More Candor Needed

The Day [New York]
Downloaded June 14, 2003

Happily, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York reversed himself Wednesday by announcing he would make public the names of all priests removed permanently for sexually molesting children. Initial reports were that Cardinal Egan would not reveal those names, despite his pledge last year that he would be open in handling sexual abuse cases.

The Catholic Church has such a track record of obfuscation in these matters, though, that one cannot help but worry that his candor will extend only to the most extreme cases of sexual abuse by priests.

The laity needs to be involved when complaints about parish personnel surface. Theses cases simply can't be handled behind closed doors, involving only the Church hierarchy. The church needs as much openness as possible in all stages of such cases to reassure the laity that things will be done differently in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that continues to haunt the institution.

For example, the Archdiocese of Louisville has just negotiated a settlement of $25.7 million to settle cases of abuse going back to the 1940s. Since many of the cases are old, they predate insurance coverage for many parishes. To pay up, the Church will have to sell some assets and cut back significantly on services badly needed during a recession.

It seems reasonable to ask when these questions will finally be laid to rest, and when the Church be restored to the respect it enjoyed before the scandals broke out into the open.

The answer is that this will be a process of rebuilding for the foreseeable future Respect will be restored in proportion to the Church's willingness to be open and honest in its dealings instead of shrouding its actions in secrecy. At best, such secrecy is a vestige of the past that has little place in the modern era. At worst, it's dishonest. It is a habit that the Church can ill-afford in these cases.


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