People are calling for greater accountability from the Catholic Church following the reports of wide-ranging child sexual abuse by priests over several decades. In Texas, the church had originally admitted that 134 clergy members, out of 4,600 nationally were perpetrators of child sexual abuse, since the 1950s. But that’s about to change. Catholic leaders in Texas say they’ll soon release the names of all clergy who were “credibly accused” of child sexual assault.
Eileen Flynn DeLaO, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism, a former reporter and a member of the Religion Newswriters Association, says she was surprised by the news that Catholic leaders would reveal names, but she also says that it should have happened sooner.
“It’s long overdue. The bishops in Texas had the opportunity to publish more information about accused preists 14 years ago and they decided not to name names,” DeLaO says.
DeLaO says the church in Texas is taking this step so many years after initial allegations of clergy sex abuse because, in some ways, the public became complacent after the revelations from the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation into child sex abuse by priests in Boston in the early 2000s. She says people trusted that the church was taking steps to fix the problem – in some ways, that was true. DeLaO says the church had done a lot of training to prevent sexual abuse, but by 2018 the problem resurfaced.
This year, more reports came to light, including a scandal involving 1,000 victims in Pennsylvania, over 70 years. She says Pope Francis has also come under harsh scrutiny for his handling of abuse cases, and his popularity has declined, according to a new Pew report.
“There’s something happening now that I think the intensity has ratcheted up again,” DeLaO says.
The Catholic Church in Texas says it will release the names of priests who were “credibly” accused, but DeLaO says that term is a point of contention for the survivors.
“They are really tired of the church being the arbiters of credibility,” DeLaO says.
She says the process will most likely be different from diocese to diocese; some bishops have hired their own investigators to vet reports of abuse. But secrecy is still a problem, and because of that, she says some survivors are asking for independent investigations by people who aren’t hired by the Catholic Church.
Despite recent events, DeLaO says the Catholic Church is still attracting worshippers. She visited a cathedral in New Orleans shortly after the Pennsylvania scandal broke, and she says the pews were packed.
“Catholics for whom the church means a lot to them, they’ll still show up,” DeLaO says.
But she says there are other Catholics who are so troubled by the sexual abuse scandals they decide to leave the church.
“They don’t want to support an institution that hasn’t had a full reckoning with this sex abuse disaster,” DeLaO says.
Sexual abuse is a criminal offense and DeLaO says some survivor groups are asking for attorneys general in every state to investigate church sex abuse. But she says many abuses happened years ago, so, many potential cases have reached the statute of limitations.
“For these really old cases, a lot of times, victims just don’t see that kind of justice served,” DeLaO says.
Written by Caroline Covington.