Last week, while many Catholic eyes were focused on new and hopeful moves to streamline the home office, the supervisors in the field offices were focused on very old and depressing moves to do what’s long been done: ignore, conceal, and “spin” child sex crimes and cover-ups.
And while in Rome all seems to have gone swimmingly, in US chancery offices all hell was breaking loose.
In St. Paul, a police report surfaced saying that St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese staff withheld evidence of likely child porn and now the alleged sex offender can’t be criminally charged. (And in the wake of a different but new child sex scandal there, the vicar general also stepped down this week.)
In Trenton, Bishop David O’Connell essentially admits that, for months, he has hidden the fact that one of his priests sent 1,200 inappropriate sexual text messages to what he thought was a teenaged boy and had sexually harassed at least five teenagers and young men, some of whom were seminarians.
In Chicago, a suspended and credibly accused archdiocesan priest who faces three allegations has taken a secular job counseling grieving families, and Cardinal Francis George claims he’s powerless to stop this.
In New York City, Cardinal Timothy Dolan admitted keeping silent for months about allegations that a deacon molested several kids. (And when this surfaced, Dolan twice urged people with information to report to church officials, making no mention whatsoever of calling law enforcement.)
In St. Louis, Archbishop Robert Carlson dodged a bullet when the criminal trial of Father Joseph Jiang, who faces charges of molesting a girl last summer, was postponed. Carlson was deposed by prosecutors about the case, and a civil abuse and cover-up case against Fr. Jiang charges Carlson with evidence tampering. (The archbishop reportedly asked the alleged victim’s parents to give him a $20,000 check that the accused priest left with the family after he supposedly admitted molesting the girl.)
All this has happened in one country in one week. Meanwhile, revelations and scandals and accusations also surfaced in Argentina, Australia, Ireland, Belgium, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.
We always find the new and shiny attractive and distracting. It’s often the old and familiar, however, that matters more.
And many of us look at disturbing news and try desperately to find some glimmer of hope. That doesn’t give us permission, however, to ignore or minimize or mischaracterize the tragedies that are happening.
So while the highest princes of the church were boosting the hopes of many, their colleagues and underlings were dashing the hopes of many.
And in at least a handful of US dioceses, many were forcefully reminded that the plans for improved Vatican governance don’t really stop the reality of continued local cover-ups of known and suspected child sex crimes.
David Clohessy of St. Louis is the longtime director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Editor's note: Archbishop Robert Carlson was originally misidentified as a cardinal.