When people go to church, they have an expectation that they’ll be loved, cared for, and spiritually nourished. Unfortunately, the very people who accept the responsibility of shepherding their “flock” occasionally end up inflicting the most harm.
Clergy Abuse: A Nationwide Problem
Over the years, thousands of cases of sexual abuse have surfaced within the Catholic Church. Far too many lawsuits, scandals, and criminal prosecutions have occurred. Yet even today, they continue.
The issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church was first brought to the general public’s attention in 1985, when a Louisiana priest pleaded guilty to 11 counts of molestation of young persons.
In the 1990s, dozens of books and feature news stories brought further national attention to the problem. By the early 2000s, it had become clear that thousands of additional cases had been covered up by the church. A massive crisis ensued … and continues to exist today.
After one of the big waves of clergy abuse in the early 2000s, U.S. bishops launched the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. More commonly known as the Dallas Charter, this reporting, training, and prevention framework became the standard for the Catholic Church.
“Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has left the development and implementation of policies to the discretion of each local diocese and archdiocese,” nonprofit organization CHILD USA reports. “As a result, there is now a hodgepodge of relatively new child protection practices across the U.S.”
The Catholic Church claims it has made significant progress over the past couple of decades, but it’s tough to tell what’s happening from the outside. More than anything, the church seems to have gone silent. And as we know from previous incidents, silence shouldn’t be confused with the absence of abuse.
“They have a long way to go,” CHILD USA founder and CEO Marci Hamilton says. “Whatever the numbers of cases are, the policies are still not adequate.”
How We Stop Clergy Abuse From Happening
The good news is that many of the priests and other members of the clergy who have sexually abused young children are being brought to justice. Thanks to experienced clergy sexual abuse lawyers, families are getting some compensation to pave the way for therapy and healing.
However, the real work needs to be on the front end. In other words, prevention is the key: The real challenge is to stop clergy abuse from happening in the first place.
And though there’s no perfect plan, here are a few suggestions that could pave the way for a brighter and safer tomorrow.
- Better background screening. While almost every archdiocese has policies in place for background screening of prospective employees, only some require sex offender registries to be checked. This should become standard.
- Written policies for monitoring. In addition to better background screening prior to hiring, there must be better monitoring after hiring. Most archdioceses have no written policy for monitoring priests.
- More whistleblower policies. Did you know that only five of the 32 archdioceses in the United States have whistleblower rules in place to protect personnel from retaliation if they report possible sexual misconduct? Again, this should be a requirement for all 32.
- Stronger repercussions. The sad truth of the matter is that thousands of priests and clergy members who have been accused of sexual abuse in the past continue to live, as NBC News phrases it, “under the radar with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement.” Stronger repercussions – both from the church and from law enforcement – would certainly dissuade continued misbehavior by those still inside the church.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of actions that can and should be taken. It does offer a strong start in the right direction, however. Applying these principles alone should be enough to move the needle forward.
It’s Time to Take Clergy Abuse Seriously
You’d be hard pressed to find any responsible citizen who opposes an end to clergy abuse. But there’s a difference between hating abuse and taking a stand against it.
Until the masses come together to tackle this issue head on, we’ll continue to face serious consequences. This article should serve as a launching point for future decisions.