What Next?

by Patrick M. O'Brien

I visit a lot of chanceries and meet with many bishops and diocesan leaders. They tell me that the anger is deeper in this boiling over of the clergy abuse crisis than in 2002.

Theories abound about what happened. Is this a failure of leadership? Is this a failure of faulty past practices? Is this a failure of priestly fidelity from a sinful subculture? Is this a failure in communications? Is the evil one at work? With so much blame going around, it can seem like the old adage “don’t shoot the messenger” has expanded to “shoot everybody!”The anger is real. A March 2019 Gallup poll found that only 30 percent of U.S. Catholics have “a lot of or great deal of” confidence in U.S. bishops and Catholic leaders. A greater number of Catholics have considered leaving the Church over the current crisis than was the case in 2002.

Some leaders tell me the latest crisis is primarily a problem with communications. They make the following points: We haven’t gotten our positive message out. The Charter to Protect Children and Young People is working. Since 2002, U.S. dioceses have done a lot to protect children and most people don’t know about it. Cases reported in the media are old. The number of incidents of clerics abusing children has slowed to a trickle. Dioceses do a lot to place victim survivors first and care for them. There is not enough communicated about what the Church has done.
I contend that improved communications goes hand in hand with improved procedures.

At the the USCCB fall 2018 meeting, the chair of the National Review Board presented recommendations for improving transparency and accountability that go beyond the scope of the current Charter. In light of those recommendations, Content Evangelist looks at how many dioceses have already done some of these things and how many have not. How many dioceses have had a review of clergy files and released the names of clergy abusers?How many make it easy to report abuse online?

How many make it easy to report abuse online? How many have a complete online resource for their response? We developed a list of ideas for you to consider for your diocese’s response to the crisis. For our cover story, we interviewed Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of the Diocese of Erie. His diocese was part of the infamous 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report. Bishop Persico is highly regarded for his response to victims, parishioners and the public. Bishop Persico did not blame others, become defensive or retreat into denial. He knew that would prevent the Church from our ultimate aim—to lead others to Christ.

As we look to improve what we do in diocesan communications and procedures around this painful issue, we must not lose our focus on Christ. Only the Lord will find a way forward. Only he will truly heal the wounds of victims, bring eternal justice to perpetrators and forgive sins. Only Jesus bears the wounds that every one of us has placed on the Body of Christ through our sins. He is the reason we are Catholic. He is our redeemer and he will never forsake his bride, the Church. He will show us the way.