Roman Catholics and non-Catholics alike reeled from the news that the Pennsylvania attorney general has released a grand jury report detailing—and the Czar means detailing—hundreds of reports of child abuse by Pennsylvania priests between the 1940s and 2000s. In most cases, priests are named directly and corroborating evidence provided in written form. Over 301 individual priests are identified (some names are currently redacted).
The Czar reviewed about half of the over-800-page report before giving up in exhaustion last night. Some findings:
- The report clearly shows a pattern of cover-up by the Church, even detailing the precise methods the archdioceses used to avoid prosecution. Of this, there can be no doubt that the scope of the abuse was known by the Church, and that it sometimes took extraordinary measures to bury evidence and deny facts.
- Over 1,000 individual victims are identified, but the report acknowledges that many of them came forward only as news spread that the report was being compiled. The writers of the report are aware that public release of this report may result in thousands more victims coming forward. An interesting facet of mass-child-abuse cases is that many victims keep silent for decades assuming no one will believe them; however, when seeing that “Rev. Joe Smith” has been identified doing X, the victims often realize “Hey, he did that to me, too” and then realize they were not alone, and are now credible.
- More interestingly, the report acknowledges the cooperation of the Church in its compilation. Even though the report lambasts current Church leaders, the report acknowledges the various archdioceses of Pennsylvania (with the exception of Philadelphia, which is still preparing information) were readily assisting with producing evidence: letters, memoranda, reports, and more were promptly turned over, and Church officials almost seem to be eager to get this information public. The report even stipulates that, for the first time, there is reason to be optimistic the Catholic Church is cleaning house at last.
The Czar noted that despite the staggering quantity of cases, the pattern of events is rather predictable for child sexual predators. Indeed, the actions of the accused are in almost perfect conformity with how child sexual predators operate in the general public. Brace yourselves.
- Many predators enter the priesthood primarily as an avenue to get near children. Predators have long used schools, scouts, sports, and park district programs as opportunities to be around large groups of kids, in order to increase the chances of finding a perfect victim. The Roman Catholic priesthood is especially ideal as a vehicle—non-Catholics, who may tolerate an annual dinner of painful, fund-raising awkwardness from their pastor, rarely appreciate how closely Catholic priests are incorporated into family life. Priests are frequent dinner guests, provide baby-sitting services, drive kids to baseball games, bring them home from school, and perform a thousand more tasks that non-Catholics would expect family members to provide. Priests, historically, are everywhere in Catholic family life. A hungry predator might be happy to serve as a scout leader or Little League instructor, but holy cats—Catholics actually invite you into their homes…for long, unmonitored stretches! This is tough for a predator to resist. As a result, the priesthood is especially vulnerable to these predators.
- The attacks on children begin fairly soon after the priest is ordained, in case after case.
- Likewise, the predators don’t seem to grow out of it: one priest was elderly when he was arrested by police in a sting operation; he was on his way to meet a non-existent young teen in a police setup.
- Child sexual predators are, pretty much universally, pathological liars. They deny, shrug off, reassure, apologize, and beg forgiveness. “It will never happen again,” they plead, while simultaneously figuring out how quickly they can move onto their next victim. The grand jury report is filled with anecdotes of accused priests admitting their fault, agreeing to treatment, promising they have learned their lesson, and immediately seeking out the next victim. Many people familiar with child predators cynically dismiss therapy, commentating that these people cannot be treated and released: they will always be pathologically compelled to commit more attacks. There is nothing in this report that will convince you otherwise: these predators never, ever stopped until they were arrested or died.
- Child predators depend upon the gullible. In most cases, pastors and bishops were immediately informed by parents or victims that they had a sexual predator serving at the parish. This isn’t something that always takes years to be revealed—it seems hundreds of stories confirm the parishes were notified at once about an attack. However, the release of letters, journals, and memoranda reveal all too often the pastor or bishop (a) taking the matter seriously, (b) talking to the priest in question, and (c) being assured by the predator that this was a one-time thing or the kid exaggerated or that this could never have happened, and (d) the pastor or bishop believing it. While there was unquestionably informed and determined complicity by many archdiocese officials, you can’t help but see that a lot of these pastors and bishops were just a bunch of foolish suckers, who believed a con man.
- A priest’s job is, among other things, to forgive. So when a predator begs forgiveness, there seemed to be a tendency for a lot of Church leaders to do just that. “Okay, but don’t let it happen again.” It always happened again; the predator knew it would when he begged forgiveness.
- You also get a sense that a lot of the Church leaders were afraid or aware that eliminating these predators from the priesthood would result in a serious loss of manpower. One bishop begged his archbishop to, at least, send a predator priest to a place where he could have no access to children at all…but the archbishop curtly reminded the bishop that this wasn’t going to be possible, based on the serious shortage of priests in parish schools. In other words, yeah, we can start bouncing these animals out of the priesthood, but who’se going to backfill all the work? Not I, thought the Church leader.
- The Church had no clue what they were dealing with, and knew it. There was so much buck-passing that, in retrospect, it’s painful to read. Bishop A knows that he has a child abuser in his diocese, so he finds another diocese that’s short a priest. So he sends Bishop B a glowing letter of recommendation, claiming that the priest in question, despite what you may have heard, does a great job with the community. Bishop B begrudging accepts the transfer, knowing that Bishop A probably just screwed him over. And Bishop B starts looking toward Bishop C, wondering if he’s heard the rumors. And the predator gets moved from community to community, each unaware of the monster stepping into their midst. Great for the predator: fresh victims. Great for Bishop A: he just got rid of a major headache.
- When the problem became undeniable for a bishop, he would send the predator off to a special hospital, run by the Church, to treat priests of this terrible affliction. The bishop washes his hands of the affair—the priest is finally getting the help he needs and will be sent somewhere else in the future, fully rehabilitated. Problem solved. Except, the evidence shows, this special hospital was staffed by morons or charlatans who had no idea what they were dealing with. Did any of the therapy work? Was anyone successfully treated for pedophilia? Seems not. After a few months, a refreshed and fully capable predator was released back into the public.
- Child predators are good at spotting victims: apathetic or absent parents, unpopular with other kids, into unusual hobbies, and who spend time alone. The kid who is picked last for teams, who shows little interest in a variety of activities, or is encouraged by parents to be different often become easily manipulated by an authority figure. You all know the grooming process: special attention, long conversations in the car about whatever the kid is interested in, purchased gifts for no special reason, an arm around the shoulder, a lingering hug, and massages all progress to the victim lowering his or her defenses. After the attack, careful psychological manipulation: your parents won’t believe you, this was for your own good, you deserved it because you started it, and more. It’s all about setup and execution. Do you see any of these attributes in your kids? A predator will, from a mile away.
- Child predators are not lone wolves. This seems hard for the public to believe, but while some operate quietly in isolation, a huge percentage of them link up and create a network. The report details the number of priests who would pass kids around; one group even gave victims special gold crosses to wear around their neck…to alert others in the network that “this kid’s an easy target.” The number of incidents involving multiple priests, from different parishes or even different dioceses, working together to attack victims is not for the faint of heart.
Having said all this, the Czar has known perhaps thousands of priests over the centuries he’s been stomping around the earth. He has, to his knowledge, never met one accused or suspected of anything (oh, he has met a couple of oddballs, though!). So while the percentage of priests who do unspeakable evil to children may be slightly higher than the number of laity who do the same evils, there is no question that the percentage of brilliant, wonderful, colorful, and basically holy men who are priests far outweighs the general public’s capacity for such grace. The evil that some priests do is severe, but it cannot outweigh the work of God performed by priests daily.
This is no excuse: just a reminder that the Church should have nothing to fear in its seemingly new fervor to expose and eradicate this evil. No matter how many terrible people the Church identifies and removes, there will always be far more good people remaining in it. So while the report is right to apologize to its readers for the heart-wrenching stories it contains, it is also right to remind the reader, as it does in multiple places, that ultimately the Church is positive institution and deserves to participate in its own purification.
May it do so, to the ends of the earth. The Czar is hopeful that every archdiocese in the United States take the same steps and reveal everything the Church knows about the evils it houses or housed in its heart. And may it do so quickly.