Over the span of an 18-month probe, led by the State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a disturbing scandal was unearthed regarding six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses that can only be described as a “systemic coverup by senior church officials” in the sexual abuse of over 1,000 minors over the span of 70-years.
While the culmination of said probe faced push-back from church advocates and lawyers, claiming the report “depicts an era of another century, [that] unfairly [smears] today’s Catholicism”, it ultimately brought about a renewed sense of urgency to tackle the “profoundly disturbing” and “graphic” abuses by once-respected clergymen.
Given the church’s lackadaisical handling of this underground escapade of child molesters and hypocrites, who used their faith as justification for the ‘cleansing of their sins’—a morally egregious reality no doubt—atheists and religious folk alike must demand justice that is both swift and punitive in the face of these ‘predator priests.’
While the report itself has brought forth a sense of accountability at the hands of state’s grand jury, which the church has been reluctant to display historically—ranging from Pennsylvania to the Vatican—a press conference on Tuesday by Bishop Lawrence Persico, sought to usher in a new era where aversion to change was no more.
However, much is needed to be accomplished before that sentiment becomes wholely believed, as a cynic of organized religion, personally.
Upon the release of the extensive grand jury report, 301 ‘predator priests’, those who are now publicly recognized sex offenders—and rightfully so—which, as per se the words of one Harrisburg congregant, is the fault of “[the messed up] people of the church,” rather than that of the church’s teachings itself.
Emily Wuerz, 20, and Antonio Stepanic, 74, both of the Harrisburg congregation, state that while the misgivings of the church hierarchy are unforgivable, their faith in Catholicism remains absolute. Not in the bureaucracy, but in the church’s teachings themselves.
However, not everyone holds their resolve, and rightfully so.
Take the case of Father Thomas Smith for example.
As a priest in northwestern Pennsylvania, Father Smith was placed on numerous “health leaves” throughout the mid-to-late 1980s, which, unknown to most at the time, was because of his “driven, compulsive and long-standing obsession with sexually assaulting children.”
To make matters worse, he wrote to his then-bishop, Donald Trautman, who, lone behold, advised Smith to seek further psychiatric evaluation at a ‘church-run treatment facility’—which, for the record, almost always ended up with the pedophilic behaviour being excused and the clergyman reinstated as ‘men of God.’
Following the release of the near 900-page report, it was found that Smith’s case and others like his were concealed for decades through what the FBI has accurately defined as “a playbook for concealing the truth.”
In it, the FBI’s National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime found that the church employed the use of euphemisms to hide the extents of their crimes. For example, “inappropriate contact” and “boundary issues” were euphemisms for sexual assault, and “his difficulties” to one’s repeated molestations of specific children.
Unfortunately, very few of the alleged victims had cases that were prosecutable, even till this day. However, for Father Smith, that was not the case, fortunately.
Despite the cynicism many hold towards Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church, there is, thankfully, a reason to be hopeful, wherein the future may indeed usher in a new era of accountability from ‘respected’ clergymen. Case and point, Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg.
During yesterday’s mass at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick, Gainer called “for a year long effort of repentance, to support healing and regain the trust of the diocese.”
He then followed this up with “[words] are cheap…but my words…are invested with profound remorse, firm resolve and consistent action that these actions committed by some members of the clergy that violated the innocence and dignity of children must be eliminated from the church’s life.”
While his words, though inspiring and refreshing, service as only the first step to what shall be many in a long and painful process that not only grants a righteous and just verdict to all ongoing cases, but hopefully, over time, allows those dealing with the pain a sense of inner peace, happiness, and a renewed love for life.
Perhaps not in the church, but hopefully in themselves and in those that make life worth living.