New Accusations Force the Question: Will Bishops “Be Held Accountable” on Sexual Abuse, as Francis Promised?

It’s been just two months since Pope Francis declared, to the skepticism of victims’ rights groups, that “Catholic bishops ‘will be held accountable’ for failing to protect children from sexual abuse,” as CNN put it. But can we expect former Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Joseph Adamec and current Bishop Mark L. Bartchak to face consequences for their failures? Will they be swift and severe?

Accusations that a priest from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese had been molesting children at orphanages in Central America on his annual visits went unheeded by the PA diocese for five years. The charity ProNino USA, which sponsors orphanages in several Central American countries, said it told former Bishop Adamec in 2009 that it had numerous reports that the Rev. Joseph Maurizio, Jr., had molested underage boys, the New York Times reports.

Maurizio remained a priest in good standing, however, until federal agents raided his home in mid-September and placed him under arrest after finding child pornography. The diocese said it was “profoundly disturbed” by the allegations, which were brought to the attention of federal agents by BishopAccountability.org on behalf of the charity after the diocese failed to act.

Maurizio has been charged with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place, including asking children to perform sex acts, photographing naked children and performing sex acts on children, and possession of child pornography, the Altoona Mirror reports.

Despite the aforementioned assurances by Pope Francis that the Vatican now has the church’s festering clerical sexual abuse problem well in hand, the arrest of Mauizio follows a familiar pattern where the church’s leadership fails to take action against clerics credibly charged with abuse until the accusations are made public by a whistleblower or the media.

Until the Times broke the story the Vatican didn’t wave diplomatic immunity for former nuncio Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski and move to prosecute him for allegedly soliciting young boys for sex while he was ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

The Diocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis and Bishop John Nienstedt didn’t get serious about policing suspected abusers until a whistleblower from inside its own compliance office went public with accusations that the diocese had a “cavalier attitude” about protecting children. The Diocese of Newark allegedly failed to monitor a convicted abuser in violation of its agreement with the state until it was brought to light by the Newark Star Ledger.

On the other hand, Nienstedt (who, according to whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger, oversaw a desultory abuse screening and monitoring process that allowed suspected pedophiles to remain at large in the community for years) did move immediately to force out Jamie Moore, the long-time music director at St. Victoria Catholic Church in Victoria, Minnesota, the minute he found out that Moore had married his partner the previous weekend.

And while it’s true that Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who was found guilty of failing to report a priest who had pornographic pictures of young girls on his computer, is now under investigation by the Vatican, it took two years for that to happen. I guess in Vatican time that’s swift justice?

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