Catholic Magazine Calls Church out on Sexual Abuse Response

October 1, 2012; Source: America

America, the national Catholic weekly magazine, has an editorial in its current edition that warrants attention from the nonprofit sector. The America editors draw a comparison between the sad and inadequate efforts of the United States to escape its responsibility for the use of torture (during military conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and—to our surprise—Libya, back when the Qaddafi regime was a purported U.S. ally) with the efforts of some Catholic bishops to sidestep responsibility for dealing with sexual abuse perpetrated by the priests they supervise.

The U.S. Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” instructs supervisors about how to deal with credible accusations of a priest sexual abuse, which includes reporting the information to the police, removing the priest while investigations are going on, dismissing the priest permanently if he is found guilty, and sometimes defrocking or laicizing the guilty party. America asks, in light of the conviction of Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, “what happens when [the priest’s] supervising bishop is found guilty of negligence or malfeasance?”

Bishop Finn has been convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report the suspected child abuse of Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a parish priest who had been charged with inappropriate behavior around kids and was then shown to have downloaded pornographic pictures of girls onto his computer laptop (revealed when he brought the laptop in for repairs). Finn reportedly resisted taking action on reports about Ratigan’s behavior, according to America, so that he might, as he allegedly told colleagues, “save Father Ratigan’s priesthood.” While the bishops seem to have a regime in place for dealing with future Ratigans, America suggests that the problem of punishing or removing a recalcitrant bishop like Finn “is left up to the offending bishop himself,” which basically means no punitive action. Although Finn has been convicted, the diocese has no plans for dismissing him and actually issued a statement that Finn looks forward to returning to his duties as a bishop.

On the torture charges, America describes the U.S. response as a Lady Macbeth-like “out, damned spot” turn, hoping that washing its hands of past behavior eliminates the need to take responsibility. The same applies to the Church for the sexual abuse charges or any nonprofit where children and families under its care have been misused and abused. Moving forward requires dealing with responsibility for the past, not sweeping it under the rug. And that means not just whacking the malefactors at lower levels of the organization—a parish priest in the Kansas City diocese, a soldier at a military detention center in Iraq or Afghanistan—but making sure that the higher-ups who should have taken responsibility actually do so. Churches, nonprofits, and the U.S. government cannot scrub out the stain of past ethical and sometimes criminal violations like Lady Macbeth flailing at imagined bloodstains.—Rick Cohen