Thursday, September 22, 2005

Archdiocese: secrecy is unfair when it comes to investigations of child sexual abuse

In its response to the report of the grand jury investigation of sexual molestation of children by Philadelphia area Catholic priests, the Archdiocese complains that Philly DA's office took advantage of the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings to engage in Catholic bashing [emphasis mine]
Taking unfair advantage of the secrecy and one-sidedness inherent in grand jury proceedings, and focusing upon lurid details of events, the District Attorney's office has chosen not to make this a tool for offering constructive recommendations to prevent sexual abuse of minors in the future. Rather, it focuses on long-ago episodes, and fails to recognize the limited scientific knowledge available in the past about preventing or healing childhood sexual abuse. It also fails to acknowledge any Archdiocesan effort to update its policies consistent with contemporary medical thought. [Archdiocese of Philadelphia]
Excuse me? First off, for an organization that used secrecy as a weapon in a one-sided effort to protect itself while putting its parishioners and, possibly, other children at risk of molestation, to decry the secrecy of the grand-jury process is the height of hypocrisy. Part of the reason for the secrecy of the proceedings is to prevent the undue and inappropriate outside pressure that can undermine an independent investigation. As coercion was a tool that helped the church foster secrecy and avoid responsibility for its role in covering up and therefore enabling continued abuse of children, it was most definitely appropriate in this instance.

Sorry, "we won't do it again" is not a legitimate reason not to focus on a thorough investigation of crimes committed in the past when it involves a pattern of denial, obstruction and seeming complicity.
The purpose of the grand jury is not to provide a performance evaluation with constructive criticism to achieve improvement, the purpose of a grand jury is to review evidence to determine if there is sufficient ground to return an indictment. The only reason indictments weren't issued is the fact that the church had been so successful in keeping this scandal quite for so long that the statute of limitations was long expired before DAs who couldn't be bullied by the church were willing to investigate and bring charges.

The cases of abuse described in the report were not rare and isolated events. To make matters worse, silence was ordered when complaints of abuse were made. The fact that a specific law to require reporting of sexual abuse to the police did not exist does not in any way exonerate the church from its failure to do so. Common sense alone should have dictated reporting of credible allegations to law enforcement officials. Scientific knowledge was not necessary to understand that keeping priests who engaged in inappropriate contact with children away from positions in which they were likely to have direct and unsupervised contact with children is a reasonable precaution against repeat offense. Due to the shroud of secrecy & stigma, this sort of abuse was generally unfathomable (especially to this degree); it's quite possible that had the church voluntarily reported credible allegations against priests, a law may well have been enacted to require reporting much earlier in history.

When investigating crimes it's difficult not to focus on the details, in these cases the details were lurid by nature as they involved depraved sexual acts committed against children including acts that, even were they engaged by consenting adults, are condemned by the church as heinous & immoral [emphasis mine]
  • An 11-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by a priest who took her for an abortion when she became pregnant.
  • A fifth grader who was molested by a priest inside a confessional.
  • A teenage girl who was groped by a priest while she lay immobilized in traction in a hospital room.
  • A priest who offered money to boys in exchange for sadomasochistic acts of bondage and wrote a letter asking a boy to make him his "slave." The priest remains in ministry.
  • A priest who abused boys playing the roles of Jesus and other biblical characters in a parish Passion play by making them disrobe, don loincloths, and whip each other until they had cuts, bruises and welts. [Inky]
For the church to complain the report is biased and anti-Catholic when the findings are consistent with investigations of this scandal world-wide is a prime example of the self-serving denial & evasion that has been a hallmark of this scandal. Taking full responsibility for one's actions is a requirement of penance and a necessary step in the path to absolution - it's about time the church starts practicing what it preaches.

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