THESE DAYS I DREAD PICKING UP MY BOSTON MORNING paper. Just when I think the worst is over, it brings new revelations, more names and pictures of priests accused of sexual abuse of minors. The count is now at 87 priests, with talk of more to come. What old friend or local pastor might be there this morning? It's a nightmare, and it breaks our hearts.
First and foremost, we're heartbroken for the hundreds of innocent victims, young children whose lives were often destroyed by these sexual predators. Scores of Boston priests have irreparably harmed these children, who were entrusted to their spiritual care. The most notorious, John Geoghan, allegedly molested up to 200 children, some as young as 4 years old.
This horrid scandal places a terrible burden on people's faith, and the most faithful have felt it the most. Old Boston Catholics grew up with stories of Irish priests who risked their lives during penal days to celebrate Mass for the people. Now all our priests, many of them good men of integrity and service, are placed under suspicion, tarred by the same brush.
The review of old archdiocesan records is being done with great haste and in panic. What if some so accused and summarily suspended are innocent? Remember Cardinal Bernardin. One much-loved priest was yanked from his parish because of a single allegation--never proved--made against him 34 years ago, even before he was ordained.
The Catholic community of Boston has never been so embarrassed and ashamed. Even good people speak of church leaders with disdain. How could "they" have let this go on? Last and least, the financial settlements could bankrupt the archdiocese.
Oh, the pain is helping us to relearn that the institution of the church is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. Brought to our knees, we remember that our faith is in God, in Jesus Christ, in the gospel, and in the great, rich treasury of Catholic Christianity that can be so life-giving.
Beyond our tears, we in the church must repent our ways and make some real changes. At least three seem imperative.
First, the protection of secrecy must be lifted. An open society finds it abhorrent to shroud a crime like pedophilia in secrecy. The sad fact is that Geoghan could continue his reprehensible behavior precisely because his "case" was surrounded by secrecy. The archdiocese repeatedly moved him from parish to parish without even warning receiving parishes to be alert for possible criminal activity. In each he allegedly went on to prey upon innocent children, urging them, too, to "keep it secret."
The Vatican recently issued new guidelines for the church trial of priests accused of such crimes. …