Catholic Bishops Resist Reforms on Clergy Abusers, Says Academic Study

By Burke, Daniel | The Christian Century, June 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

Catholic Bishops Resist Reforms on Clergy Abusers, Says Academic Study


Burke, Daniel, The Christian Century


A sweeping new report on the Catholic Church's clergy sexual abuse scandal compares the church to police departments, with similar hierarchies, moral authority and isolated work environments.

And because the church, like the police, has "historically 'policed itself,'" as the report says, some lay Catholics and victims' advocates say even a stack of damning reports will not change a church historically resistant to reform.

A recent grand jury report that found dozens of accused priests still in active ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, critics say, gives them little evidence for hope.

The study by New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, released May 18, portrays the abuse scandal as largely confined to the past. More than 90 percent of nearly 10,700 allegations against Catholic priests occurred before 1990, according to the report.

Researchers said the abuse of minors correlated to a jump in deviant behavior during the 1960s and '70s, such as premarital sex, experimental drug use and crime. However, that theorized correlation was widely questioned or criticized by those commenting on the report.

More important, the ongoing crisis in Philadelphia--which church bishops have been at a loss to explain--shows that the scandal will continue unless bishops are held accountable for their actions, according to victims' advocates.

The Philadelphia grand jury report alleged that church officials kept 37 priests in active ministry, despite credible accusations of sexual abuse. The archdiocese later suspended 26 priests and has mounted an internal investigation.

In a May 12 essay in Commonweal magazine, Ana Maria Catanzaro, who heads the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's sexual abuse review board, accused Cardinal Justin Rigali and his subordinates of failing "miserably at being open and transparent." Catanzaro said no bishops have called for leaders in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to be held accountable by church or civil authorities. …

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