It shouldn’t have taken this long, but Conception Abbey made the right decision to bring in independent investigators and release the names of priests who faced credible allegations of sexual abuse.
That seven of the eight are dead should not deter the impulse toward accountability and openness. As Abbott Benedict Neenan told a News-Press NOW reporter: “It’s become clear that for the sake of the victims of sexual abuse, it is helpful for them to know that the institution where these people who have abused them come from or belong to, they have recognized that this happened, they’ve admitted it and they’ve acknowledged who these people are.”
The focus is where it should be: on victims who suffered at the hands of trusted authority figures, even if it happened decades ago. Crime statistics show that this is not a phenomenon limited to the Catholic Church.
A National Institute of Justice study found that 3 of 4 adolescents who had been sexually abused were victimized by someone they knew well. These trusted figures can be family members, boyfriends, teachers, coaches, youth group leaders or clergy. A study from the Crimes Against Children Research Center estimates that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse as children.
In the case of the Catholic Church, the release of information serves not only to acknowledge the pain of victims but to restore trust in an institution that saw its reputation badly tarnished from multiple sexual abuse scandals. Church leadership responded to these scandals in two distinct ways, one more successful than the other.
The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese has a victim advocate who provides resources for children and families who have encountered abuse. Adults who volunteer or work with children in St. Joseph’s Catholic churches or schools are required to participate in a child abuse awareness program called Protecting God’s Children.
These initiatives show a strong commitment to preventing abuse and protecting children who are currently part of the Catholic education system.
Progress has been more limited and uneven in the case of abuses committed in the past. Church leaders, starting with Pope Francis, tend to say the right things. In a 2014 homily, the Pope said, “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders.”
In terms of action, information on two key issues — past abuse and action taken against priests — is slow to emerge. Sometimes, acknowledgment only comes after civil litigation or the kind of thorough review conducted by a grand jury in Pennsylvania.
Victims deserve a full accounting, as do the priests and religious figures who lead exemplary lives. Conception Abbey was right to acknowledge this.