One of the best things that the bishops of the American Catholic Church did during the great wave of sex abuse revelations 16 years ago — and yes, there’s a low bar for “best” — was to establish a National Review Board, staffed by prominent layman, with the authority to commission an independent report on what exactly had happened in the church.
The result was a careful analysis by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that detailed the patterns of priestly sex abuse in American Catholicism between 1950 and 2002: How many, how often, what kind of abuse, what strategy of predation, how many victims, which sex, what age, how the priest’s superiors responded (or didn’t), how often the courts were involved, what scale of settlements were paid, and so on through a wealth of grim statistical detail.
Then attached to that data was a larger discussion from the Review Board’s members, which managed to be reasonably evenhanded about subjects (priestly celibacy and homosexuality, above all) that lend themselves to culture-war hysteria both inside and outside the church. Thanks to the members’ labors, any journalist or historian interested in assessing the problem of priestly sex abuse dispassionately, and anyone seeking the truth about a lurid and polarizing story, can turn to a sober and detailed accounting — one that that the church itself commissioned.
Now, unfortunately, it needs to happen again. But what needs to be commissioned this time, by Pope Francis himself if the American bishops can’t or won’t, isn’t a synthetic overview of a systemic problem. Rather, the church needs an inquest, a special prosecutor — you can even call it an inquisition if you want — into the very specific question of who knew what and when about the crimes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and why exactly they were silent.
Read more at New York Times