The news about the Grand Jury’s investigation into the Philadelphia Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal is shocking: http://www.npr.org/2011/03/09/134384800/Pa-Archdiocese-Suspends-Priests-Named-In-Sex-Report. It should also be a warning to all bishops that in the United States, the police and courts are not going to be sympathetic to a church that does not actively and pro-actively work to prevent child sex abuse. As the news story says, what is happening in Philadelphia is going to send shock waves across America in how the police, prosecuting attorneys and courts deal with clergy sex abuse – in any church or denomination. Churches which try to hide behind protecting clergy rather than protecting children by claiming the dangers of “false allegations” are going to find themselves in deep trouble with the law and with courts. As the news reports it (emphases is mine):
“The grand jury report accused a monsignor, three priests and a parochial schoolteacher of abusing kids or failing to prevent abuse by others. It also said that as many as 37 priests remained in active ministry with allegations or reports of inappropriate behavior or sexual abuse of minors.”
Failing to remove priests or bishops against whom allegations of sexual abuse are brought from positions of ministry is now going to be interpreted as a failure to protect children from abuse. Churches will pay for this failure through summary judgments against them in courts. Showing some form of sympathy to sexual abusers – moving them to a new location, allowing them to serve under some form of watchfulness or mentoring – is going to be interpreted as the church failing to protect its own children.
“Anytime a credibly accused child molester is publicly identified or suspended, kids are safer. However, it’s crucial to remember that the grand jury found widespread fault and deceit and recklessness by church officials.”
Church leaders need to be aware of how the courts and the law are going to interpret actions taken for or against both the victims of abuse who make allegations and those alleged to have abused others. It is not only the abusers themselves whom the courts are now going after – they are looking to hold accountable the church officials responsible for supervising these clergy including bishops.
“This report takes it to another level because they go after the vicar for clergy — that person who has the authority of the Archbishop Justin Rigali to handle priest affairs and priest assignments, and that person now is being called to justice,” says Wall, who has worked on priest sex abuse cases across the country.”
Bishops, priests and parishioners need to make themselves totally familiar with their church’s Sexual Misconduct Policies as well as the laws in the states in which they live. A failure to adhere to Church policies or to recognize the authority of the state in child sexual abuse cases will prove costly in court to the church and to church leaders personally.
He says the situation in Philadelphia could have ripple effects on litigation nationwide.
“It really does change the face of things, because not only can we look to the bishop or the religious superior, but now we can specifically look at how different lower, midlevel managers could be charged with child endangerment,” Wall says.
The failure by bishops to enforce Church policies regarding sexual misconduct, the failure to remove from ministry sexual abusers and predators is going to be understood by the police and courts as the crime of child endangerment by bishops.
As Orthodox, perhaps we have imagined that the sexual scandals of the Catholic Church will not touch us. The law of the land however will treat our church, priests and bishops the same as Catholic priests and bishops who engaged in sexual abuse or who failed to protect children.
Bishops and priests are charged to keep watch over their flocks and spiritual children by taking seriously our policies and procedures in dealing with cases of clergy sexual misconduct, of predation, and of abuse. Those who engage in these immoral and illegal behaviors can indeed repent and express remorse, but they should not be allowed to continue as clergy in the Church under any circumstances. Bishops should not put themselves in the position of being accused of child endangerment by failing to deal with sexual misconduct, abuse or predatorial behavior by any clergy. While some may fear this imposes secular/state law over Church canon law in dealing with such problems and curtails the power of the bishops in these matters, there is the reality that we are supposed to be in the world, but not of it. In the world the Church recognizes certain authority that the state has over its citizens. Sexual abuse of children is in the eyes of the United States not simply a sin or spiritual problem, it is a crime and the state reserves the right to deal with such crimes committed against its citizens.
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:11-13)