After 20 Years, the Dallas Charter Needs a Redo

There are various metrics by which one can judge the progress of the U.S. bishops in handling sex-abuse cases since the Dallas Charter, 20 years ago. The most obvious one is the number of cases of abuse reported to law enforcement and the Church. That metric is not without value but also can be misleading. As we know, victims almost always wait decades before reporting (after all, they were threatened minors when abused) and by that time they may not be inclined to open old wounds.

Here, I am simply going to use as a metric observations gleaned from more than three years of vigilant attention paid to the issue through wide and deep reading, through work with victims, whistleblowers, falsely accused priests and activists.

My work with victims has been of several different kinds. They find me somehow — one was even referred by a bishop. Largely, I help them compose the accounts of their abuse and how it has impacted their lives and letters to their bishops and others they need to contact. I commiserate with them about the hostility they face from their bishops and advise them on how to find help they need, legal and otherwise. It requires a lot of listening to their stories and almost amounts to a part-time job. They are humbly grateful that someone with some status in the Church will listen to them. I am honored that they trust me with their stories.

I was one of those stunned by the revelations of the extent of abuse of minors that lead to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” established during a meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas in June 2002. I had no idea such a considerable number of Catholic clergy were so inclined to such behavior and thought it had to be a few aberrant individuals. I robustly defended the Church in interviews and pointed out that the incidence of abuse was not greater in the Catholic Church than in other religious denominations and less, it seemed, than among schoolteachers.

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