Louisiana’s dioceses shouldn’t cop out when it comes to examining sins of the past, given the credibility crisis faced by Roman Catholic Church leaders all the way to the top.
Last year, each of the state’s prince of the Church pledged to remit, at a bare minimum, lists of names of clergy with credible accusations against them of sexual abuse. Since then, most have produced such a document.
Unfortunately, some have done a worse job than others. All should have emulated the model set by the Most Rev. Michael Duca, Bishop of Baton Rouge. He made public dates of birth, dates of ordination, pastoral assignments, dates of allegations, dates of disposition, and – in most cases – the number of victims that each clergy member is alleged to have molested and where the abuse occurred. He also pledges to keep adding to the list as greater verifiable evidence emerges.
This should come as no surprise. Throughout his tenure in positions of authority in the Church, the former bishop of Shreveport has moved uncompromisingly to root out prospective and practicing clergy members preying on others sexually.
But his fellow prelates in the state haven’t followed through as convincingly. Although as a relatively new diocese Shreveport didn’t have any to report – those in its territory that occurred before its formation Alexandria reported – New Orleans and Houma-Thibodaux left out some of this information. Alexandria produced the sparsest reckoning, not providing work histories of those credibly accused.
A diocesan spokeswoman explained the choice as avoiding inducing more trauma into the congregations. Yet this disserves the faithful by abrogating the opportunity for parish members to direct information about past incidences to church leaders or to feel more at liberty to seek aid if abused or to volunteer assistance to those who they suspect may have suffered abuse.
As Duca noted, “It is hard to lay this list out for all to see, but real renewal and healing cannot take place until we acknowledge the truth of our past. This list reflects the lives of real people and a path of pain and suffering that affects most deeply the persons who are victims of abuse, but also the friends and family that journey with them and the innocent family members of the priests who are accused….
“Hopefully a victim of abuse will see a name on this list and say, that’s me, and this will give them the courage to go to a trusted friend, counselor, family member or come talk to me and share their story and no longer bear the pain alone. We must be willing to share their pain, admit our part in this tragedy so that we can help ease their burden and be for the victims of sexual abuse a support and not a barrier on the path to healing…. I see [this list] as a beginning step in a foundational change in our Church’s way of acting that will renew all the programs we have in place to protect our children with a focus on the healing of the victims of abuse rather than the protection of the status quo.”
Maximum disclosure possible achieves this. The Dioceses of Lake Charles and of Lafayette – which has one of the most notorious histories of any U.S. parish on this issue – have yet to release reports, but should follow Duca’s model.
More than ever, this openness has become crucial as the Church has progressed into another phase of examining past misdeeds of its ordained – those in higher positions within its hierarchy using their power to abuse sexually subordinates. The American Church has seen a very high-profile instance, the dealing of which regrettably doesn’t flatter the worldwide Church’s current leadership.
Most distastefully, the Rev. Theodore McCarrick has faced credible accusations not only of sexual abuse of minors, but of adults as well; specifically, seminarians and penitents. These already have cost the formal cardinal who oversaw the Diocese of Washington, DC, his mitre, and he likely will become laicized before the week’s end.
However, most distressingly, evidence is mounting that McCarrick had faced discipline under the previous pontiff Benedict XVI only to have that ameliorated by Pope Francis. Church insiders have taken the unusual step of criticizing Francis of inadequately responding to convincing evidence of McCarrick’s misconduct and of similar misdeeds by Francis’ confidant the Most Rev. Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta.
Inside of two weeks, Francis will convene a summit to address the Church’s handling of sexual abuse within it. More than any other constituent part, the American Church most openly has confronted this issue, which puts pressure on the Vatican to emulate.
Louisiana bishops can play their part by acting as transparently as possible in their revelations. Holding back not only will discourage the faithful, who rightly feel betrayed by how the Church let this happen, but also will fail to apply the necessary pressure to make the Holy Father, in part an outsider selected to cut through organizational inertia hindering the Church from recognizing its failings, live up to the promise of his investiture.