Sounding Off on Clergy Sex Abuse

Sounding Off on Clergy Sex Abuse

I work really hard to keep my Irish temper in check, really I do. But there are some things that just make that really hard sometimes. This is one of them.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I have spent every month for 9 years covering the fallout of the clergy sex-abuse crisis for St. Anthony Messenger magazine. I have covered it faithfully and honestly as a reporter, because that’s what good journalists do. Just the facts, right?

But for right now I’m done being a journalist. I’m writing this as a mom and as a Catholic. I am hurt. I am angry. No, make that furious. And I am fed up.

In an attempt to get the whole story, I made the mistake of reading the grand jury report from Philadelphia. What I read made me physically sick and made me think things for which I’m absolutely certain I have to go to Confession.

In 2003, a grand jury released a report chronicling sexual abuse by clergy. It was unable, however, to press any charges becuase of the statute of limitations. Now in 2011, in the overview section of the latest report, are the haunting words, “much has not changed.”

The things allegedly done to children, according to the report, are unfathomable. Children–you know the ones about whom Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Is this how we treat them?

Obviously, something’s amiss if nine years out these stories are still capturing the headlines. Nine years!

Make Things Right

I’ve heard all the apologies, but as I constantly remind my kids, “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do something to try make things right. I know, I know, the Church has instituted changes like the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection. For that they should be commended.

But did you know that the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, refuses to take part in the yearly national audits of how dioceses are implementing child protection programs? And we’re O.K. with that? Do you know if your diocese was found to be compliant? Have you checked? Do you care? You should.

Did you know that Cardinal Bernard Law, who stepped down in 2002 for his handling of the sex-abuse debacle in the Boston Archdiocese, simply relocated to Rome where he currently serves as archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica? That’s acceptable?

The conclusion of the Philadelphia Grand Jury report states:

“In light of the Archdiocese’s reaction to the last grand jury report, we expect that some may accuse us of anti-Catholic bias for speaking of these painful matters. We are not church-haters. Many of us are church-goers. We did not come looking for “scandal,” but we cannot close our eyes to the powerful evidence we heard. We call the church to task, to fix what needs fixing.”

This mom wholeheartedly affirms that call, and I have four very good reasons why. Their names are Maddie, Alex, Riley and Kacey. They are Catholic, they are my kids and the Church owes it to them.

Featured image: CNS photo/Matthew Gambino, Catholic Standard & Times


About the Author

By day, Susan Hines-Brigger is the managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger. By night, she and her husband, Mark, are the caretakers and social directors for their four kids: Maddie, Alex, Riley, and Kacey.
  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry for the pain you’re feeling and I’m sure it’s little consolation to know that thousands of others share your revulsion. At the same time, I’m grateful for your honesty & courage.

    David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (

  • Ssstahr

    This is appalling. It has become very difficult, if not impossible for me to take many of the teachings of the Catholic Church and follow them. So many seem to be a matter of control and not based on the absolute, unconditional love of Jesus Christ. This belief of mine has come about because of the extensive practice of lying about pedophila and abuse of women within the priestly domian and the lack of action on the part of the hierarchy to punish all within the Church who have been involved, from the offending priests to the Cardinals/bishops/ and to Rome, who are hiding these abhoring acts. May the unconditional love of God be with all of us.

  • Frank Lostaunau

    Hi Susan…here’s a big hug from San Francisco. You are not alone, thousands upon thousands of sane people understand your feelings. I look forward reading your column again.

    Have fun with your kids… play, play, play. Slowly but surely the perps are going to get it. They all belong in prison…forever.

  • Matthewmarkmatthew

    What does Jesus ask for? Mark 9: 42-48, and Matthew 18: 6-10.
    The pedophile priests and the Church should heed Jesus’ recommendation in Matthew 19:12.
    No shame in it. Historically many priests have done it.
    Furthermore I recommend that credibly accused ones should immediately undergo the reversible temporary chemical type.
    Everybody, including the pedophile priests, will be better off.
    Lets get our priorities right.

  • Matt Wielgos

    Thanks Susan. As the father of six children, I am also confounded that this still goes on. I am sorry for the good priests who suffer humiliation because of the crimes of others, but if our leadership is unable to handle this, I fear greater tragedy in the future.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you all for your comments. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my feelings.

  • d.and.l

    While we must continue to relentlessly demand compassion and justice for abuse victims, there is compelling evidence showing that the Philadelphia grand jury unfairly maligned the archdiocese in its report. There is another side to this story that is not being told, imho.

    Dave Pierre

    • Geri

      I disagree with some points that you make in your article at “the media report.” In paragraph 2, you imply that the Grand Jury was re-hashing a past case in regard to Father Avery. However, the case of Billy is new information that points to a pattern of re-assigning Avery, carried out by Father Lynn.
      In paragraph 3, you state that in old cases, the investigation is left in the hands of the
      church, because it is assumed that, since the statute of limitations has run out, the police would not investigate. If the child-molester is still alive, the police need to have as much information about him as possible. In civil matters, church officials have no right to decide to withhold information about a dangerous criminal .
      You’re right, Father DiGregorio might be innocent. So let’s have a trial and find out.

  • Anonymous

    Susan.. I am so sorry for your pain… I had the same pain when I found out that our parish priest who confirmed me..and married me..had sexually abused my brother and several of my relatives… in southeastern Ohio..

    It is a rude awakening… and it is NOT fair…

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”

  • Kjgute

    A few of my friends and I have set aside Oct 8 of this year to fast and pray for the Church, the situation is such a disaster, reaching all levels of the Church, that we really feel that fasting and prayer are our only hope. We chose the date because it is the day of atonement, we will be interceding and making atonement for the Church, none of us have been involved in the crimes, but we are Catholic and as such we are one body, what hurts one, hurts all. Here is a link to the site if you would like to join us. Just fast and pray wherever you are that day. Thank you for article, you make very good points. I will be checking my Diocese to see if they are complying.!/event.php?eid=133794296692346

  • Jgross225

    Don’t know if you heard, but the Kansas City Diocese is in the news for our own scandal.  A priest was found with child porn, Bishop Finn was “not fully informed,” they relocated the priest to a convent to say mass for nuns, but somehow this priest continued to interact with children. Now that the entire mess is out in the open, Finn is backpedaling like a clown on a unicycle. 
    This bothers me on so many different levels–the arrogance of the leadership; the disrespect of the legal system; the disregard for children.  So, too, does it bother me that good priests, holy, respectful men are the ones having to apologize to their congregations for the heinous acts of a few aberrant clergy and their arrogant bishops.
    I’m a teacher.  If there was even a whiff of porn anywhere near me, my superintendent wouldn’t take me out of my classroom only to have me teach adult education.  My teaching days would be over, my license revoked, and the distance between me and my district would be oceanic.  And I’d deserve it.
    Just because the man says mass or sits on the bishop’s chair does not make him anything other than a citizen bound by the law.  

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