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In Praise Of Catholic Whistleblowers

According to Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, A new organization has launched:

They call themselves Catholic Whistleblowers, a newly formed cadre of priests and nuns who say the Roman Catholic Church is still protecting sexual predators.

Although they know they could face repercussions, they have banded together to push the new pope to clean house and the American bishops to enforce the zero-tolerance policies they adopted more than a decade ago.

The group began organizing quietly nine months ago without the knowledge of their superiors or their peers, and plan to make their campaign public this week. Most in the steering group of 12 have blown the whistle on abusers in the past, and three are canon lawyers who once handled abuse cases on the church’s behalf. Four say they were sexually abused as children.

Their aim, they say, is to support both victims and fellow whistle-blowers, and identify shortcomings in church policies. They hope to help not just minors, but also adults who fall prey to clergy who exploit their power for sex. They say that their motivation is to make the church better and safer, and to show the world that there are good priests and nuns in the church.

“We’ve dedicated our lives to the church,” the Rev. John Bambrick, a priest in the Diocese of Trenton, said at a meeting of the group last week in New York. “Having sex offenders in ministry is damaging to our ministry.”

I find this incredibly heartening. Can’t tell you the number of conversations I had years ago, at the beginning of the scandal, with good Catholic priests who were disgusted by the cover-ups and the corruption, and who were themselves suffering for the sins of their abusive brother priests and — most notably — the bishops who covered up for them and made excuses. But it was extremely rare that these men would speak out. Extremely. If they had, they might have done some good. But they were afraid, or they were compromised personally, or … something. It’s hard to imagine who would have had more credibility in these matters than priests themselves — and how much good they might have done to restore the laity’s faith in the institutional church, simply by standing up and demanding that the bishops do the right thing.

By the way, it’s not like priests bore no risk by speaking out. From the story:

The whistle-blowers’ group plans to hold its first news conference this week in New York, and some members are bracing for the reaction. They said they know priests who spoke up and were removed from their parishes, hustled into retirement or declared “unstable” and sent to treatment centers for clergy with substance-abuse problems or sexual addictions.

Why is this new group necessary?

The Catholic Church in the United States put in place a zero-tolerance policy and a host of prevention programs after the abuse scandal peaked in 2002. Each year the bishops commission an audit of abuse cases, and this year’s survey, released May 9, found the fewest allegations and victims since the audits began in 2004.

But the whistle-blowers’ group contends that vigilance is necessary because some bishops are violating the zero-tolerance policies, and abusive clergy (who now number 6,275, according to the bishops’ count of those accusations that they deem credible) still have access to children. They point to the revelations in the last month that a priest in Newark who was a convicted sex offender restricted by a court order from working with children had been ministering in a Catholic parish in Trenton, taking confessions from children and going on weekend youth retreats.

Anyway, good on these priests. May their tribe multiply — and in other churches too. Evil hates the light.

UPDATE: I should have credited Laurie Goodstein of the NYT with this story. I’ve made the addition above. My apologies.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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