For our own good, scandals must not be ignored
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
Since the middle of January, The Catholic Key has been publishing stories and commentary about past sexual abuses by members of the clergy. We will continue to do so as long as the story develops.
The Key is not alone. Other self-respecting diocesan newspapers have been doing the same. And why? Because the scandal of young people being abused is a serious matter. Because priests are important. Because abusive members of the clergy are a serious aberration. And the best chance we have as a church to minimize the possibility of such aberrations in the future is to bring the issue out in the open.
Priests interacting sexually with children and adolescents is bad news, but it is news. If it weren't news, the priesthood and society would both be in a sorry state.
Society doesn't deal with problems that remain hidden. That's true of every society, including the Catholic Church.
Diocesan newspapers that ignore important news - whether good or bad - are simply not doing their job. They are not serving the information needs of their readers.
It is regrettable that some diocesan newspapers still take the approach of ignoring negative news. They are an anachronism, a holdover of a practice that was never a good idea, and they are far fewer in number today than they were even a few years ago.
Withholding or suppressing information that may reflect negatively on an institution is a universal temptation. But it is false public relations that can only backfire with consequences far worse than any that arise from timely revelation.
The hard fact is that such withholding and suppression have been all too prevalent throughout society, and not just in the Catholic Church. It has been a part of the human nature - the way things were done - and it takes time to change.
Good reasons could be cited for the practice - avoiding scandal and protecting reputations, for example. But scandal arises from the bad deed itself, not from the telling of it. Reputations must be vigorously defended against false accusations, but reputations in the face of credible evidence of harmful behavior must take second place to the welfare of victims and potential future victims.
Too much of what passed for protecting reputations in the past was at best failure to face problems effectively and at worst complicity after the fact. Paradoxically, part of the church's past failure to face these problems effectively lies in its very nature.
If the Catholic Church believes anything, it believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again to redeem all sinners, even the worst among us. It believes in the forgiveness of sins, and that God's love is constant, even when we fail to obey his law. It believes that God's love is so powerful that even the hardest of hearts can be changed. It believed, in short, that all sexual abusers could repent and refrain from repeating their offenses. Until recently, that assumption was shared by the mental health profession. It has been proved wrong.
Repeated in coverage of any scandal involving the church is the mantra, "The church needs to reform; changes must be made."
But changes have been made - very real, very proactive, and very public changes.
Our diocese has had in place since 1987 an active intervention policy with regard to sexual misconduct. Most other dioceses have similar policies in place.
Those policies are under regular review and have been updated and strengthened as the church - and society - has learned more about the nature and persistence of sexual aberrations. In 1993, Bishop Raymond J. Boland issued a "zero tolerance" policy that practically eliminated the likelihood that a priest or any other church worker would be reassigned in the face of credible accusations of sexual misconduct.
And so we will continue to publish the news and commentary - both negative and positive - that our readers deserve as responsible members of the church, the people of God. The Catholic Key has a history of acting honorably in that regard. The problem of AIDS among priests, for example, was dealt with in the pages of The Catholic Key as early as 1987, while Bishop John J. Sullivan presided over the diocese. Our diocese has been fortunate to have a tradition of strong diocesan newspapers since before the Second Vatican Council.
We can be grateful that we continue to have in our diocese a policy of openness and a bishop-publisher who expects his editor and staff to produce a newspaper rather than a house organ.
A. de Z.