A grand jury report about the sex abuse of children by priests in Pennsylvania was released today. Over 300 predator priests are named in the document. The specifics are graphic and horrifying. They involve violent sexual assault and rape, and sometimes the coordinated abuse of children by multiple priests in the same church. And, of course, the opportunity for this abuse was furnished by bishops who looked the other way, or covered up the crimes.
In one case, a boy was forced to stand naked, posing like Christ on the cross while priests took pictures and added them to a collection of child pornography that they produced and distributed on the campus of the church. These priests would mark boys who were being groomed for abuse by giving them gold crosses to wear.
In another case, a priest raped a young girl and arranged for her to get an abortion. His bishop heard about the situation and wrote a letter of condolence — to the priest.
In another case, a priest molested a boy over the course of two years, admitted to church officials that he’d been engaged in naked “horseplay” with the child, and yet was allowed to continue in ministry for seven more years.
In another case, a priest raped a little girl while he was visiting her in the hospital.
In another case, a priest forced a boy to give him oral sex and then washed the boy’s mouth with holy water.
In another case, a priest molested a 12-year-old boy, admitted his crime to a church official, but the diocese ruled that the abuse wouldn’t “necessarily be a horrendous trauma” to the victim.
And on and on.
It is a dark, evil, horrific story. It is worse than that, but I don’t have the words to describe it. Perhaps we will just have to settle on the word “demonic.” And although some of the details here are particularly shocking and we hope unusual, still the most terrible thing is that the overall narrative — one of systematic abuse covered up by those in power — is extremely and shamefully familiar.
The Catholic Church in the West is beset by a plague. An infection. A virus that must be rooted out and utterly destroyed. There must be a purge in the Church. And the purge must be ruthless and brutal and uncompromising. Unfortunately the laws in our country will not allow us to hang these priests — much less burn them at the stake, as poetic as that would be — but they can be exposed everywhere, shamed, rebuked, and hopefully locked in a cage for the rest of their mortal lives.
I think Catholics have been tempted to believe that the scandals are behind us. Cardinal McCarrick and now this case in Pennsylvania show that this is nothing but wishful thinking. The cancer has not been fully removed. And the reluctance of most priests and bishops to come forward, even now, and speak passionately and publicly against these crimes, yet again shows that the problem is not in the past. The predators and the cowards who aid and abet them remain.
The good priests and bishops must come out and rebuke with righteous fury. Statements of “sadness” and “grief” will not do. Cardinal Wuerl’s limp-wristed lament about the “tragedy” of sexual abuse is insufficient. It is not just a tragedy. It is wickedness straight from the pit of Hell. That is what needs to be said. We don’t want to hear about tragedies anymore. We want to hear the wrath of God called down upon the heads of the perpetrators. We want you to show us that you are disgusted and enraged, or else we will suspect that you don’t care — or worse.
And names must be named. For every priest who raped a boy, there could well be at least one more priest who knew about it and remained silent. And those priests are almost as guilty as the rapist. Cowardice is a moral evil. And there has been quite a lot of that kind of evil — and many other kinds of evil — infecting the hierarchy of the Church. So all of the evildoers must be purged. Exposed. Shamed. Thrown out. Imprisoned. All of them. That is the only way forward now. There is no other way. And every Catholic who loves God and truth and justice must demand it.