A Plea for Honesty and An End to Secrecy

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


2 Responses to “A Plea for Honesty and An End to Secrecy”

  1. Robert M. Kelly Says:

    this is a harsh letter.
    unfortunately, it is well deserved.

    Joe has put his finger on many of the main themes. I will try to address some of these. I have often wondered, as has Joe, why there is not more outrage in the pews. as lay Catholics we share the blame, and yet, the system as we see it today seems crafted especially to muffle opinion that is contrary to the status quo. whether this is an example of “loyalty” or something less noble is a matter of opinion.

    I would observe one simple thing though. In traveling about the Internet, I can’t help but notice that while it is often quite easy to comment on news stories and blogs (as I am now doing) it is almost never the case that one is allowed to post a reply to something written on a church-sponsored site. nor is it easy to get a letter to the editor published in a diocesan newspaper, should it differ in tone from the publisher’s agenda (in our diocese, the bishop is the publisher, and I suspect this is usually the case). nor is is usual to see much independent thinking in the parish bulletin, or other church publications.

    bottom line, there is not really free speech within our church. until this is rectified, we will continue to see smart Catholics avail themselves of the civil liberties we enjoy as Americans and speak out in the free press. this is also, I think, why these court decisions are so very important. they provide a vehicle by which to express the dismay that very many Catholics, and former Catholics, feel. and they feel this shame the more acutely because they know in their heart how the system works.

    another thread is the sad lack of resolve shown by “professional Catholics”, that large cohort of teachers, academics and others who are charged with teaching the faith to the laity. Is not part of the faith loyalty to core principles of justice and to academic excellence? It is not so much that the research has not been done. It has. There have been many great books written that would update our faith experience and show us the way. But, if these books and ideas never make it into bishop-controlled curriculums, they are largely still-born, and their good effect is lost on the mass of the faithful.

    Finally, I am struck by this quote from the PEP Parish people, a few religious in the midwest who minister to parishes. Speaking of a challenge to a new, combined parish, they wrote: “…staff and leaders of both places, pastors included, must point the way and be a model of cooperation, collaboration and joint ownership of the new parish. ”

    But, collaboration is not only for new parishes. It is also, or should be, the daily stuff of the clergy/lay conversation. But when we ask “when was the last time the bishop asked YOU what should be done about compensating sexual abuse victims?”, we know the answer immediately.

    As long as centralization governs, and community is slighted, we will continue to reap the disappointments of our current system, as Joe has so clearly outlined. We need a 180 here. But, as I have read today, so far as the East is from the West, so far have our transgressions been put from us. We can change, and we must change.

  2. Mark from PA Says:

    I was struck by the comment, “When the 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 culpability in abetting priest predators?” The question arose in my mind. When these predators were assigned to other parishes, did not the bishops feel that these priests were unworthy of receiving the Eucharist much less celebrating the Eucharist? It boggles my mind to think the priests who molested and raped children in the confessional were transferred to other parishes and allowed to hear confession without anyone being the wiser as to the crimes that these men had committed. Of course, most of the bishops do not admit to the predators committing criminal actions, they just say, “Mistakes have been made.” SIGH!

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