Recommended: New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein's "Times Insider" report today on why the sex abuse story in the Catholic church remains a story. Be sure to listen to the podcast discussion between Goodstein and Susan Lehman about Goodstein's report.
As Goodstein explains both in the podcast and in her written report, one of the most significant revelations from the Pennsylvania grand jury report regarding the horrific, long-covered-up abuse in the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is that blatant, prevalent abuse of minors by clerics in this diocese was covered up for such a very long time because "there is a web of corruption that goes well beyond the church." The grand jury has found that there was longstanding collusion between public officials, police, district attorneys, and church officials to cover up abuse of minors by Catholic clerics. As Goodstein notes, this is a new wrinkle in the story of the abuse crisis in American Catholicism.
As she also notes, the Pennsylvania findings suggest that the story of sexual abuse of minors by clerics in the Catholic church in the U.S. remains a story because these findings have "elevated the story once again." As with any revelations of abuse by pastoral officials, these have encouraged more people who had remained silent to come forth. In her podcast discussion with Lehman, Goodstein says that anytime she writes a story about abuse in the Catholic church in the U.S., she receives a spate of communications from abuse survivors who are encouraged by the report to speak out.
Pennsylvania shows how the sexual abuse story in the Catholic Church has evolved. The reporting now is often about accountability: Are bishops abiding by the reforms they agreed to in 2002, in response to the eruption of cases set off by the scandal in Boston? The American bishops agreed to report allegations to the authorities and to remove all credibly accused priests from ministry. They agreed to establish prevention programs in parishes and schools, teach children and adults about warning signs, and conduct background checks on employees.
Have they? The biggest church abuse-related stories in the United States in very recent years have been about bishops in Kansas City, Missouri and Minnesota who failed and eventually lost their positions.
And speaking of Minnesota: the story of Father Joseph Jeyapaul, who was convicted last year of sexually molesting a teenaged girl in the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, is back in the news. I've commented on this story previously — here, here, here, and here. As I've noted, my husband Steve and I have followed this story with concern because he grew up in the Crookston diocese and has close family ties to the parish in which Jeyapaul raped Megan Peterson when she was 14 years old. As Jean Hopfensperger notes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, another girl identified as Jane Doe 121 also filed a criminal complaint against the diocese in 2008, alleging that Jeyapaul raped her when she was 16.
As Hopfensperger's report also indicates, Megan Peterson has now filed a federal lawsuit in Minnesota seeking to block Jeyapaul's reappointment to parish ministry in his native India, after it was announced in February that the Vatican has approved Jeyapaul's being placed back in parish ministry.
Hence the importance of the question Goodstein raises above: the U.S. bishops have agreed to report allegations of abuse to the authorities and the remove credibly accused priests from ministry. But have they? What confidence can we have that this is happening, given Kansas City (Finn) and Minnesota (Nienstedt) — and now Pennsylvania? Especially when news breaks that a priest convicted of raping a teenaged girl in the U.S. has been cleared by the Vatican to resume parish ministry in India . . . .
It should also be noted that there are dioceses in other parts of the country that have close ties — e.g., through priests who originate in Pennsylvania dioceses and are then sent to these other dioceses to minister — to the dioceses in Pennsylvania. I lived in one of those dioceses in North Carolina, and due to my experiences there, have long wondered about that "web of corruption that goes well beyond the church" about which Goodstein speaks as she looks at the Altoona-Johnstown situation — the web of corruption in which local officials, the police, and court officials collude with Catholic officials to keep Catholic abuse stories out of the news. It seems to exist elsewhere, too — especially in other dioceses with strong ties to Pennsylvania dioceses.
I find the graphic at quite a few sites online, with no clear indicator of its origins.