The long and sad clergy abuse saga takes a local turn

When will this end? The clergy sex abuse story, national and international in scope, has again taken a local turn.

Less than 24 hours after the release of the John Jay report last month by the U.S. bishops' conference, a report that placed the scandal at the feet of the 1960s social upheaval and sexual revolution, we learned that a Kansas City- St. Joseph diocesan priest had been arrested for having had child pornography in his computer.

We also learned that diocesan officials knew this, but did not report it to police. Further, we learned they had been warned more than a year ago that this priest was acting inappropriately around young children. A school principal hand delivered a letter, a plea really, to our vicar general, begging for relief. None was offered. The priest stayed.

Yesterday, the parents of a minor girl filed a law suit against the diocese.

We also have learned that victims of earlier sex abuse cases who settled with the diocese for $10 million are claiming that the diocese failed to keep its part of a settlement clause, which required the diocese to report immediately to police any suspicious, inappropriate priest activities.

SNAP, the clergy abuse survivors' advocacy group, has been in town. A closed-door meeting was packed with outraged parents. The local media is reporting growing numbers of local Catholics are saying, "Enough is enough; no more excuses." There are reports, some getting into the media, that a growing number of local Catholics are calling for our bishop's resignation.

Given the pain, given the ineptitude of the diocese's handling of this case, it is easy to understand why these calls are growing.

Local and federal prosecutors are normally reluctant to take on church officials, to go after them in courts. But it seems the tide has shifted, and pressure is mounting for legal actions against the diocese.

It is not easy to predict the outcome of events like this one. In part, because after decades of priest cover-ups large segments of the laity are more tuned in and more upset than ever before. This changes both the ecclesial and prosecutorial equations. Our bishop, Robert Finn, faces the misfortune of being the first bishop to be charged with protecting an abusive priest in the wake of the release of the John Jay report, which essentially makes the case church authorities have learned the necessary lessons, and have forcefully dealt with the problem.

Now it is clear neither is entirely true.


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