Sexual Abuse by Priests

Philadelphia Inquirer
August 8, 2006

[See also the cartoon that ran beside this editorial.]

Two former city prosecutors whose open letter to Cardinal Justin Rigali accuses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia of failing to protect parish children could well have quoted 18th-century statesman Edmund Burke.

Burke's famous prescription for "the triumph of evil" - "that good men do nothing" - is far too applicable to the ongoing legacy of sexual abuse of children by priests.

It's outrageous that a year soon will have passed since the shocking grand jury report on priests' sexual abuse of Philadelphia children without legal reforms from Harrisburg.

The former prosecutors, Mariana Sorensen and Maureen McCartney, played key roles in drafting the grand jury report. They wrote to the cardinal urging action on the legislative reforms, as well as needed disclosure by church officials about other suspected abusers in parishes.

Sorensen and McCartney rightly credit efforts by the archdiocese to remove hurdles for victims seeking counseling. But they're also correct to criticize church leaders across the state for failing to demand the amending of criminal statutes so victims can get justice - and for opposing outright a special window allowing new lawsuits for decades-old cases of abuse.

While Cardinal Rigali is on record supporting the criminal statute changes, the state's bishops as a group have taken no stance. That's equivalent to opposing reform.

As Sorensen and McCartney also note in their July 26 letter, the church has ample financial resources to compensate victims. The point they make is that the archdiocese ought to be big enough - in stature - that it "should not hide behind false claims of poverty... to evade its moral responsibility to compensate victims for lives destroyed by the actions of its priests and bishops."

For inspiration, church leaders - and state lawmakers - should view the abuse victims' harrowing accounts put together on video by Philadelphia SNAP, a survivors' group. That's standing up to evil.

View the video at and the letter.

[The following carton ran on the editorial pages on the same day as this editorial.]


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