Editorial: Let’s hope church is sincere this time in fighting abuse

Too many evil people have hidden behind robes and collars and religious institutions to do evil things to children
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, is pictured in 2014
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, is pictured in 2014

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

With all due respect to Albany Catholic Diocese Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, why do you think prosecutors need an invitation to investigate child sex abuse in your church?

They should have been investigating it already, and church officials should have been helping them all along.

Instead, we get more polite pawing at a vicious problem in which thousands of children have been abused over the decades by priests and other officials in the Catholic Church while the church has hidden pedophile priests from prosecution and impeded efforts for victims to get justice.

We understand and respect that Bishop Scharfenberger is a holy man with a good heart. But forgive us our skepticism. Too many evil people have hidden behind robes and collars and religious institutions to do evil things to children and gotten away with it with the church’s blessing.

Given the history, an invitation isn’t enough. Neither are the “prayers and reflection” expressed by the bishop in inviting Albany District Attorney David Soares to review diocese records and to look at how sexual abuse cases have been handled.

If the bishop and his superiors in the church sincerely want to end this horrible practice once and for all, they can address Mr. Soares’s skepticism about the level of cooperation that prosecutors might expect from the church, and throw open the doors to every record on every accused priest, every complaint filed, every letter written, every dollar spent paying to silence the victims.

They can participate in and cooperate fully with the investigation into church abuses by state Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who is seeking out victims and working with criminal prosecutors around the state. 

They can not fight the subpoenas sent to each diocese around the state seeking documents related to abuse allegations, payments to victims and findings from church investigations.

And they can break with church leadership and lobby hard for passage of the Child Victims Act in the state.

This bill — which has been languishing in Albany for a dozen years thanks in large part to opposition from the church and other organizations that deal with children — would expand the statute of limitations on sex crimes and create a one-year window that would allow older victims of church sex abuse to come forward and seek justice through the criminal and civil courts. The one-year window is needed because so many abuse cases have been buried for too long. It needs to be a part of this legislation, and the church needs to stop fighting it.

And they can pledge to support those victimized by the church when they bring their cases forward. Agree to cooperate fully with individual investigations and to support the victims when a legitimate claim is brought.

Your Excellency, do what you and your predecessors should have been doing all along — looking out for the victims.

Let’s hope this isn’t another empty gesture being made just because the issue is once again prominent in the news.

A Philadelphia grand jury’s report last month alleging that 300 predator priests have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims (and likely many more) is a new development.

But it’s nothing we haven’t all heard before.

It’s a new development that Pope Francis may have known for at least five years that former Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was sexually molesting seminarians, yet did nothing about it. It’s also alleged now that other church leaders were aware of McCarrick’s conduct throughout his long career.

But it’s nothing new that church leaders covered up abuses of others. 

Sixteen years have passed since The Boston Globe published its Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in 2002 exposing abuses and cover-up in the Catholic Church. Those articles appeared well before the movie about the investigation, “Spotlight,” brought it all up again for a new generation in 2015.

And Pope John XXIII — who served nearly 60 years ago, was made a saint, and who was beloved by the generation of our parents and grandparents — faced the same allegations against the church we find ourselves facing today. Yet the abuses and the cover-ups persisted under his reign and the reign of his five successors.

Bishop Scharfenberger’s gestures are welcome and encouraging.

But until they are backed by tangible, measurable action and unprecedented cooperation that leads to an end of the abuses and justice for the victims, we’ll respectfully withhold our praise.

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