve been covering sexual abuse on RD for a few years now, and I’m consistently shocked and stunned by clergy members and administrators who don’t seem to understand what a soul-gutting experience it is for people who have been sexually abused by those in religious authority. To chastise people for wanting to uncover the truth is almost as bad as moving perpetrators around without caring that they molested children.
Chaput’s statement about “making unjust accusations against people who are not to be blamed,” belies an understanding of both the newly formed commission, and the responsibilities of reporting child sexual abuse. Currently, the Catholic Church, along with several other organizations, is lobbying to prevent a two-year extension of the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for child abuse cases. House Bill 2067 to extend the statute was introduced by Representative Mark Rozzi, who was raped at 13 years of age. The rapist, Rev. Edward Graff, was moved to several churches until he was arrested in Texas and died in custody.
So when Archbishop Chaput callously says that we should all “get over” wanting to go back and blame, read that statement in the context of current lobbying by the Catholic Church not to extend the statute of limitations. The Archbishop isn’t new to this fight, having contested statute of limitations laws as Bishop of Denver. He knows exactly what he’s saying.
Not going back in Philadelphia means not opening up more litigation in an Archdiocese that has been broken by sexual abuse, two grand jury investigations, and the first Catholic administrator sent to jail for child endangerment by pedophile priests. Not going back means that even though the Archdiocese just settled with “Billy Doe” they wouldn’t have to sit through the civil trial, which is still scheduled for November 9, 2015. It would also mean that any other cases outside of the current statute of limitations wouldn’t be heard.
So forgive me if I conclude that Archbishop Chaput was more than just testy. His words were deliberate, and weren’t really about Cardinal Rigali being back on the altar for the Pope’s visit. He wants Philadelphia to forget and move on.
The real issue is what else lurks, not only in Philadelphia but worldwide, now that bishops will be held accountable? If Pope Francis and the commission he has appointed do their jobs, a third wave of scandals could be coming to the church that has the potential to eclipse the previous ones. If bishops are going to be held accountable for moving sexual predators and rapists, then it’s quite likely that there will be more than a few bishops in the same predicament as Bishop Finn in Kansas City.
For example, in Minneapolis, where prosecutors have brought criminal charges against the archdiocese for failure to protect children, three Bishops are involved, including Archbishop John Nienstedt, who has resigned amidst the allegations, along with Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché.
On the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis was asked why he felt the need to offer consolation to the Bishops over the sexual abuse scandal in America. Clarifying his comments, he said that his words of comfort were not meant to downplay the situation but that “It was so bad I imagine you cried hard.” He also reiterated “those who covered this up are guilty. Even bishops who covered this up are guilty.”
God might be crying, but given Archbishop Chaput’s tone, the bishops haven’t cried enough.
To add a bit of irony, the next World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin, Ireland. If Pope Benedict XVI wanted to save Philadelphia, Pope Francis heading for Dublin to talk about family after the sexual abuse scandals they’ve suffered will surely be an exercise in raising a Catholic country from the dead.
While the biannual World Meeting of Families is intended to sustain and promote the Church’s ideal of the family, until the Church can fully understand that its failure to reckon with its sexual abuse scandal has destroyed families, how can it hope to speak theologically or pastorally to the pressing issues of the family?
Going back to repair and repent seems to be a logical part of the process of going forward. Attitudes like Archbishop Chaput’s are the reason why the church continues to struggle with that necessary process. The weight of the abused bodies of children, the suicides, the drug addictions, and the terror of those who have been silenced, still speak. It will be a very long time before the past is the past.