Three Ways Catholics Can Fight Sexual Abuse in the Church

There are 70 million Catholics across the country. Here’s what they could do to help safeguard the vulnerable from harm, heal those already harmed and improve their church.

First, help expose more wrongdoers.

Every single Catholic should ask every other Catholic: “Have you ever seen, suspected or suffered clergy misdeeds, crimes or cover ups?” If the answer is YES, the response should be “Well, it’s our Christian duty to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, deter future wrongdoing and help our church. So how can I help you report this to independent sources like police, prosecutors or journalists?”

If hundreds of thousands of these conversations were to happen, imagine how many more predators and enablers would be exposed, prosecuted, sued and perhaps ousted from their jobs? Imagine how much more pressure bishops would feel to make real reforms?

(This question should especially be asked of church employees and members who’ve quit. They’re most apt to have helpful information.)

An added benefit to this: the church, and our society, will be safer and healthier as secrecy diminishes, even if bishops do nothing or behave even worse. Police, prosecutors, parents and the public will know who the dangerous and irresponsible church figures are and avoid them.

Second, set up whistleblower reward funds.

Why don’t more church insiders take action when they know of or suspect abuse or cover up? Largely because they fear losing their incomes or their parish communities. They worry they’ll become unemployed or ostracized.

So Catholics should band together — at the diocesan or even parish level — and set up whistleblower reward funds. Not controlled by or even sanctioned by bishops. But for lay people by lay people.

They should pledge to financially help and emotionally support those who find the courage to call police, prosecutors or journalists about corruption and crimes. The message must go out in the pews “If you stick your neck out for kids’s safety, we’ll have your back.”

These funds needn’t be huge or detailed. They could be formal or informal. What matters most is simply that the seminarian, parishioner or church secretary begins to feel that “people like them care, are fighting the church’s deeply-rooted culture of secrecy and will support me if I speak out.”

Third, donate elsewhere.

People in the pews should give generously, but not to their bishops. Instead, they should donate to independent non-profits that fight against child sexual abuse. Or to quasi-independent agencies like Catholic Charities, which are largely controlled by lay boards of directors, not prelates.

Contributions to groups like these are more apt to help the truly needy. And they’re less apt to be spent on high-priced diocesan defense lawyers and spin doctors, or for settlements to victims or salaries for those who commit or conceal abuse.

I suspect that Catholics who do this will sleep more soundly at night, knowing that their dollars are funding solutions and helping charities, not continuing to fund wrongdoers.

It’s true that the church is a monarchy, not a democracy. Historically, in monarchies, those at the bottom can do little to impact those at the top.

But in this case, given the number of Catholics and their increasing dismay at this never-ending scandal, I believe the lowly church members can indeed make a difference. Especially if they carefully turn their outrage into action in ways that common sense tell us will work.

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