Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Grand Jury Report: Making Sense Of It All

St. Canice elementary school, 3rd grade, 1942
From Pittsburgh to Paris, there’s been one awful story dominating the news and troubling my mind in the past few weeks: the Pennsylvania grand jury report showing that more than 300 "predator priests" have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.

Although I’ve known about these crimes for years, this time they hit home. I grew up Catholic and went to diocesan schools from 1st through 12th grade, St. Canice and Hilltop Catholic. During my four years in high school, four priests that I remember were listed in the report! That's not nothing. That's not a small problem. And the pastor was certainly involved in shuttling predators to other churches.

Our alumni have been trying to make sense of it all via our Facebook group. I wasn’t a victim, but these crimes affect me deeply as a person of faith and mom. The child victims, now adult, cry out.

What can be done to make our religious institutions for the faithful and not the fakes? Many of Hilltop’s alums say they’ve simply left the church. Or they are no longer donating. Or they try to distinguish between the church and the people. Or religion and faith.

Here’s what I think needs done. Pennsylvania lawmakers should adopt the grand jury’s recommendations, with voters and the church lending full support:
  • Stop shielding child sexual predators behind the criminal statute of limitations.
  • Let older victims sue the diocese for the damage inflicted on their lives when they were kids.
  • Improve the law for mandated reporting of abuse.
  • Fourth, adopt a law concerning confidentiality agreements that makes them illegal for crimes.
What I’m saying is do right by the victims and no more secrecy.

What can we do? What are you doing? Let me hear from you.

Here are some concrete steps suggested by David Clohessy, the former national director and spokesman for the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in an opinion article in USA Today.
  • First, help expose more wrongdoers. Every single Catholic should ask every other Catholic: "Have you ever seen, suspected or suffered clergy misdeeds, crimes or cover ups?" Help the person report this to independent sources like police, prosecutors or journalists. (If you contact me, I promise to help.)
  • Second, set up whistleblower reward funds. Catholics (by lay people for lay people) should band together to set up funds to financially help and emotionally support those who find the courage to speak up.
  • Third, donate elsewhere. People in the pews should give generously, but not to their bishops. Instead, they should donate to independent non-profits that fight against child sexual abuse.
Translation: Wake up people and do something!

Lastly, I think the church needs to devote itself to its people instead of to its hierarchy. The Catholic Church should act as a beacon on the hill (Matthew 5:14) for the future of society.

The only way our institutions (church, schools, political parties, you name it) will serve the people is if we vote with our feet and leave, or work inside them for change.

Sermon over!

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and lecturer at the University of Paris 8, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

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