Crisis-management experts usually advise clients to determine all the facts and make them public ASAP. The goal is to avoid a “drip, drip, drip” scenario that prolongs the crisis and undermines credibility. Lance the boil sooner, not later.
Today’s Roman Catholic Church has a major crisis with thousands of pedophile priests who have abused young children for years without any accountability — secular or spiritual. The current crisis in the United States began in 1985; the scope is now global, but the problem is much older. French novelist Octave Mirabeau, himself a victim of priest abuse, published an 1890 novel about the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests entitled “Sebastien Roch: The Murder of the Soul of a Child.”
We’ve now had nearly 130 years of “drips.” Isn’t it time for the Catholic Church to come clean, clean house and take immediate action?
I am not a Catholic, but I’ve had crisis-management experience and have followed closely the Catholic Church’s crisis management starting with the “Boston Globe” articles and then “Spotlight” that won the 2015 Oscar for Best Picture. Defensive denials, delays, and cover-ups failed.
What puzzled me is why so many priests abused children. One theory is that defenseless children were unlikely to reveal priestly abuse. I don’t buy that: if you’ve raised children, you know they often say whatever pops into their minds, unfiltered. Still, why would so many priests take such astonishing risks and commit crimes?
Sexuality is not always rational. Nonetheless, there are criminal laws that serve to deter and punish illegal sexual behavior like rape and child abuse.
A heterosexual priest (or nun) having consensual adult sex may violate religious vows but is not a crime. Likewise, if a homosexual priest (or nun) has consensual adult sex, the church, not the courts, is concerned.
Some years ago, a New York City tabloid ran a cover story about a Catholic priest under suspicion after hosting summer camps to which he invited young boys. I was working in New York at the time, and my assistant — a former Catholic nun who left the church and married a former Catholic priest — had also seen that day’s tabloid. Additionally, she and her husband knew the priest and had urged him to stop the practice because it looked inappropriate.
I asked her why so many priests targeted young boys. She said that many priests entered the priesthood through “feeder schools” that recruited adolescent boys and trained them for the priesthood with its lifelong celibacy commitment. Their sexual development forcibly stopped at puberty; their sexual reference points stood frozen in adolescence. This explanation makes sense but hardly excuses sexual abuse of minors.
This has been a terrible period for the church. Pope Francis’s Vatican convocation on child abuse struck some as too much talk, too little action. Shortly before that gathering, Francis dismissed from the clergy Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, D.C., for sexually abusing seminarians and minors.
After the meetings, the media announced the December 2018 conviction of George Pell — Australia’s cardinal and Sydney’s archbishop — who was convicted of abusing two choirboys in 1996. (An Australian court had imposed a “gag” order that was lifted this week). Pell is the most senior church official convicted of sexually abusing minors. While the Vatican reviews his case, Pell is pursuing an appeal. Today, he awaits sentencing in an Australian prison.
The McCarrick and Pell revelations are problems for the church, but far worse is the cumulative impact on the tens of thousands of victims harmed by pedophile priests. Senior church hierarchy repeatedly ignored credible abuse claims, covered up the abuses, and, reportedly, even destroyed relevant documents.
The Pell case is disturbing. Check his bio, and you will find a man of immense learning and experience. When Pope Francis chose him to fix the Vatican’s troubled finances, I cheered. I had met Pell earlier at conferences in Spain and Australia. He struck me as exactly the type of no-nonsense leader the church needed.
Pope Francis’s legacy is at stake, and he must take concrete action now to address the crisis. The church must announce a zero-tolerance policy, immediately dismiss all pedophile priests, open church files to civil authorities, cooperate fully with criminal prosecutions, and provide generous compensation for all individuals and families who present credible abuse claims. This approach will be costly, but further delay will cost the church much more.
Charles Kolb served as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy in the Bush White House from 1990-92.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.