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How to Save the Catholic Church

The great second wave of church scandals appears this week to be settling down. In the Vatican they’re likely thinking “the worst is over” and “we’ve weathered the storm.” Is that good? Not to this Catholic. The more relaxed the institution, the less likely it will reform.

Let’s look at the first wave. Eight years ago, on April 19, 2002, I wrote in these pages of the American church scandal, calling it calamitous, a threat to the standing and reputation of the entire church. Sexual abuse by priests “was the heart of the scandal, but at the same time only the start of the scandal”: the rest was what might be called the racketeering dimension. Lawsuits had been brought charging that the church as an institution acted to cover up criminal behavior by misleading, lying and withholding facts. The most celebrated cases in 2002 were in Boston, where a judge had forced the release of 11,000 pages of church documents showing the abusive actions of priests and detailing then-Archbishop Bernard F. Law’s attempts to hide the crimes. The Boston scandal generated hundreds of lawsuits, cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and judgments, and included famous and blood-chilling cases—the repeat sexual abuser Father John Geoghan, who molested scores of boys and girls and was repeatedly transferred, was assigned to a parish in Waltham where he became too familiar with children in a public pool; Cardinal Law claimed he was probably “proselytizing.”

In the piece I criticized Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then archbishop of Washington, who had suggested to the Washington Post that the scandal was media-driven, that journalists are having “a heyday.” Then came the it-wasn’t-so-bad defense: The bishop of Joliet, Ill., Joseph Imesch, said that while priests who sexually abuse children should lose their jobs, priests who sexually abuse adolescents and teenagers have a “quirk” and can be treated and continue as priests.

Really, he called it a quirk.

Does any of this, the finger-pointing and blame-gaming, sound familiar? Isn’t it what we’ve been hearing the past few weeks?

Read more at the Wall Street Journal