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Lifting the veil of secrecy on priest sexual abuse

When it comes to protecting children from abusive adults, talk is cheap and should not be trusted unless it is backed up by observable actions. Institutions can say that they are protecting children from sexual abuse, but this means nothing if they are unwilling to be transparent about their actions or methods.

Few places is this dichotomy more evident than in the Catholic Church. Priest sex abuse scandals have been playing out in courtrooms for decades. Such lawsuits are often the only chance for investigators to independently verify whether church officials have lived up to their public promises of protection and reform. In many cases, investigations reveal that church officials often colluded in protecting priests rather than children.

An ongoing case in Minnesota is a good example. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has faced numerous lawsuits on behalf of victims who were allegedly sexually abused by priests. Some of these incidents date back to the 1970s and involve priests who are no longer living.

The whistleblower in the case is a former archdiocesan canon lawyer. According to a 107-page affidavit she filed earlier this month:

  • Known child abusers were regularly given frequent opportunities to remain in the priesthood
  • Abusive priests who were supposed to be monitored were allowed to self report their behavior, and officials rarely ever checked to see if the reports were truthful or accurate
  • Investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse and other misconduct were often conducted in ways that favored priests over victims
  • Priests were given disability payments from the archdiocese for “suffering from” pedophilia 
  • Measures suggested by the archdiocesan canon lawyer to more strictly monitor priests and implement youth safety measures were never adopted

In Minnesota as in other places, church officials claim to be doing all they can to protect children, prevent sexual abuse and hold offending priests accountable. But talk is cheap, particularly in an organization known for its lack of transparency. Therefore, we must hope that these lawsuits lead to real and lasting reforms implemented by outside parties.

Source: Star Tribune, "Insider: Archdiocese had ‘cavalier attitude’ about clergy abuse cases," Jean Hopfensperger, July 15, 2014

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