I spent two days earlier this week in Milwaukee at a convention at the Marquette University Law School for an upcoming article in St. Anthony Messenger. The topic is one that I, like most Catholics, can’t stand: the abuse of minors and others by Catholic clergy. This conference, on this weary, distressing theme, is about a fresh approach: “restorative justice.”
I’ve been writing on the sexual-abuse topic on and off since 1993, when the U.S. bishops first established their committee on sexual abuse, after they fought with the issue together, behind closed doors, since 1985. We all know that that effort didn’t do the job: In 2001 I was at the bishops’ meeting in Dallas a few months after the January disclosures of widespread damage and cover-up, and Boston lit the fires for public-driven reform.
There literally were 2,000 media members present. I heard one jaded videographer call the hotel escalator that led to and from the bishop’s assembly hall the “perp walk.” Those were tough times for the Church—a day of reckoning that is by no means complete.
I was in the Boston area soon after with the founders of the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful for another SAM article.
Every time it seems that things are finally falling into better order, there is another revelation—the crisis in Ireland, in Australia and now, in 2011, another round in the U.S., following recent events in Philadelphia. It sounds like some version of 2001 Boston all over again, but now with an embarrassingly snowballed, lay-led sexual abuse review board!
It seems that a jury got more records of abuse than had the Archdiocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board had access to. What? To make matters worse, every year the archdiocese was “certified” as following national guidelines for child protection. Time will tell the extent of malfeasance, but this shows a fundamental weakness in the review-board process: It depends upon the goodwill, and Church-sponsored certification, of the participants.
Here in Milwaukee, Church representatives from Ireland, from Australia and from Washington, D.C., are sitting in a lecture hall among victim-survivors, law-school faculty and representatives from parishes in this region. Only a few journalists are here—Tom Roberts from National Catholic Reporter, Willie Thorn from local diocesan paper, and yours truly from St. Anthony Messenger.
In addition to listening a lot and taking notes, I conducted a few interviews, including an at-length interview later with the conference organizer, Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and now a Distinguished Professor of Law at Marquette (pictured above). You can see my flip-video interviews with SNAP activist Peter Isely (from Milwaukee) and the U.S. bishops’ chair of sexual abuse committee, Blase Cupich, of Spokane, Washington, in a few days (they’re a bit too big to post here just now).
One of the best things I heard at the conference was a challenge from Dublin, Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: “The truth will set you free; half-truths will not.” Bishops, take heed!