The National Religion Correspondent for The New York Times, Laurie Goodstein, has been writing about child sexual abuse for 22 years. She has covered stories over many faiths, such as Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and cult groups, but she finds the abuse within the Catholic church to be far more extensive and offers insight garnered from experts as to why the problem continues.
In 2016, Goodstein covered the scandal in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. A Pennsylvania grand jury found that the church there covered up child sexual abuse crimes committed by as many as 50 priests and church officials. Over four decades, bishops, police officers, and district attorneys colluded to cover up the abuse of hundreds of children taking place in the diocese in order to avoid bringing scandal upon the church. As is so often the case in the Catholic church, meticulous files were kept that revealed that a judge even found a job for one priest who had been accused of molestation by several families. Had the priest not boasted about it, he would still have the job, but instead the district attorney rescinded the offer with an apologetic note.
The sheer number of Catholics may be a factor in the number of abuse cases that continue to turn up despite recent revelations and landmark cases, such as the Boston scandal featured in the Hollywood movie, Spotlight. The Catholic church is the largest single religious denomination in America today. Roughly a quarter of the U.S. population are Catholics. The hierarchical nature of the church combined with the tradition of extensive record keeping means that patterns of abuse can be tracked through a paper trail. Additionally, in the eyes of parishioners, priests are representatives of Christ, acting “in persona Christi,” or in the person of Christ. For many Catholics, the idea that a priest could commit crimes against children is simply unthinkable.
Thus, Catholic politicians and citizens expressed shock and betrayal when the grand jury reported that two former bishops participated in the cover up in Altoona-Johnstown. In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops instituted reforms that called for alerting civil authorities to any allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by members of the clergy, establishing prevention programs in parishes and schools that would teach adults and children about warning signs of abuse, and using background checks when hiring employees. Priests known to have committed abuse were also barred from ever serving as pastors or chaplains in parishes, schools, nursing homes, or hospitals. The reforms drew the line however at defrocking the abusers. While devout parishioners and those who had suffered abuse as children saw the reforms as a first step to confronting the problem and changing the church, the grand jury report showed that in Altoona-Johnstown, nothing much had changed raising the question of when and if it ever will.
At Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. we have been helping victims of sexual abuse fight back since 2004. We have successfully brought litigation against the Catholic church and other churches, private and public schools, and doctors. We know that many victims are only able to come forward many years later. A consultation with a Wilmington sexual abuse lawyer from our firm is free and confidential. Call us today at 302-656-5445 or contact us online. We represent victims in Wilmington, Dover, and Georgetown, Delaware, as well as those throughout the state.