Church is combatting sexual abuse Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Apr. 08, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Almost every day we hear media reports concerning how the Catholic Church has handled cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. It is important for Catholics — and the public at large — to get the facts straight.

First of all, Pope Benedict XVI and countless bishops around the world have continued to repeat that sexual abuse is wrong, sinful, and must not be tolerated. For example, in his March 19th letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Benedict says, “Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.”

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

Path of healing, renewal, and reparation

The Holy Father proposes “a path of healing, renewal, and reparation” for the Church in Ireland. I’m sure he would extend that proposal to all areas of the world dealing with incidents of sexual abuse. In fact, when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was instrumental in strengthening the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

As Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee pointed out March 30 at the archdiocesan Chrism Mass, “The Holy Father has been firm in his commitment to combat clergy sexual abuse, root it out of the Church, reach out to those who have been harmed, and hold perpetrators accountable. He has been a leader, meeting with victims/survivors and chastising bishops for their lack of judgment and leadership.”

Archbishop Listecki himself offered apologies to victims of clergy sexual abuse and asked forgiveness from those upset over how Church leaders and civil authorities mishandled the case of a Wisconsin priest who allegedly abused many deaf students in his care. Fr. Lawrence Murphy worked at a school in Milwaukee from 1950 to 1974. A canonical trail was begun in 1996 to deal with Father Murphy, but he died in 1998 before it was completed.

Archbishop Listecki said that mistakes in this case were not made in Rome; they were made in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee “by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops.” He said, “And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

Church is confronting sexual abuse

Studies have shown that less than four percent of priests serving over the last 50 years in the United States have been accused of sexual abuse. There have been sharp declines in incidents of abuse since 1984 and especially since 2002 when the U.S. bishops adopted their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The Church has intensified efforts to provide safe environments for children, which includes doing background checks on employees, prevention training, reporting cases of suspected abuse to police, and participating in annual audits on how dioceses and religious orders are complying with the Charter.

During a message for Holy Week, the U.S. bishops voiced concern for victims of sexual abuse and praised Pope Benedict XVI for his leadership in dealing with the sin and crime of child sexual abuse. Led by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the bishops’  Executive Committee made a “vigorous commitment to do everything in our power to prevent abuse from happening to children.”

The bishops said, “As we accompany Christ in His passion and death during this Holy Week, we stand with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse, for the entire Church, and for the world.”

Pray for victims and Holy Father

I encourage all Catholics to join with the bishops in praying for the victims of sexual abuse and for continued efforts to eliminate it from the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI also needs our prayers as he deals with unfair attacks and as he leads the Church in dealing with the sin of clergy sexual abuse. Catholics might consider participating in an Eastertide spiritual bouquet for the Holy Father being organized by the Cardinal Newman Society. To join this national effort, go to