After implementing the most stringent policies ever for addressingabuse, the church may have seen the worst of it. While some diocesesare still dealing with significant numbers of cases and resultantfinancial concerns, the ire has waned, the lawsuits have slowed andpriests recently ordained have seemed to be avoiding cause for scandal.It's time to take stock of what has transpired.
First, the formation of seminarians and priests today is more closelyscrutinized. The Vatican has recommended against admitting homosexualcandidates. Compliance varies among dioceses, but a Vatican-led studyof U.S. seminaries – planned primarily for reasons other than thescandal – and other advice has urged the bishops to re-examine theirseminaries.
Second, the universal church has grown aware that it isn't just anAmerican crisis. It calls for palpable signs of repentance and evidencethat the bishops finally "get it." Pope Benedict XVI's preacher of thepapal household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, recently calledfor a churchwide day of repentance for crimes committed against itsyouths its most visible role models.
Third, it isn't just priests. Slowly, society is looking at how publicschools, hospitals, daycare centers and others respond to child abusein their midst.
The picture isn't pretty; the same rash judgments by psychiatrists andself-protective instincts on the part of corporations and organizationsafflict other institutions. As crime reports attest, sexual abuse is abig social problem impacted by the shattering of families, theoversexualization of culture and the rise of Web-driven pornography.
The church has repented of its lapses and has taken steps to step upits institutional response to abuse. Perhaps the biggest lesson it isstill learning is transparency. The church today can't operate as if ithas some sort of protected status in society. It must, both from agospel mandate and for self-preservation, become more transparent notonly in to abuse cases, but also on finances.
The policies adopted in 2002, although criticized as too stringent andinsensitive to the rights of the accused, are a manifest expression ofthe belief that the church must hold itself to a higher standard. Ifour ordained and lay leaders do not live by the teachings they profess,the consequences for human souls will be dire.
The church has made strides, but the same cannot necessarily be saidabout the rest of society. The media have not examined otherinstitutions, and social problems keep spiraling out of control.Although the church has repeatedly asked forgiveness for its members'actions, the psychiatric profession has not apologized for the years ofbad advice it gave to bishops, principals and others.
Other institutions have not gone through the intensive self-scrutiny ofthe church, which to some extent has been made a scapegoat by a societyunwilling to look at itself in the mirror. Even as the church continuesto pay for the sins of its leaders and take bold steps to address andprevent abuse, it must now lead the way for all U.S. institutions toface up to this injustice in their own midst and join in eradicating itfrom our culture.