Last Tuesday night, following a special solemnity Mass honoring the Virgin Mary, a model of purity, I came home and read the grand jury report on sex abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses.
It’s an 884-page report. I first went to the specific allegations against priests in my diocese of Erie and the Pittsburgh diocese in which I was baptized. I saw names of priests and bishops I know or have met. I was, of course, mortified.
The most heinous case involves a “group of four” in the Pittsburgh diocese, which allegedly forced a boy to stand on a bed in a rectory, stripped him, and made him pose as Christ on the cross. They reportedly snapped photos of their victim, which they added to a prized collection of child porn.
These devils marked their favored boy-toys with gifts: gold-cross necklaces.
Imagine. This isn’t merely twisted, perverse, psychologically warped, but diabolical — right out of the pit of hell.
I felt sick to my stomach.
If there was a degree of reassurance in the report, however, it was this: in many cases, a good priest or bishop stepped in and took effort to stop the abusive priest or remove him from ministry. This included some cases with the much-maligned and criticized (deservedly so) Bishop Wuerl.
And yet, as I worked back to the report’s introduction, I read this summary statement, which has become the most-quoted passage in the media: “Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing: they hid it all.”
Stop right there. The latter part of that line outraged me because it isn’t what I saw; it is categorically untrue. The very report itself contradicts that. In fact, I found the name of my previous priest — a longtime friend — in the report. He was not one of the abusers. Quite the contrary, I was gratified to see Father Mark listed for immediately reporting an accused abuser based on just one allegation. He is one of many men of God who did something, who hid nothing. And yet, good men like Father Mark endure nasty looks of shame when wearing their collar in public out of suspicion they’re child molesters.
To repeat the line of the report: “Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing: they hid it all.”
That kind of hyperbole is outrageous and damaging.
It’s clear from the language, including some of the remarks by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who condemned what he called a “sophisticated” and “systematic cover up” aimed at protecting “the institution at all costs,” that the target is the institutional Catholic Church. This should not be pursued with a broad brush. Too many decent men get smeared.
Now, this is not to say that the good work and intentions of the likes of Father Mark were not dealt with effectively enough up the chain of command. The failures were clearly significant.
So, my word of caution: Prosecute the abusers, punish them to the fullest extent, and let them ultimately answer to God. But please, realize that there are so many more fine men who wear the collar and don’t engage in such sick depravity. Direct your anger not at them but at the true abusers.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of
The Center for Vision & Values
at Grove City College.