Cardinal Knowledge

Church Leaders Can't Run From the Scandal, but They Can Hide

It's the Father Granadinos whom American Catholics are furious about. It's because, according to accusations, 18 years ago the Reverend David F. Granadino would visit the California home of 13-year-old altar boy Jeff Griswold (whose father had died years before) on the pretense of hearing the boy's confession. Instead, when the two were alone, Father Granadino would "take off some of the boy's clothing and spank, kiss, or massage him," according to The New York Times.

Even if this sort of thing happens only once, even if it happens decades ago, and even if it happens to a post-pubescent minor—it happens. And someone has to be held responsible for the pain.

"These are kids who are exploited for the sexual gratification of adults," says Dr. Diane Schetky, a child forensic psychiatrist in Maine. For that child, "there's a loss of trust in authority, and there are permutations in their adult life. It's not OK that it happens just once. It's never OK."

Sadly, sexual abuse of children happens a lot in this country, and it probably happens much more often in lay society than it does in the Catholic Church. There are 46,000 priests in the United States, and while there is no empirical data detailing how many priests have sexually molested minors, the most likely estimate is around 1 percent. (The Vatican says the number is smaller; groups of victims of clerical sexual abuse say it's bigger.) The Associated Press has reported that "at least 176 priests suspected of molesting minors have either resigned or been taken off duty in 28 states" since January.

It's a horrible thing that 99 percent of priests who do their job admirably and with respect for both Catholicism and for their parishioners are afraid or embarrassed to go out in public wearing their collars. But that pain was inflicted by their bosses, not the guys who give them dirty looks at the gas station.

This scandal, as many have pointed out, is less about sexual abuse than it is about cover-up. But really, it's about the abuse of power on two levels. The first is the repugnant abuse of moral, authoritative, and physical power a priest might use to exploit a confused or naive child or teenager. And the second is the maddeningly arrogant abuse of power the leaders of the church have employed to hide the facts from America's 62 million Catholics.

As much as the cardinals would like the issue to fade, it won't. "We now believe that we are in control of the situation and this will not happen again," said Cardinal McCarrick in reference to moving priests around the country. But take a look at last week's headlines: Reverend Paul Shanley arrested for child rape. State legislators amending statutes of limitations for abuse victims, giving them more time to sue the church. The Boston Archdiocese backing out of a multimillion-dollar settlement it had agreed to with some victims of priest John J. Geoghan, provoking fresh outrage among Boston Catholics.

"Every day you hear something new" about the crisis, the Times reported the Boston Archdiocese's chancellor as saying. "Every day someone else comes forward" to allege sexual abuse. "The problem's expanding."

At the U.S. Conference of Bishops meetings in June, lay Catholics will no doubt voice their discontent with the way the church's leaders have behaved. But they need to do more, and some are. Lay Catholic grassroots movements are beginning to sprout and get noticed. One group, Voice of the Faithful, is headed by Dr. Jim Muller, a founder of the U.S. branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. The church needs to acknowledge these movements and adopt their ideas (and some of their demands) into the way it conducts its business. A good start would be to institute strict, enforceable nationwide policies on sexual abuse—past and future—of minors.

But after claiming he wanted to listen to Boston's laity, Cardinal Law ordered his priests to ignore an uprising of lay Catholic leaders last month organized by parish pastoral councils. The volunteers—who were not appointed by the archdiocese—wanted to form an organization that would help their church leaders organize and fundraise. Cardinal Law called the idea "potentially divisive."

The laity has a history of changing the church through grassroots efforts—at least every 900 years or so. "Up until the late 11th century, lay people had a large influence in appointing bishops and priests in their area," said Boston College theology professor Elise Feyerherm. The current climate seems ideal for lay Catholics to change the church's direction, even if those inside it resist.

Related Story:
"Burning Issues: Gay Catholics Try to Face Down the Church's Demons" by Patrick Giles

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