Nine Reactions to the Abuse Scandal

Pope Francis lies as he prays during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Inside and outside the Catholic Church, the publication of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on historic abuse (spanning 70 years) in 6 Catholic dioceses has shocked the world.

Coming so soon after the dreadful revelations of serial abuse by Archbishop McCarrick, one of America’s most influential Catholic leaders, the report has hit ordinary Catholics with all the force of a sledge hammer. We weep for the children and young adults who were subjected to repeated acts of depravity (some by an organised cabal). We are in shock and disbelief at the evil perpetrated by men who had been entrusted with the care of Christ’s own. We are angry and aggrieved at the failure of leadership of those Catholic bishops who acted with little regard for anything more than the preservation of their own reputation and power. We all know many many good and holy priests (and some good and holy bishops), and we are heartbroken to see them falsely and cruelly tarred with the same brush as the abusers and their facilitators. As if all that were not enough, we have suffered at the sometimes embarrassing inadequacy of several official statements made by the American bishops, which have served as yet more evidence of a crisis of leadership in the Church.

Much has been written already. Some depressingly accurate analyses of the problem, written in the 1990s and 2000s, have also resurfaced. The selection below is far from comprehensive. For the most part, the opinion articles below are written by learned and devout Catholics.

Taken together they are a powerful and persuasive call for radical change within the church.

Firstly, a call to do more to help the victims of these heinous crimes.

Secondly, there is a call to greater holiness, shown in the short term by public penance from bishops, as well as prayer and fasting by all the faithful. In this way, we exercise our common priesthood, united to Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.

Thirdly, the resignation of those Bishops who failed to stem the abuse or act decisively to help those affected, most notably, Cardinal Wuerl.

Fourthly, a thorough, independent investigation into how McCarrick was allowed to rise to such prominence: who knew what, and why warnings were not heeded.

Finally, a broad raft of suggestions for reforming the structures of dioceses and their administration, so that

  • effective procedures for ensuring bishops can be held accountable for their actions
  • bishops focus upon their pastoral responsibilities rather than acting as CEOs, and
  • greater care is taken in the selection and formation of future priests.
If these or similar proposals are taken up earnestly – and God help us if they are not – then a Catholic Reformation will be underway, 500 years after its Protestant counterpart.

The first link is to a thread on Twitter, written by Karen Moroski, a young writer who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and knew some of the priests who were guilty of abuse. While she was not a direct victim, she writes powerfully about the catholic influences of her childhood, now seemingly shattered forever in the light of these revelations.

Growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a Roman Catholic

The Reaction of a Catholic Priest to bring called a ‘Paedophile Priest’ – a Twitter thread by Fr Goya

A Crisis of Fidelity by Prof Robert P George University of Princeton writing in First Things.

To Start the Healing Process the US Bishops should consider doing public penance – Dawn Eden, US theologian and author of ‘Remembering God’s Mercy’.

How we can rebuild my church … Elizabeth Scalia – author and journalist.

What Catherine of Sienna would say to today’s bishops – by Kathryn Lopez – National Review.

The following articles, the first from 2002(!) and the second written last week, address that aspect of ‘the problem’ of sexual abuse to which little attention seems to have been given either then or since.

The Elephant in the Sacristy an article written by Mary Eberstadt in 2002.

Pastoral letter on the abuse scandal(pdf) by Bishop Morlino of Madison.

Another opinion on the relationship between the sex abuse scandal and homosexuality is provide by Daniel Mattson: Why men like me should not be priests.

One final observation. Throughout its history, it has often been women who have pulled the Church through its darkest hours. So it will be now.


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