The first news accounts start with this fact:
Florida state officials have just finished their investigation into Catholic clergy child sex crimes and cover ups.
The next news accounts SHOULD start with this fact:
Bishops deliberately protected perhaps hundreds of predator priests, which led to more abuse.
If people will remember anything about the state’s report, they’ll likely remember this:
260 brave victims stepped forward and identified 97 accused child molesting clerics.
But even more, people SHOULD remember THIS from the state’s report: Absolutely no one will be prosecuted for this horror, in large part because Catholic supervisors shrewdly ‘ran out the clock’ and hid the predators until legal deadlines elapsed.
That’s the first real take-away here.
It’s not JUST that thousands of devastating crimes were committed against kids by trusted religious figures.
It’s that EVEN MORE trusted religious figures – the pedophiles’ pastors and bishops – caused EVEN MORE pain, by
—concealing the devastating crimes,
—exploiting every legal technicalities (like the statute of limitations), and
—enabling the pedophiles to assault more childen.
And here’s what people should NOT take away from this report: A sense of complacency. Complacency helps predators. And complacency hurts children.
Some may assume, based on this report, that the predators and enablers are gone and the system that produced and shielded them is fixed.
Sadly, that’s not case.
Yes, the report basically says “The Catholic hierarchy gave us some time, files and interviews.” And it says, somewhat confusingly, that there weren’t indications of kids “in immediate danger” of being sexually violated by Florida priests.
But it’s crucial that we all keep in mind that the long-standing, deeply-rooted and unhealthy structures and practices of the church hierarchy remain intact. Those include: an all-male clergy who must pledge to be celibate (thus reducing the potential number of priests), an ever-growing need for priests (thus a strong temptation to ordain and keep even sexually troubled clerics), an unwavering penchant for secrecy (to protect the reputation and coffers of the church), and other similar factors that are essentially unchanged.
It’s also crucial that we remember that for centuries, Catholic officials have hidden predator priests. So it’s unlikely that Florida’s bishops came completely clean with the truth when questioned by state investigators.
(The most reputable source of information on the church’s abuse crisis is BishopAccountability.org. That group reports and exposes 106 proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting Florida Catholic clergy, nine more than Florida bishops told state officials.)
We’ll address the ‘meat’ of the report more in future blogs. But several gaping disappointments leap out at first glance.
1) State officials ignored religious order clerics. That’s about 1/3 of all Catholic priests, nuns, brothers, seminarians and bishops in Florida. That’s a terrible omission.
2) State officials essentially ‘buried’ the report by releasing it on a Friday when all eyes were still on the election results. (Friday is when CEOs and lawyers and government bureaucrats ‘dump’ what they consider bad news, because very few people watch TV news on Friday nights or read Saturday newspapers.)
3) State officials did not hold news conferences across Florida, which would have brought much more public attention to this horrific scandal and led to much more parental diligence and caused much more healing for betrayed Catholics and still-suffering adult victims.
We urge you to read the report and come back to this blog in a few days for more analysis.
If you saw, suspected or suffered clergy misdeeds, we beg you to contact independent sources of help like police, prosecutors, therapists, support groups or loved ones (not church officials).
And we urge you to NOT relax, NOT give proven wrongdoers any ‘benefit of the doubt,’ and NOT put the innocent at risk by assuming the wrongdoers are dead or gone or ‘reformed.’