Philip F. Lawler
Phil is the editor of, which brings you daily news headlines from a Catholic perspective. He is the author of The Faithful Departed, a history of the Church in Boston and the scandal of the abuse of children by priests.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What if...?

What might have happened if, years ago, the right person had confronted a priest who was abusing children, and stopped him before further scandal erupted?

Writing in Inside the Vatican a few years ago, our friend John Mallon asked that question-- specifically with reference to John Geoghan. He also responded to the many people who have argued that because of this mess the Church should change-- in other words, that the scandal illustrates the inadequacy of Catholic teaching.

It doesn't, of course. Far from it. The teachings of the Church provided plenty of guidance for anyone who was willing to confront the problem. For that matter the Code of Canon Law gave bishops plenty of authority to curb the abuse.

Now the last line of defense for the bishops who ignored the problem is that they didn't understand the problem. But in the 1940s, the priest acknowledged as America's leading expert on sexual abuse was warning anyone who would listen that clerics who abused children could never be trusted in ministry again. So what happened between 1940 and 2000 to cause bishops to forget that advice?

These aren't rhetorical questions. The answers are in The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture.


Jerry Benitz said...

Bishops just didn't understand. That's a good one. My mom did, and she yanked me out of Catholic school in 2nd grade, mid-60's. Father was old and nutty, and eventually got busted.

Later, in Milwaukee (Weakland-ville), mom would answer fund appeals, "First, remove the homos from the seminary."

Mom could sniff a pervert at 50 paces. But we need to explain it to bishops? Ignorance? Accident? Negligence? No, it was deliberate on the part of many.

M. Alexander said...

How about if we say "Bishops didn't know.... how much it would cost".

Personally I won't be satisfied until I see someone in jail for what they did. Better yet a group.

art said...

Someone should investigate what kind of magic elixer Cardinal Mahoney has discovered, since it seems that Priests who abused children somehow managed to stop altogether/or refrain until they left his oversight; Sutphin, Ziemann, Loomis- they all had close dealings with the Cardinal, and something about that relationship, if you believe the Bishop, prevented them from re-offending.

So I quess he is only guilty of not sharing his secret with his fellow Bishops.