Church must continue to remain vigilant Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 10, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

It was back in January of 2002 that we learned about the Boston Globe reporting on the scandal of widespread sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.

It shocked me, as it did many Catholics. We didn’t realize at the time that Boston was the tip of the iceberg and that priests throughout the country — indeed the world — had been involved in abusing children. And what’s more, Church officials often covered up this abuse.

To be fair, some Church officials believed that priests suffering from pedophilia could be “cured,” and they sent them for treatment. Unfortunately, those priests returned to ministry and continued to prey on children.

Movie Spotlight

The movie Spotlight — which recently won the Academy Award for Best Picture — tells the story of the Boston Globe’s journalists who worked on the abuse stories.

Having seen that movie, I found it to be an eye-opening account of the newspaper’s efforts to dig into this scandal.

Although I had known something about the Boston situation, I didn’t remember how many priests were involved and how many children were abused. It was indeed a tragedy.

Protecting children

In the years since 2002, the Catholic Church has made great strides in helping protect children. In June of 2002, the bishops of the United States passed their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

This is a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse.

In the Diocese of Madison, our bishops and the Church throughout our 11 counties have been carefully following this charter. All Church employees and volunteers who work with children must go through screening and training. I’ve been through it myself and found it to be excellent.

At the end of the Spotlight movie, there is a long list of dioceses in the United States and throughout the world which have had a significant number of sexual abuse cases. I am happy to report that the Diocese of Madison is NOT on that list.

New report

But just when we feel that things are turning around in this country, new information comes out. On March 1, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane released a grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse of hundreds of children over several decades in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

The report says that at least 50 priests and religious leaders in that diocese were involved in abuse and Church officials systematically concealed the abuse to protect the Church’s image.

I read some of the lengthy report, which has graphic details on the sexual abuse cases. It made me sick, and I couldn’t continue to read it.

The report did credit Bishop Mark L. Bartchak, the current bishop of Altoona-Johnstown, who was appointed to the diocese in 2011, for reporting abuse allegations to authorities and removing accused priests from ministry.

Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Alaska, current chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, said in a statement, “It is heart wrenching and shocking to hear of this grand jury report or of any incidents of abuse, and it is even more disturbing when we learn that innocent children were abused by priests within the Church. Once again, the wounds inflicted through these heinous crimes have caused great pain and further mistrust in the Church.”

Bishop Burns added, “This highlights all the more the importance that we never grow complacent. As stated in the charter, we are to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, permanently remove those who have offended, and effectively create a safe environment for our children.

“Only with vigilance can we ensure that children are kept safe and so allow the Church to help our people in a process of healing and address the mistrust that rises from these cases.”

Remaining vigilant

Amen to that. We must remain vigilant so that our children stay safe. It has also been a tragedy that people have left the Church because of the sexual abuse crisis. As revealed in the movie Spotlight, some of the reporters with the Boston Globe left the Church because of what they learned.

I hope that eventually they — along with victims and their families — will come back to the Church as they experience our efforts to bring about healing and reconciliation.