So is the Archdiocese of Mobile finally coming clean about the history of sexual abuse of minors, or is the announcement last week that they will release the names of priests since who, since 1950, were removed from ministry due to such accusations just a way of avoiding the bigger issue?
The answer to that depends a lot on perspective and whether one believes the Catholic Church is really going to be totally transparent without being legally forced. The record thus far certainly would not lean favorably in the church’s direction.
Last week Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi announced the archdiocese will “publish the names of clergy and religious who were removed from ministry due to an accusation of abuse of a minor.” This will cover both Catholic dioceses in Alabama and Mississippi — four in total.
The only such accounting the Archdiocese of Mobile has offered up to this point was released in 2004 and included the names of 13 priests and admitted to 18 victims. It’s not yet known if more names will be added to the total from Mobile’s diocese, but presumably more new information may come from the other three.
Rodi’s announcement offered no timeframe for the release of the names and even seemed to temper any expectations a list would be produced soon.
“It is a time-consuming effort to examine each clergy personnel file from the last almost seven decades,” he wrote. “This effort is underway and will be completed as quickly as possible.”
It is rather striking to think that, after more than 15 years of this being a front-burner issue for Catholicism, church leaders are just now sniffing around through 60-year-old personnel files. I would have assumed that by now the church had a handle on who was accused of what and maybe had even collected that information in one place. That they have not done so bolsters critics’ accusations about just how pervasive efforts have been to keep such accusations under wraps or forgotten over the years.
It’s mind-boggling to think the various dioceses have not gone through all of those files since sexual abuse charges against priests became front-page news in 2002. Mobile even had its own high-profile brush with this perverse problem around that time as well, after Brother Vic Bendillo was found guilty of molesting boys at McGill-Toolen High School.
I suppose we have little choice but to accept the idea that local church leaders weren’t curious enough about what other bombs might be dropped, and will just have to wait until this time-consuming search is completed.
Even when the list is presented, what will be missing — at least given the parameters outlined in the bishop’s press release — is maybe the most perverse part of the entire problem. Are we ever going to be told how often accusations were ignored or buried deep in personnel files in small parishes? Will anyone be held accountable for moving pedophile priests from parish to parish where they could prey on new children and ruin more lives?
I still am astonished at the statement made by former Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb during a deposition in 1995. It exemplifies the very problem sweeping through the church worldwide — that pedophile priests and bishops were protected by the church, while victims were treated as if they had somehow invited molestation.
“If I were investigating this from scratch, I would want to know something of what the 14-year-old brought to the situation prior to that,” Lipscomb said in the deposition. “Is he totally innocent, unspoiled and pure, or is he somebody who in his own way may have invited or even initiated these kind of … I would not know those things until I knew more of the characteristics.”
It’s a sickening thought that men of the cloth would allow the weakest of their flock to be preyed upon, then seek to place blame on the victim in order to justify doing nothing.
It was Lipscomb who famously traveled to St. Peter’s Parish in Montgomery in 2003 to tell them Fr. J. Alexander Sherlock was being placed on leave because a more recent accusation of sexual abuse had come up. Lipscomb had moved Sherlock to St. Peter’s after the priest admitted to three instances of sexual molestation of boys years earlier. So it appears at least one more boy may have been molested because Lipscomb didn’t move to have Sherlock immediately defrocked.
An accounting of the priests removed from the ministry is necessary, but hardly the end of this discussion. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recognized that earlier this year when it issued an apology for the role bishops have played in the church’s sexual abuse scandals and also announced a series of initiatives aimed at holding abusive or negligent bishops accountable. Sadly, that positive step was squashed on Monday of this week when the Vatican ordered the Conference of Bishops to delay voting in those changes.
Catholics everywhere struggle with the sexual abuse scandals. Discussing it at all is highly upsetting to many and there are people who would love to think it’s all in the past and just move on. As a lifelong Catholic, I have great love for the church and reverence for its traditions, but it is nearly impossible to mentally remove this despicable stain from the church’s greater accomplishments.
There are really no lower human beings than those who sexually prey on children. They deserve no protection. Pretending pedophile priests could be reformed simply by sending them somewhere else is like giving a serial killer a bus ticket to another town. Not your problem anymore, right?
Unfortunately, Alabama isn’t likely to follow other states into pursuing answers legally, as Attorney General Steve Marshall has already said he has no plan to follow the lead of other AGs nationwide and open an investigation. He pushed that off on local district attorneys, who are unlikely to have the resources necessary.
It’s not only important for us to know the names of all of the priests who were removed for molestation accusations or admissions. The church should release the names of any who were credibly accused and remained in service, and the public should also know who made those decisions and how they were made. How are Catholics supposed to have faith in church leaders who are still so willing to hide their own sins?
A list of predator priests is a good start, but expect it to ultimately raise at least as many questions as it answers.