National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Posted Friday, February 27, 2004 at 2:27 p.m. CST
By Joe Feuerherd
More than 10,000 children were abused by priests over the past half-century because the church failed to weed out candidates unfit for the priesthood while too many bishops put other priorities, such as "fear of scandal," ahead of protecting minors.
The report did not spare the church hierarchy -- casting considerable blame for the crisis at the feet of bishops who were all-too-ready to excuse the abusive behavior of priests in their dioceses. Bishops failed to act against abusive priests, said the report, because they "treated allegations as sporadic and isolated," while the "fear of scandal caused them to practice secrecy and concealment."
Fear of litigation
Further, the "Bennett Report" (named after the Washington attorney, Robert Bennett, who chaired the subcommittee that drafted the study) found that "many sexually dysfunctional and immature men were ordained into the priesthood" and that the seminaries that trained them did not adequately prepare them "for the challenges of the priesthood, particularly the challenge of living a chaste, celibate life."
While offering no definitive view of the role of gay priests in the crisis, the report states that "there are many outstanding priests of a homosexual orientation who live chaste, celibate lives" but "any evaluation of the causes and context of the current crisis must be cognizant of the fact that more than 80 percent of all the abuse at issue was of a homosexual nature."
Celibate or not?
The report also charged that "Bishops and other church leaders did not do enough in the way of 'fraternal correction' to ensure that their [fellow bishops] dealt with the problem in an effective manner."
The report was one of two released by the review board. A study conducted for the board by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that more than 4,000 priests abused more than 10,000 young people between 1950 and 2002, with the greatest number of cases occurring between 1960 and 1985. Roughly 4 percent of priests in this period had a "credible" accusation of abuse made against them, according to the John Jay report.
Gregory said it was up to individual bishops and to the Vatican to determine if a bishop who knowingly transferred abusive priests should resign.
Meanwhile, victim advocates largely dismissed the reports. The John Jay study, said Barbara Blain, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is "not a sign of greater openness" by the bishops. Rather, she said, the report was "forced on the bishops by years of seemingly endless revelations, removal, prosecutions, admissions, exposes, verdicts, lawsuits, and excuses."
Joe Feuerherd is NCR's Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
NCR will offer analysis and commentary on the reports from the National Review Board in its next print issue.
National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004
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