2016-06-30
Even though I am the sort of right-wing Catholic who customarily refers to the Inquisition as having been "much-maligned," I find myself in substantial, though not quite total, agreement with the troubling findings of the new ABC News poll on the Catholic church's handling of pedophile priests.

Results of a New
ABCNews Poll
A majority of Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic, believe sexual abuse in the church is a major problem, but still have a favorable view of the church.
  For more,
  go to
When a man like John Geoghan, the defrocked Boston priest and convicted pedophile, who may have molested as many as a hundred boys in the course of his vile career, gets away with it for years by submitting to counseling and being transferred to another parish, the harsh response of those polled--three to one said the Church isn't doing enough to solve the problem--seems almost temperate.

If 94 percent of the ABC poll respondents had enough common sense to know that the archdiocesan policy of merely transferring an accused priest to another parish wasn't enough, why didn't Cardinal Bernard Law, previously one of my favorite contemporary cardinals, know that this was woefully inadequate?

What ever happened to punishing rotten priests by shutting them up in a monastery and throwing the key away? Seriously, Geoghan and other pedophilic priests routinely receive some kind of counseling, along with reassignment, but it is well known that pedophiles tend to be repeat offenders. Sending them to another parish, even if they are placed in a clerical job that doesn't include hearing confessions or other priestly functions that might expose them to young people, isn't enough. The accusations should be referred to the proper legal authorities, and, if proven, the priest should be defrocked. Yes, there is hope for redemption, but this doesn't come with the right to continue to act as a priest. One (proven) strike and you're out--that must be the Church's policy.

The poll didn't ask the one question that has American Catholics taking sides: Should Cardinal Law, a stalwart defender of orthodoxy and of the pope, resign? Law, as a writer for the Wall Street Journal recently noted, egregiously failed to deal with the main thing that the Church was founded to deal with--sin.

Sending somebody to a sex therapist isn't the right way to deal with grave sin. In failing in this, Law failed God's children--and now they're back, all grown up, with lawyers at their sides, demanding millions of dollars in damages. The financial cost for the church has been catastrophic, and there is no end in sight. It's an ugly mess all around. Cardinal Law should submit his resignation to the Holy Father. That way lies true humility for the cardinal, who now looks like an aging bureaucrat desperately clinging to his post.

The church's failure to deal effectively with the sin of pedophilia is at the root of some poll responses that seem to me alarming. Nine in ten respondents said that parishioners should be told whenever a priest is accused of molesting a child. What about the rights of the innocent who are accused? It's too easy to ruin a priest with false accusations. Even the saintly Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of Chicago was briefly tainted when a man (falsely) accused Bernadin of having molested him.

Most disturbingly, those who believe that parishioners should be notified also believe that there should be a law requiring the church to inform them. Civil laws encroaching on the church's ability to lead the faithful, though an expected response when the church has failed, as in the pedophilia scandals, are dangerous. Such laws could be a first step in trying to interfere with the absolute seal of the confessional.

But the Church should report accusations to the civil authorities--as eighty percent of those polled want it to. The policy of trying to solve this problem with "quiet discretion" has led to a noisy scandal, and the local constable would be more effective in investigating these charges than the local bishops have proven.

Results of a New
ABCNews Poll
A majority of Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic, believe sexual abuse in the church is a major problem, but still have a favorable view of the church.
For more,
go to
Two-thirds of those who were polled say they were aware of the Geoghan case. That should put Geoghan right up there with John Walker Lindh in the name-recognition category. The reason for this notoriety, of course, is that the media loves to write stories that portray the Catholic church as hopelessly behind the times, particularly in its "hang-ups" about sex. A sex scandal involving a supposedly celibate priest sex is proof positive, in the eyes of the media and other members of the intellectual elite, that the Catholic church is a repressive institution that does evil through its refusal to let its priests marry. Message: Celibacy is bad.

The pedophilia scandals are perfect for undermining this unpopular church practice, celibacy for priests. That, aside from the suffering of the victims and their families, is one of the most disheartening aspects of the scandals. The Church's traditional practice of priestly celibacy, a lofty sacrifice that offends in this sex-drenched age, takes another hit.

Fifty-five percent of the non-Catholic respondents of the poll--a very slim majority--blame the incidents of priestly pedophilia on celibacy. Forty percent of Catholic respondents said that saw celibacy as a factor that contributes to pedophilia. This, of course, could have been worse--only 36 percent of non-Catholics and 24 percent of Catholics saw celibacy as a "major" factor. So the war against priestly celibacy hasn't been won yet.

As a former reporter for the National Catholic Register who's known many impressive priests, I was relieved to note that not as many people as the media furor might lead one to believe regard this as a widespread problem in the church. Most respondents saw the pedophilia problem as one involving a "very limited" number of priests and, among Catholics, two-thirds said they would "trust completely" their children with the parish priest. Geoghan and other pedophiles have definitely hurt the church, but the image of priests hasn't suffered as much as I'd feared.

Perhaps it's time to give thanks that the results of the poll weren't worse--and defrock those who, upon investigation, have abused their priestly office to satisfy an illicit lust.

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