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John Wayne's Holster: Abusive Clergy in the City of Brotherly Love
John Wayne's Holster
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Abusive Clergy in the City of Brotherly Love

Basilica of Sts. Peter & Paul, Philadelphia

Scandals involving the sexual abuse of children are becoming all too common in the US. The perpetrators of these heinous acts come from all walks of life. However, when they come from professions that are supposed to look after and guide our children- like teachers or scout leaders or clergy - they are all the more disturbing.

Three years ago, a widespread sexual abuse scandal involving Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston made big headlines. The fact that the perpetrators were ordained men of the cloth is bad enough; however, even worse is the fact that there was a organized effort by their ordained superiors to cover-up their crimes.

Now a similar scandal has broken in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. A grand jury report released by Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham documents hundreds of incidents of child sexual abuse committed by at least 63 different priests. The acts range from fondling all the way up to perverted acts of sodomy and masochism.

The cover-up of these abuse cases can be traced to the top ranks of the Archdiocese. According to the grand jury report, Archbishops Krol (1961-1988) and Bevilacqua (1988-2003) “left abuser priests in parishes where they had access to children, or reassigned them to other parishes without notifying even the pastor”. Now the Church is being asked to explain what happened. Instead of coming forth and admitting their complicity, the Church prefers to behind tardy apologies and lame excuses.

There is absolutely no excuse that will ever justify their behavior. The Church’s attempt to prevent embarrassment by hiding these crimes has created a shelter for these sociopathic priests to continue to molest hundreds of children - which in many cases destroyed the children’s lives. Equally disturbing is that fact that the statute of limitations on the vast majority of these cases has expired, meaning that guilty parties will go unpunished. I guess we should be content that the guilty priests have been suspended or are retired and comfortably residing in retirement communities where they can continue to draw support from the Sunday collection plate.

Personally, I find the lack of justice to be reprehensible! I grew up in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. I knew several of the charged priests. They were posted in my home parish after their crimes were known by the Church - where they were free to strike again! As such, my friends and family were put at risk. Were any of them abused? Has the Church conducted its own internal investigation to determine how many unreported incidents have occurred? Has the Church provided counseling to the known victims? Or don't they care that sexual abuse is a crime that perpetuates itself, as uncounseled victims are more likely to become abusers themselves. I know this to be all too true, for I myself was sexually abused as a child. While my abuser was not a priest, he was a man who himself had been abused by a priest – a priest from the Philadelphia Archdiocese who incidentally is not named in the grand jury report. How many other unnamed priests are there?

The priests who committed these ignominious acts, and the Church leaders who sheltered them need to be held accountable. For starters, all these men – whether they are common priests or the Archbishop - should be defrocked and removed from service in the Church. Those convicted of lesser crimes, such as fondling or inappropriate behavior should be prevented from any contact with children and should be placed on probation where appropriate. Those convicted of more heinous acts, such as sodomy, oral copulation, or masochism should be forced to perform extensive community services or be imprisoned, depending on the severity of and the time elapsed from their crimes.

We also need to take a step back to gain some perspective on this scandal and its affects on the Church. As opprobrious and inexcusable as the sex scandal is, we should not allow the vile behavior of a few sociopathic priests to tarnish the image of the vast majority of God-fearing priests who have served their communities and their Church well. I myself owe a great deal to the priests and nuns of the Philadelphia Archdiocese for the education and guidance I have received over the years. It is a debt that I can not possibly repay. It is a shame that all their work and dedication is being overshadowed by the actions of a few. Unfortunately for the righteous, they only have the Church to blame.


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