The Catholic Church in America is going through another season of scandal. Earlier this summer, the powerful retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, was removed from the College of Cardinals after credible reports that he had sexually molested the first boy he ever baptized. Accompanying stories also revealed a culture in the Church in which many knew of McCarrick’s reputation for sexually preying on seminarians. Yet his rise in the Church and his influence were never impeded, not even after the Church made court settlements with his victims.
Now comes the Pennsylvania grand-jury report, which has unearthed decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in six Catholic dioceses in that state. The details of crimes by priests are stomach-churning. And the feeble response of their bishops, shuffling abusers from one assignment to the next, or trying to delay investigations until the statute of limitations passed, is utterly demoralizing.
The grand-jury report does seem to show what the Church in America has claimed, that the incidence of child sex abuse began dropping in the 1990s and further after the Dallas Charter reforms of 2002. Many of the named priests are deceased or out of the priesthood. But the current scandals also reveal the inadequacy of those reforms. The bishops deliberately exempted themselves from accountability measures instituted in Dallas. And the grand-jury report shows that bishops who responded in a way that looks criminally negligent not only escaped the scrutiny of the law but continued to advance in their careers in the Church.