This is an article that I wrote as an "Op Ed" piece for the Augusta Chronicle. It appeared in their editorial page on March 1, 2004.
Catholic hierarchy facing up to days of reckoning for sex abuse
TWO YEARS AGO, I spent three hours on Austin Rhodes' afternoon radio show discussing the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Catholic Church.
Mr. Rhodes made an accurate observation when he stated that the problem in the Catholic Church stemmed not only from priests who molested minors but, more importantly, from bishops whose decisions concerning those under their charge enabled molestations to occur again and again for decades.
I THANKED MR. Rhodes for his valid insight, and I also acknowledged that if not for the scrutiny of the secular and religious press - especially through the investigative reporting of the Boston Globe and The National Catholic Reporter - the Church would still be dealing with this phenomena in totally inadequate secretive ways.
I also mentioned in that interview that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ was going to use whatever means available to reform and purify His church either internally, externally, sideways or upside-down. And Jesus Christ has not disappointed.
For over two years, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in this country has been having its day of reckoning. This day of reckoning came Friday, when an unprecedented study commissioned by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the scope and nature of this scandal was released to the public by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
RESULTS OF THIS study showed that 4 percent of Catholic clergy since 1950 have molested scores of young people - the majority of them teen-age boys. This study will also indicate not only the human tragedy of victims abused by trusted church leaders, but also the amounts of money paid to settle lawsuits.
No other institution in America has provided such an in-depth study of the phenomena of sexual abuse of minors. Therefore, there will be no comparisons available in terms of the percentage of people in other religious and secular institutions who have committed similar crimes over the course of 50 years.
The Catholic priesthood will stand alone. It is hoped that the press will demand an accounting of other religious institutions, public schools and other secular and religious agencies that dealt exclusively with young people for the past 50 years.
THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE of Savannah, of which Augusta is a part, has released its statistics going back 50 years. It shows that four priests out of over 600 who have served in this diocese have been accused of molesting a total of 13 minors. Most of the accusations go back to the early '60s and '70s. The number of victims may, in fact, be low, since many people, especially adult men, are reluctant to come forward to share their histories of sexual victimization with anyone - let alone those in authority.
The Rev. Wayland Brown was convicted last year of child sexual abuse in Maryland. He spent many years in the Augusta area, although he has not had an assignment from the Catholic Diocese of Savannah since 1987. Bishop Kevin Boland requests that anyone who may have experienced abuse by him or any active priest to contact the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.
THROUGH THE prodding of the secular and religious media, and reform groups within the Catholic Church, the bishops of the Catholic Church are finally leading the way in addressing the sad fact of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
More importantly, they are taking steps to rectify the pain and suffering caused to scores of young people victimized over the course of decades through the abuse of trust of some priests, and the bishops' failure to act in appropriate ways to reach out to victims and dismiss abusers.
The Catholic hierarchy will have a long season of penance to make up for the residue of these sins and crimes. Yet the message of our Church is forgiveness, healing and reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
WE BELIEVE that where sin abounds, God's grace is even greater. We have a Savior who, through His cross and resurrection, has redeemed the world!
(Editor's note: The writer is the pastor of the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Augusta.)