Clergy Sexual Abuse—Again!

Clergy Sexual Abuse—Again!

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!


About the Author

John Feister is editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine. He has a B.A. in American Studies from University of Dayton, and master's degrees in Humanities and in Theology from Xavier University. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, and was previously an adviser to the Communications Committee of the U.S. Catholic bishops (2000-2006). His latest book, Thank You, Sisters: Stories of Women Religious and How They Enrich Our Lives is available from the Franciscan Media catalog. He has cauthored four books with Richard Rohr (Franciscan Media), and coauthored, with Charlene Smith, the biography of Thea Bowman (Orbis books).
  • Patrick O’Malley

    The only responsible action is for parents to keep children away from Catholic priests.

    The Catholic church is still such a horribly dangerous place for children, and most of the Catholic congregation that remains will still defend the pedophile priests rather than the child victims that were raped.

    Its not your fault for not being able to keep up, but there have been similar scandals this month in Seattle (a $166 million settlement), Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska, Tennessee, California, Ohio, Alabama, and a bunch of other places.

    Do the following Google search, and see what shows up.,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=da466ef0eba5f8fb

    The Church has been vicious in covering this up, as the details of that Philadelphia Grand Jury report from last month would show. Read the first 6 pages of the Grand Jury report at to see an example of how Philadelphia uncovered horrific examples of pedophile priests that were serving in the community until this month, because of leaders in the church. People claim that it has been fixed, but it hasn’t.

    So many Catholics have become so tolerant of child rape, and of lying and dishonesty from their church leaders. Let’s hope that the court system and non-Catholic community and can teach them a little bit about child care, honesty, and some basic decency.

    • Masmith

      Mr. O’Malley.
      I just happened along your article while reading articles in American I can agree that I too am also disgusted with still new scandals in the church. I wanted to just comment about what you said above about responsible actions for parents to keep their children away from Catholic priests. You are right, the responsible thing has always been to keep any parent away from any adult for long periods of time. My mom never wanted us to be alone, or left alone with any adult. I am not trying to make this abuse sound like it is the parents fault, but you statement is dumb! Parents have to do this with anyone. I don’t like boy scouts, girl scouts or any kind or ogranization that promotes children being left alone with any adult! It is wrong. PLEASE SOME COMMON SENSE HERE. I have also seen false allegations of abuse as well. “Cardinal Bernadine” as an example. I am not blind to the churches warts, through out all of history. You can not let anyone take your church away! We will continue to see this happen, and it is like a knife stabbing you in the heart every time a new case comes up. All laws need to become stronger to protect children, and all parents need to be parents and realize this is the end of the innocence! There is not and option. Always listen to your gut instinct. I feel schools are doing a better job about teaching that also, even if the parent does not what to deal with this realism our world has become. NO, Mr. O’Malley I do not believe that “so many catholics have become tolerant of child rape, and yes Mr. O’Malley there is dishonesty in every kind of church is this world, NOT JUST CATHOLIC. You do not speak for me! You do not speak for many people! You can not just generalize just as I can not say parents are irresponsible in the first place!

  • Let Go Let Peace

    Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gretchen Paules and I am the Administrative Director for a newly formed nonprofit called the Let Go…Let Peace Come In Foundation. Our mission at LGLPCI is to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post their childhood photo & caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website By uniting survivors from around the globe we hope to provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out or have been cast aside with disbelief.

    I am writing to you today to ask you to please consider sharing our website with survivors you may come in contact with. Worldwide there are more than 100 million adult survivors living with the effects of childhood sexual abuse today. It is through the support of courageous advocates like you that we will succeed in our effort to help one survivor at a time. Our organization offers survivors a safe and judgment-free place where they can tell their story and continue their healing process. We realize that customs differ from culture to culture and we offer to post any stories anonymously, if the survivors so desires. Please check out our youtube video at Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted.

  • Logmion

    At C.1:Q.96, Nostradamus foretells of an iconoclastic prophet, using
    refined language to continually educate, who is raised in the Last

    Logmion is here and says “Bring Back Petrus