In early 2013, a Franciscan friar committed suicide in the Pennsylvania monastery where he had been living. The friar, a man named Stephen Baker, had been accused of sexually molesting dozens of children in several states, and the list of accusers was getting longer by the day. If he had acted alone, Baker’s suicide might have been the unfortunate end to an already devastating story.
But as is so often the case, Baker’s crimes were abetted by other members of his religious order. Three of those men are now facing criminal charges, filed this week by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. The three Franciscan friars are accused of continuously allowing Baker access to children and failing to report him to police despite knowing that he was a sexual predator. In total, Baker likely abused more than 100 children that authorities know of.
Although civil lawsuits against the Catholic Church have been numerous, criminal cases have been nearly non-existent beyond charges against abusers themselves (when such charges can even be pursued). This is the “first time members of a Roman Catholic religious order have been charged with abetting an abuser,” according to the New York Times.
Observers are hopeful that this case will be the start of a much larger effort to criminally punish clergy members who facilitated the crimes of abusers. Commenting on the charges, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said: “This is the missing piece. For years, there have been pledges of reform, but we still see the same deceitful practices because those who stay silent or lie to cover up have not been held accountable.”
It is not enough to just go after the abusers themselves. These crimes occur because other clergy members and church officials willfully turn a blind eye or actively help cover them up. This indictment is a good start, but there is much work still to be done.