A growing number of people within the Catholic Church, including Rev. James Connell of Wisconsin, have called for investigations into dioceses across the country.
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Abuses such as those described in the shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month are not likely to stop at the Pennsylvania state border.
“Not a chance,” says Rev. James Connell, a retired priest and member of Catholic Whistleblowers, a group of priests, members of religious orders, and lay people who advocate for reform and support abuse survivors. “This definitely does not stop at the border.”
The Pennsylvania grand jury’s report detailed six decades of abuse by more than 300 of priests. Its authors estimate there may be more than 1,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse in that state.
So, what about other states?
Reverend Connell says that more states should launch investigations modeled on Pennsylvania’s approach. If not with a statewide grand jury, then perhaps in the attorney general’s office.
“The church has just demonstrated that for whatever reason it is not capable of dealing with this issue,” Rev. Connell told The Blade editorial board. “It has to be turned over to civil authorities.”
In some parts of the country, church leaders understand the necessity of this. In Missouri, for instance, the archbishop of St. Louis responded to the Pennsylvania revelations by inviting that state’s attorney general to review his archdiocese’s handling of sexual abuse complaints.
The archbishop said he did so “for the credibility of the archdiocese.”
In Illinois, the attorney general has asked to meet with leaders from diocese across that state to make sure state authorities have a “complete and accurate accounting” of the handling of abuse claims against priests there. Several priests named in the Pennsylvania report had ties to Illinois parishes as well.
More attorneys general should initiate their own investigations. And church leaders in every state should work with them to bring light to all the evil done to children — bring it all out.
Many observers hope the Pennsylvania report — revealing as it does how entrenched and systematic the cover up was, as well as how gruesome and horrifying much of the abuse was — can be, eventually, a cleansing moment for the church. Many priests and bishops, it should be said, agree.
Beyond cleansing, there is the church our children will inherit. “This is about protecting children in the future,” Rev. Connell says. “Not just dealing with the abuses of the past.”
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