Archive for May, 2009

A Plea for Honesty and An End to Secrecy

May 27, 2009

sexualAbuse_en-lottesxl_abuse-1Everyone who believes that justice must be served will welcome the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court to release court documents relating to sexual abuse by priests of the Diocese of Bridgeport. Depositions and other documents detail the efforts of Bishops Walter W. Curtis and Edward M. Egan and their subordinates to cover up the cruel exploitation of children by pedophile priests. Without warning pastors or people, the bishops routinely transferred dangerous child predators from parish to parish. From 1993 when the first lawsuit was filed, the Diocese engaged in a pattern of stonewalling to avoid compensating the survivors. Turning away from the concept of the Church as Christ’s Body, Bishop Egan disclaimed any responsibility by declaring that a priest is a self-employed independent contractor. Realizing the absurdity of that claim, he later wrote a letter to all the faithful explaining that he didn’t really mean it. In 2001 and 2003 the Diocese paid $37,700,000 to settle cases of sexual abuse against 32 priests from 1953 to 2003. Since then additional sums have been paid. Fifty years of shame!
In reflecting on this tragic chapter in the history of the Church, one must ask: where is the outrage? Why did so many priests shamefully mistreat innocent little boys and girls, causing them untold psychological and spiritual harm? Why did the bishops allow this to happen? Why did they not expel such predators from the priesthood? Why did they place the interests of the institutional church above those of the little ones whom Jesus welcomed to his side? Did they not hear Jesus when he said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6)? Why did priests who knew about predators in their company not expose them? Why were the Catholic faithful guilty bystanders allowing this disaster to happen?
How many countless dollars has the Diocese expended in litigation over the years since 2002 to prevent the truth from coming to light? How much of the Bishop’s Annual Appeal is used for this purpose? What good works of Christian charity might have been accomplished with that money?
The Diocese’s latest appeal to the Supreme Court rested on a flimsy charge that Judge Jon Alander of the Superior Court who ruled in favor of unsealing the documents was not impartial because he was serving on a commission to improve the judicial system. Although the Supreme Court rejected that argument, the Diocese is now considering further options.
Why not opt for honesty? Open the documents and allow the truth to be heard and read. In their conferences at Dallas and Washington in 2002 the bishops spoke about the need for accountability and transparency. While paying lip service to transparency, they have steadfastly resisted publication of court documents and church records that will reveal the extent of their complicity and that of their subordinates in the crime of sexual abuse of children. Their massive failure of moral leadership has destroyed the implicit trust of the faithful, who, not surprisingly, greet every pronouncement of the bishops with skepticism. A study by the Pew Forum in 2008 reported that an ever-increasing number of Catholics, especially young people, are abandoning the Church. The efforts of the bishops of Bridgeport to conceal the truth about priestly sexual abuse of children surely contribute to that loss. When bishops threaten to withhold the Eucharist from Catholic politicians whom they accuse of not adhering to Church teaching, one might ask why the bishops should even celebrate Eucharist until they admit to their culpability in abetting priest predators?
For too long the Diocese has used delay, denial, deceit, and dishonesty to avoid accepting responsibility for the greatest sin that has afflicted the Church in many centuries. The time for honesty and transparency is at hand. Until every stone is lifted and the light shines brightly on every dark spot concealing some secret, this crisis will not be over and the bishops will not regain the trust of the people that they so foolishly cast aside.
by Joseph F. O’Callaghan