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How Catholics exposed sexual abuse by priests long before the Boston Globe

How Catholics exposed sexual abuse by priests long before the Boston Globe

Sunday evening Spotlight won Best Picture which portrays the work of the Boston Globe but a lesser known story is how the National Catholic Reporter worked for years on exposing sexual abuse by priests in the face of pressure from the hierarchy, from people cutting funds and unsubscribing. Religion News Service gives the history of the work before Spotlight.

In its 1985 exposé, NCR laid bare the two essential outrages of the crisis: the scope of the abuse and the magisterial heights from which it was concealed. Berry and Jones’ reporting in that issue loosed a flood of testimonials from abuse survivors throughout America, many of which were later reported for the first time.

By the time The Boston Globe succeeded in bringing the scandal to the attention of the entire world, NCR had been doggedly covering the story for 17 years, often alone. Secular publications, including The New York Times and The Nation, wouldn’t go near the topic. Even the rest of the Catholic press stayed silent.

NCR is an independent, nonprofit publication, staffed by lay people, neither owned nor controlled by the Catholic Church, with a paid circulation of about 35,000. What it lacks in scale, it makes up for in editorial independence, expert reporting and risk-taking in pursuit of the truth.

The good news is that dedicated people can make change.

Read more here.

Addendum. Coverage by the Vatican newspaper, praising the film and popes but not NCR:

…it has become clear that in the Church some are more preoccupied with the image of the institution than of the seriousness of the act.

[There is] extremely grave fault of those who, while seen as God’s representatives, use this authority and prestige to exploit the innocent. The film is adept at recounting this detail, giving space to the inner devastation that these acts generate in the victims, who no longer have a God to plead with, to ask for help.

The fact that a call arose from the Oscar ceremony — that Pope Francis fight this scourge — should be seen as a positive sign: there is still trust in the institution, there is trust in a Pope who is continuing the cleaning begun by his predecessor, then still a cardinal.


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Rev. Mark Hatch

“Cardinal” Bernard Law, late of Boston. Wholly and utterly complicit. Wholly and utterly implicated. Fled from town. Safely protected, ensconced, beyond the police and beyond justice, in Rome. Living like royalty. Answerable to no one….except, of course, to God.

He is the face of shamefulness, hypocrisy, evil and the great absence of justice in this still very unresolved abuse. How dare he.

Mary Jo Hudson

I have only been an Episcopalian for 3 1/2 years, coming from 57 years in the Roman church, with 25 years of employment in a variety of settings. However, as a woman, I grew tired of being told that I could clean the altar but not stand behind it to lead Eucharist, along with a host of other issues. During my years in the church, I subscribed to the NCR and it probably kept me Roman longer because it showed me that there were other people who thought like me. Even now I subscribe to it as a way of staying in touch with what is best about the Roman church and faithful people who stay in the church, even though I could not longer remain so. It is a great paper.

Eva Arnott

In the ’70s and ’80s my family was very active in an Episcopal parish in suburban Boston which had an excellent Junior choir in which our children sang. The choir director/organist was married, with four children, some of whom were friends of our children and of the rector’s. When he was found to have been abusing a sixth grader, there was a general coverup until the end of the school year and he stayed in town for several more years during high school boys were seduced. My husband and I cooperated with the coverup-not something I would do now – but we were thinking about his family. I wonder how often that influences bystanders and supervisors.

Rosalind Hughes

I would argue against using the word “seduce” when an adult offends against a child.

Bill Ghrist

A Pennsylvania grand jury has just released a report of “staggering” abuse and cover-up involving hundreds of victims over several decades in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The story and report is here. That such abuse can happen in the name of Jesus is truly depressing.

“These findings are both staggering and sobering,” said the report. “Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves — these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable…. ”

Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

This is why the Roman Catholic Church struggles to find its moral authority today. The sexual abuse and cover-up involving thousands of victims worldwide is like a mortal wound. It has lost respect around the world and with that it has lost trust. There is nothing the Roman Catholic Church can do to recover because people do not believe it anymore.

Until there is a Pope who removes everyone that had anything to do with cover ups or abuse from their positions and fully cleans house from the Curia to the lowest parish this stigma will remain.

Jesus warned if anyone caused harm to one of these little ones (children and innocents) it would be better for them to have never been born. The Roman Catholic Church has placed itself in that position.

This hurts all of us as well. Trust broken is hard to replace.

Bill Ghrist

Has anything of such an enormous magnitude happened in The Episcopal Church, however? Not only did it victimize more than a hundred children, the cover-up–by two consecutive bishops–was aided by the fact that the police chiefs of Altoona and Johnstown were appointed at the direction of the bishops. It boggles the mind.

Ann Fontaine

Although the Roman Catholic church is in the news- there is nothing there that is not happening in all churches including the Episcopal Church. See the recent coverage on the Café of the White case. This is not an isolated case in TEC.

Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

At the onset of my teenage years, my best friend attended a Catholic school and was very active in sports. He was a good student. We often studied together and had many good memories of those days. I can remember when he told me that the priest (coach) had molested him and he told the headmaster; nothing happened, then he told his parents and they went to the bishop, still nothing happened. He said the bishop called his parents to his office and said their son (14) seduced the priest.

The story ends when his parents went to the District Attorney and something happened.

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