Mired anew in scandal, priests and bishops of the Catholic Church have been reeling from a series of devastating accusations and revelations of sexual abuse and cover-ups.
On Aug. 14, a Pennsylvania grand jury released evidence of abuse of more than 1,000 minors by more than 300 Catholic priests, spanning back seven decades. The report was released following the July resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington, prompted by evidence that he abused children and adult seminarians and priests over the last five decades.
The evidence released in the report is largely not actionable due to the lapsed statute of limitations and the age of the allegations, and some of the alleged abusers have died. This has all come to light after abuse scandals in Chile and Australia. Many have taken this to mean an institutional problem exists where the Church allows or even hides abuse.
Bishop Carl A. Kemme of the Diocese of Wichita offered his initial reaction to the news.
“It left me with a sense of bewilderment, of anger,” Bishop Kemme said. “It feels like we’re going to walk back 15 years. I just feel a profound sense of sadness for the Church again, and for the victims and their families, and for God’s people—those in our Church who just try to live holy lives and want good and holy priests and bishops to serve them.”
Bishop Kemme said he reacted to the reports released in the same way many others did.
“Some of the details [of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report] made me very nauseous, you know,” he said. “Some of the things they were describing, the abuses they were describing, were hideous and inhuman. It was a bit overwhelming. I recognize that sin can be overwhelming and change people radically, but [the abuses described] seem so incongruent with the life and ministry of a priest of Jesus Christ in the Roman Catholic Church.”
There have been calls by many of the lay faithful, priests as well as bishops for further resignations of clergy accused of being involved in a cover-up. Bishop Kemme said the Church needs to take action to prevent and punish cover-ups.
“If there are intentional cover-ups by anybody in the hierarchy, if people knew this and they didn’t do their due diligence, they didn’t fulfill their responsibilities as shepherds of the flock,” Bishop Kemme said. “I think in all honesty, truthfulness and transparency, we should see people step aside. The leadership that is needed today demands people that are willing to do hard things and to make tough decisions, and to stand strong. If there were bishops who knew something and didn’t act, I think there should be some action, maybe to be imposed by the Holy Father (Pope Francis), to say ‘You’re not fit to govern.’”
Senior Jacob Doolittle thinks the Church needs to become more accountable to the laity.
“I think the lack of accountability and transparency on the part of Rome allows for these acts to continue to happen with no repercussions,” Doolittle said. “The Church needs to remove the priests that are causing these scandals from the Church. [Clergy abuse of minors] is very messed up. These scandals should never happen and things must be done to punish the priests involved.”
Fr. Curtis Hecker, chaplain of Kapaun Mt. Carmel also, said more transparency is necessary.
“The Church has suffered a tremendous loss in credibility,” Fr. Curtis said. “It must work to earn that back by moving forward with greater transparency.”
Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, joined others in the Church in alleging that the abuse by clergy has been the result of homosexual priests and bishops. Commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) after the 2002 Sp
otlight scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States,” commonly known as the John Jay Report, found no merit to these claims. It suggested, rather, that the abused were mostly males most likely due to the easier access clerics typically have to male children, and is not likely correlated with the sexual orientation of the abuser.
What substantially differentiates the Pennsylvania case from the 2002 Boston case is the fact that members of the Church hierarchy are implicated. Former Vatican Apostolic Nuncio to the United States and Secretary of State, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, released an 11-page testimony in August alleging Pope Francis was aware of allegations against McCarrick and actually reversed sanctions against McCarrick put in place by Pope Benedict XVI. The allegation of an affirmative cover-up is very serious and has led many to question whether Pope Francis should remain as pope.
Religion teacher James Lewis said Pope Francis is not necessarily protected from sin by virtue of his office.
“Pope Francis, while probably one of the better popes we’ve ever had, his infallibility does not protect him from personal sin or even mismanagement of the Church or loss of institutional control, which is ultimately his fault, and he’ll have to answer to God for it if he has [lost control].” Lewis said.
Bishop Kemme, who was called by Viganò in 2014 with the news that he would be ordained a bishop, offered some thoughts on the testimony.
“I found it shocking, just shocking, the amount of detail and the accusations he made against specific people in the Church hierarchy, including Pope Francis,” Bishop Kemme said. “My experience, [which] is very limited, with Archbishop Viganò [is that]…I loved, always, what he said. I felt like he really had a sense of the pulse of the Church. I’ve always thought of him as a good man. I’d never discount what he said—I couldn’t prove it or disprove it, but they were shocking to me and [it was] alarming that this could be pointing to a bigger issue than we originally imagined. A bishop of his rank… and a person of his responsibilities and role in the United States and in the Church universal, it would be my expectation that the leadership of the Church would look at these things and bring a resolution to them. If left hanging, it just leaves people in more confusion.”
In addition to the John Jay Report, another action taken by the USCCB to attempt to rectify the problems exposed by the 2002 Boston Spotlight scandal was to draw up the now famous “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” or the “Dallas Charter,” which set rules to be followed by every diocese in the United States when credible allegations of abuse by clergy are presented. Bishop Kemme said there are weaknesses to that document.
“There are gaps,” Kemme said. “One of the gaps was what happens when the bishop needs to be investigated due to alleged abuse? Apparently, there was no procedure or anything put in place that would deal with this. In Canon Law, there is procedure…but I think the [USCCB] conference in November will be addressing that gap—that gaping hole, really— that was left there in 2002, and there will be a clear, transparent procedure for what to do…if a bishop has done something beneath his office as a bishop, especially in regard to abuse of a minor or a vulnerable adult.”
Doolittle said the Church should move forward by taking responsibility and addressing the problems.
“The Pope and the priests need to figure it out because the lay people simply don’t have the authority and power to [make] change,” Doolittle said. “If possible, more legal investigations [similar to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report] should be put into effect by the states.”