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Sins of Omission: The Abusive PA Clergy Abuse Report

Back in August, after a special solemnity Mass in my parish in the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, I came home and read the grand jury report on clergy sex abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses, including my own.

I read the 884-page online version. I saw allegations against priests in my diocese and the Pittsburgh diocese where I was baptized. I saw names of priests I know or have met. I was, of course, mortified. The behavior described wasn’t merely twisted, perverse, and psychologically warped, but diabolical.

I felt sick. I struggled for the best invectives to hurl at my screen but was left speechless. None seemed adequate. Making me angrier was the fact that so many abusers got away with their deeds. At least in this world.

If there was a degree of reassurance, however, it was this: in many cases, a good priest or bishop stepped in to stop the abuser or remove him from ministry. This even included some cases with the much-maligned and understandably criticized then-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh.

And yet, as I worked backward to the report’s introduction, I was assaulted by this summary statement, which instantly became the most quoted passage in the media: “Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing: they hid it all.”

That hit me like a brick. Whoa, I snapped at my computer screen, now that’s not true. They did nothing and hid it all?

This isn’t what I saw. The very report itself contradicted that explosive charge. In fact, I found the name of my previous priest (a longtime friend) in the report. He’s no abuser, quite the contrary. I was gratified to see Father Mark listed for reporting an accused abuser based on just one allegation. He is one of many men of God who did something. And yet, good men like Father Mark endure nasty looks when wearing their collar in public out of suspicion they’re child molesters.

Look at the line again: “Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing: they hid it all.”

Such hyperbole is outrageous and damaging. Worse, I feared it was intentional. I suspected from the language, including remarks by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the report’s front man, who condemned a “sophisticated” and “systematic cover up” aimed at protecting “the institution at all costs,” that the actual target is the institutional Catholic Church.

Read more at Crisis. 

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