The Roman Catholic hierarchy in this country has promised accountability and justice for children sexually abused by priests. We fear it has a long way to go. A new inquiry has found that nearly a decade after the scandal engulfed the American church, children are still in peril and some leaders are still stonewalling investigations.
A grand-jury report released Feb. 10 accused three priests and a teacher in the Philadelphia Archdiocese of raping two young boys in the 1990s. It also accused a senior church official of knowingly endangering thousands of children by shielding accused priests for years.
The Philadelphia district attorney brought sexual-assault charges against the priests and teacher, and charged Msgr. William Lynn, with two counts of child endangerment, apparently the first time a church leader has been criminally charged with covering up abuse.
Monsignor Lynn was secretary of the clergy under retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, responsible for investigating abuse allegations from 1992 to 2004. Instead, according to the grand jury, he shuffled credibly accused priests among unsuspecting parishes, putting “literally thousands of children at risk of sexual abuse.”
The report said at least three dozen accused priests remain in active ministry in the archdiocese, nearly all unidentified. The grand jury asked the archdiocese for its records on the accusations against those priests; months later, the archdiocese has not fully complied.
These are not the first accusations against the Philadelphia Archdiocese. A blistering grand-jury report in 2005 exposed the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 60 archdiocesan priests, lamenting that the church’s cover-up had succeeded since the statute of limitations made it impossible to prosecute the predators.
The recent grand jury said it had no doubt that the scale of the crimes and the extent of the official cover-up went far beyond the cases of sodomy and rape it documented in horrifying detail. It cited continued institutional weaknesses that allowed such crimes to go undetected or unpunished — an obsession with secrecy, a concern for abusers over victims, the inherent conflict in having “victim assistance coordinators” who are supposed to help stricken families but who are church employees with divided loyalties.
The grand jury has implored the current leader of the archdiocese, Cardinal Justin Rigali, to fully cooperate with its investigation and institute reforms, beginning with opening its files on abuse accusations, swiftly removing credibly accused priests from ministry and financing truly independent investigations.
It also urged Pennsylvania to suspend for two years the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.
States across the country should do the same. There will be no justice or healing until all victims’ voices are heard and the church finally shows true accountability.