WASHINGTON -- U.S. Catholic bishops announced Monday that sexual abuse accusations against Catholic clergy increased in 2010, and auditors found 57 dioceses do not follow church guidelines on child protection.
It is time for Catholics to acknowledge what is clear: Despite the promises made at the height of the sex abuse crisis nearly a decade ago, the leadership of the church on both a local and national level has failed to deal forthrightly with the clergy abuse crisis. Certainly many dioceses and bishops are diligently applying the charter they adopted in 2002. But what the recent scandal in Philadelphia reveals is that the system is easily compromised, dependent as it still is on sheer trust at too many levels and on the goodwill of bishops who remain above accountability.
The board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America issued a statement April 8 faulting the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine for not following the bishops’ own established guidelines in assessing a book by one of the society’s more prominent members.
WASHINGTON -- When two men alleged that they had been abused in Texas during the 1970s and '80s by a man associated with the youth wing of the Knights of Columbus, they filed suit not in Texas but in Connecticut, where the Knights' national headquarters is located.
And when Delaware opened up a two-year window that allowed child sex abuse lawsuits that would have previously been barred under the state's statute of limitations, some of the lawsuits filed dealt with abuse that was alleged to have taken place outside of Delaware.
Those cases point up the confusion and legal maneuvers that have resulted from the wide array of ever-changing state laws affecting the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.
"Attorneys will definitely forum-shop," said Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A civil claim that had been legally prohibited for many years in one state might be resurrected in another with the passage of legislation removing the statute of limitations retroactively or extending the age by which a person alleging abuse must file suit.
DUBLIN, Ireland -- Although the sexual abuse crisis has been devastating for the Catholic church everywhere it’s erupted, the meltdown in Ireland is fairly unique in scope and scale. Catholicism was effectively the state church, running the country’s schools, hospitals and orphanages. As a result, when the church served people well, it had a massively positive social impact – and when the church failed and abused people, the damage was correspondingly immense.
The U.S. bishops chose not to follow their own guidelines in handling disputes between bishops and theologians before issuing a critique last week of a 2007 book by a prominent U.S. theologian.
In a statement dated March 24 and released March 30, the bishops’ doctrine committee said that the book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by Fordham University theology professor St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, is marred by “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” and “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in the Gospel.”
The public finding, the committee determined, was necessary because the popular book is directed to a broad audience and is being used as a textbook for the study of God.
According to guidelines approved by the U.S. bishops in 1989, doctrinal disputes with theologians are to be kept as local as possible and are to follow carefully delineated steps involving dialogue with the theologian to clarify data, meaning and the relationship with Catholic tradition while identifying the implications for the life of the church.
MILWAUKEE -- In the early years of the priest sex abuse crisis, Catholics often expressed their frustration with how bishops handled the scandal by saying “they don’t get it.” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, may be a member of the hierarchy who begins to reverse that perception.
In a keynote address April 4 at the Marquette University Law School, Martin described the struggles he encountered in bringing to light the “disastrous situation” of abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, from assembling documentation to facing the resistance of priests and other bishops who opposed disclosing the history of abuse. “I tell these events,” he said, “not to re-open history, but to illustrate just how difficult it is to bring an institution around to the conviction that the truth must be told.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law on March 26 a bill that extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse civil lawsuits to 20 years.
The bill passed the Virginia Senate on Feb. 3 (see article) and the Virginia House of Delegates passed the bill Feb. 24, sending it to the Republican governor for his signature.
The law goes into effect July 1.
Currently in Virginia, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse is two years from when the person is 18 years old, from the time of the abuse, or from the time of discovery.
With the passage of the new bill, Virginia joins a small number of states that have statutes of limitations of more than eight years. Forty states and Washington D.C. have a limit of eight years or less, according to Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.
The House bill was introduced by David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, and the Senate bill was introduced by Frederick M. Quayle, R-Chesapeake. Each bill originally proposed a 25-year cap.
The recent Philadelphia grand jury report, a scathing assessment of the archdiocese’s handling of sex abuse allegations against priests, has wider implications for the church, say several experts, because it exposes inherent weaknesses in the process that is employed nationally for dealing with allegations against Catholic clerics.
The evident failure in the Philadelphia archdiocese of the system set up by the U.S. bishops in 2002 raises the question of whether similar circumstances exist in other dioceses, most of which have not come under the scrutiny of a grand jury or other law enforcement agencies. The question that keeps surfacing is: Are there other Philadelphias out there?
America’s Catholic bishops are notoriously divided on many fronts, but there’s at least one new point where complete consensus reigns: that the recent scandal in Philadelphia, where a grand jury found that 37 priests remained in ministry despite "substantial" allegations of sexual abuse, couldn’t have come at a worse time.