News & Politics

The Catholic Church Still Doesn't Know What to Do With Priests Who Abuse Kids

The Catholic Church Still Doesn't Know What to Do With Priests Who Abuse Kids
Pope Francis waves after delivering his "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and the world") message, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Pope Francis celebrated Easter Mass on Sunday, marking the most joyful moment of the year for the faithful even as the church faced a fresh round of bloodshed targeting Christians in Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

An investigation by the Associated Press has found that there are 1700 Roman Catholic priests and clergy who the church believes has been credibly accused of sexual abuse are living on the outside largely unsupervised and unwatched by church officials or law enforcement.

These priests, deacons, monks and lay people now teach middle-school math. They counsel survivors of sexual assault. They work as nurses and volunteer at nonprofits aimed at helping at-risk kids. They live next to playgrounds and daycare centers. They foster and care for children.

And in their time since leaving the church, dozens have committed crimes, including sexual assault and possessing child pornography, the AP’s analysis found.

Since most of those credibly abused are no longer priests, the church says their hands are tied. But many of those convicted of sex crimes as priests are monitored despite not being clergy. Victim advocates say such oversight is necessary. And the AP investigation shows why.

The review found hundreds of priests held positions of trust, many with access to children. More than 160 continued working or volunteering in churches, including dozens in Catholic dioceses overseas and some in other denominations. Roughly 190 obtained professional licenses to work in education, medicine, social work and counseling — including 76 who, as of August, still had valid credentials in those fields.

The research also turned up cases where the priests were once again able to prey on victims.

After Roger Sinclair was removed by the Diocese of Greensburg in Pennsylvania in 2002 for allegedly abusing a teenage boy decades earlier, he ended up in Oregon. In 2017, he was arrested for repeatedly molesting a young developmentally disabled man and is now imprisoned for a crime that the lead investigator in the Oregon case says should have never been allowed to happen.

The AP says most oversight of these abusers is handled by private citizens:

It also has left dioceses struggling with how — or if — former employees should be tracked and monitored. Victims’ advocates have pushed for more oversight, but church officials say what’s being requested extends beyond what they legally can do. And civil authorities like police departments or prosecutors say their purview is limited to people convicted of crimes.

That means the heavy lift of tracking former priests has fallen to citizen watchdogs and victims, whose complaints have fueled suspensions, removals and firings. But even then, loopholes in state laws allow many former clergy to keep their new jobs even when the history of allegations becomes public.

The mystique surrounding religious protects these abusers. While most have never been charged with a crime, young boys in their care knew full well which priests could be approached and which should be avoided. Parents would often report abusers to the diocese only to have the priest in question transferred or leave the priesthood entirely.

The bottom line is that after decades of wrenching upheaval because of the clergy sex abuses scandals, the Catholic church has yet to deal effectively with dirty priests in their midst. Their initial reluctance to acknowledge the problem was unconscionable. Their later attempts at cover-up, criminal. And their recent efforts to confront the crisis have been inadequate.

Christ’s church on earth may be eternal, but modern church authorities are doing their best to destroy the credibility of the Roman Catholic church with their parishioners.

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