Restoring trust in the Catholic Church

Among the tragedies of the sexual abuse scandal that continues to rock the Roman Catholic Church is that trust in the institution can be restored only by adding names to the lists of predator priests being released all across the country. Undoubtedly, some of the clergy responsible for wrongdoing, sometimes decades ago, have not yet been named.

If they remain secret, some of the church’s critics, including many Catholics, will wonder whether the abuse did continue but was not punished.

Veteran newspaper journalists tend to be champion skeptics. We don’t really trust anyone unless they give us good reason to do so.

So take this as my professional opinion: I believe many in the Catholic Church, perhaps because laypeople have relatively new power, are as sickened as anyone else about the long, sordid record of abuse. It’s my impression attitudes really have changed.

Expect evidence of whether I’m right within the next year or so.

Last Thursday, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston released a list of clergy “credibly accused” of abusing minors sexually. It included 31 names, of which 18 allegedly sinned while working at Catholic institutions in West Virginia. The other 13 served here, but were not accused of wrongdoing until they went to other states.

The mere announcement on Oct. 24 that the church would compile and release such a list seems to have been the catalyst for at least one new complaint. A report of abuse was made to the diocese on Oct. 26.

Church officials say they hope their action will prompt other victims of clergy abuse to come forward. Again, there is reason to believe many who were targeted by predator priests have kept their silence for many, many years. The Oct. 26 report involved alleged abuse in 1982 or 1983. Someone waited that long before deciding church officials ought to be told.

We know why — if we admit the full truth. For decades, the sexual abuse by clergy was covered up. Sometimes, predator priests were caught, subjected to the church’s rehabilitation process, then shipped elsewhere –too often to harm other children.

As one thoughtful observer reminded me, a good deal of that happened because, for many years, the “experts” assured us they could treat and cure sexual predators. They were wrong.

But predator priests and church officials who let them off the hook had many allies. One reason youthful victims kept their silence was that they feared, often with good reason, that no one would believe them. Who believes a kid, often with a record of emotional challenges, who accuses a man of God of wrongdoing?

How many parents were told, only to tell their children to stop lying about good old Father X?

How many kids didn’t tell parents because they feared that would be the reaction?

And how many people, even now, view exposing predator priests as some sort of attack on the church? That, to put it bluntly, is a sick attitude.

One caveat to all this: Human nature being what it is, a good many reports of abuse the church will receive during coming months will not be true. The scandal is an opportunity to settle old scores and, perhaps, earn a bit of money.

But some of them will be accurate. And they will involve men not on the diocese’s original list.

So, sadly, it’s not over yet.

— Myer can be reached at: