Monday, January 13, 2014

A Reader Writes: "How Sick Is It That So Many Well-Meaning, Practicing Catholics Are Able to Be Desensitized to the Horrible Reality of Clergy Sex Abuse?"

In a comment a moment ago here, Mary writes

How sick is it that so many well-meaning, practicing Catholics are able to be desensitized to to the horrible reality of clergy sex abuse, all so their sacramental experience of weekly mass isn't tarnished. I was once one of them.

The word "desensitized" hits me between the eyes. I hear myself in that word: I hear the word as an accurate description of how I'm in danger of becoming, as I read yet another story about abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and the longstanding cover-up of that abuse. 

Mary's comment flashed into my email inbox just as I happened to be reading several articles about the action that the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals took a number of days ago. The court ruled that the archdiocese of St. Louis does not have to release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit now before the courts. This was a ruling in response to another court ruling ordering the release of these names in a case involving a young woman who alleges that a priest of the diocese began abusing her when she was 5 years old.

After granting a temporary "stay" or delay, the appeal court ruled against the archdiocese. Church officials promptly appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. So it's still not clear whether or when the names of credibly accused predator priests will be turned over to the young woman and her attorneys.

The lawsuit was filed by a woman who was 19 when she filed suit in 2011, and who claims that her parish priest began to abuse her at St. Cronan's parish in St. Louis when she was 5 years old. The priest in question, Father Joseph Ross, was later defrocked. He had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy at a parish in University City, Missouri, decades prior to the period in which the woman who has now filed suit claims her abuse took place.

After his conviction for molesting the 11-year old boy, Ross was sent for treatment and then reassigned to St. Cronan's parish, where it's now being alleged he then molested a little girl. Go to the exceedingly valuable Bishop Accountability database of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, and you learn that Ross has admitted that, prior to his conviction for abusing the young boy, he was accused of molesting another youth in the 1970s. And he's been arrested for propositioning a police officer and for public indecency.

I'll repeat a point I made earlier: despite this truly alarming track record, after his abuse of the young boy in 1988, and after he was sentenced for that abuse and then sent for treatment, Ross was returned to ministry--where it's now being alleged that he then abused a little girl.

You'll also see in his file at the Bishop Accountability site that after his laicization, Ross then went on to live in Arkansas--my state, and hence at least part of my interest in this story, since it's one of those Catholic stories occurring right in my own back yard.

Obviously, the concern of groups advocating for survivors of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy is that the public have as much information as possible about priests with a proven track record of abuse--so that the abuse won't be replicated. Hence the concern to see the archdiocese of St. Louis open its files regarding priests accused of abuse in the past 20 years, many of whom may well remain in ministry or who may, in some cases, have been laicized but living in situations in which they pose a danger to other children . . . . 

Mary asks, "How sick is it that so many well-meaning, practicing Catholics are able to be desensitized to to the horrible reality of clergy sex abuse, all so their sacramental experience of weekly mass isn't tarnished?" And I can only conclude, as I think about this particular story and my own growing desensitization to these stories piled on stories--stories of both abuse and its cover-up by diocesan officials: it's very sick, indeed. Sick in the extreme.

The graphic: a photograph by Stefan Wermuth of photos of sexual abuse victims placed outside the Vatican Embassy in London in September 2010, from Reuters.

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