I don’t know how much you have heard or how well your media sources have covered it, but last week a grand jury in Pennsylvania finished their two-year investigation into accusations of clergy sexual abuse in their state. The report is available publicly online. In their review of six diocese which went back to the last 70 years, they detailed the accusations against 300 priests who abused over 1,000 victims, as well as how much was known by the dioceses and how the bishops and diocesan officials respondent at the time to what they knew. The report is 1,356 pages long. I read the first 316 pages, which is their summary, conclusions, and recommendations; the rest is an appendix of what is known about the actions each individual priest. It would have been easier for me not to read the report, and it would have been far easier for me not to speak about it today. After all, most of those 300 priests are either dead or have been removed from ministry, and only 2 acted recently enough to even be within the statues of limitations. In that sense this report is more about the Church’s past than about our present. But even so… the tendency to ignore the evil that was done and to turn out minds away from thinking about this is exactly how we ended up here in the first place. The first sentence of the report is: “We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this.” I agree. You and I are not the ones who did these horrible things, but we are the ones who need to help the victims heal. Listening is the least we can do. Praying for the victims is the least we can do. Examining our policies and creating a Church that is transparent in its sinful and in its failure is the least we can do.
When the scandal first broke in 2002, I was in high school. I was already thinking about becoming a priest but thankfully no one knew that, because my classmates were openly mocking the priests and monks that taught half of our classes and I can only imagine what they would have done to me. As I thought about entering priesthood after the scandal, my primary thought was that the Church deserved better. I sincerely believe that “better” is taking place. I look at the younger priests in the years before and after my class and I see good men. I look at the policies the diocese has put in place to make sure that accusations are taken seriously and are handed to civil authorities and I see concrete efforts to correct what went wrong. I look at the families that I have known as a priest and I see in them a willingness to trust again. But even so… we should be ready to listen with humility, and to ask ourselves if there is more to be done.
I have many, many more thoughts about all of this… about the report and its recommendations, about what my personal reactions and thoughts, all of it… but now is not the time or place. Right now I just hope you understand that this report, for as painful as it is, is something we ought to hear if we hope to become better. In that vein, I think, Bishop Perez has released a statement that he asked be read at all masses this weekend: Statement in response to the PA Grand Jury Report on abuse
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