Diocese Still Needs to Get Message on Abuse

By Raymond J. Keating
February 13, 2003

As a Christian, I am bewildered, saddened and angered by the continuing revelations regarding sexual abuse of children perpetrated by a minority of Roman Catholic priests, and the subsequent cover-ups executed by church prelates. Frustration leads one to ask: What were these members of the clergy possibly thinking?

After news regarding abuse and deception emerged from the Catholic Church in Boston 13 months ago, it turned out the problem was nationwide in scope. As made painfully clear with the 180-page grand jury report issued earlier this week by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, the scandal included the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The grand jury report not only presents accusations of dark and disturbing actions by certain priests against vulnerable youths, but also portrays a Rockville Centre Diocese far more interested over the years in protecting its pocketbook, public relations and abusive priests than its flock. It seems clear that a perverse system of secrecy still would have persisted if not for the glaring, uncomfortable light of the media, lawsuits and the justice system.

The diocese's response to the grand jury report was distressing. The opening sentence complained that it was unfair the media got the grand jury report before the diocese could review it. And for a church body to defend itself by saying that while sexual abuse is "a grave sin and a crime" but "ways of dealing with it have developed over time" is shameful.

Also, the diocese's declaration that a sound system for dealing with accusations of abuse is now in place is less convincing given who is in charge. How can confidence be placed in Bishop William Murphy, given his own actions as Cardinal Bernard Law's top deputy for almost eight years in Boston? As Newsday recently reported after examining documents related to sex-abuse cases in Massachusetts, Murphy was involved in reassigning suspected priests to other Boston parishes or moving them to other states without fully revealing their sordid histories.

Indeed, the revelations regarding the sexual abuse of children and related cover-ups point to a shocking level of, at best, moral obtuseness among many within the church hierarchy or, at worst, blatant disregard for what is right and wrong.

And let's remember what is at stake here. It would be bad enough if this sordid activity occurred in the business world or in government, but this is the church, which is in the business of saving souls. I shake my head when hearing some priests and bishops proclaim that such sexual abuse is no more prevalent in the priesthood than in other occupations. Not only do I doubt the assertion, but shouldn't we expect more from the church?

While we are all sinners - including members of the clergy - that is not an excuse to sin. Christianity teaches that, if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. But forgiveness of sin does not wipe away the earthly consequences of one's actions. If not for the statute of limitations, the abusers and some of those involved in covering up such crimes would be in jail, and deservedly so. In fact, a grand jury investigation in Massachusetts is exploring whether those in the hierarchy of the Boston church can be charged for shielding abusive priests.

Also, true repentance should lead to changed actions. St. Paul said, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20). In this case, one might expect those involved in the cover-up to step down for the good of all involved, including the vast majority of priests who have been unfairly tarnished by these scandals.

It also must be noted that according to Christian teachings, the priests and bishops involved in these despicable acts are guilty of grave spiritual abuse. In Mark 9:42, Jesus offered this stern warning: "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck."

Indeed, how many children turned their backs on God as a result of being sexually abused by a priest and then being further mistreated by the church? These abusers and deceivers in the church have not only placed their own souls in peril, but also risked the souls of their victims and countless others by potentially undermining their faith.

Raymond J. Keating serves as chief economist for the Small Business Survival Committee. He can be reached at


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