One of the first big stories I broke as a young reporter was a clergy sex abuse scandal at Saint Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara (which is a all-boys Catholic boarding school, not a university for priests). That was in 1992. What was more shocking than the crimes, which were horrifying, was the open and obvious stonewalling by the Church as the victims sought recourse against their abusers. Almost 20-years later, it seems little has changed.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled a huge number of sex abuse claims in 2006 for a reported $600 million dollars, a severe financial blow. And reportedly the total payouts from other Archdioceses around the world are approaching $2 billion, so it’s not like this isn’t costing the church dearly. So why the ongoing problem? If IBM or Exxon Mobil had to pay out $2 billion in judgements for the sexual misconduct of its employees, you can bet the organization would have swiftly and ruthlessly reformed itself and held the guilty accountable. Yet the church has not.
When I counsel clients in cases of serious employee misconduct, it’s almost a universal reaction to try to make the problem go away by covering it up or sweeping it under the rug. But serious problems are usually systemic and unless an organization is willing to address its own failures, the problems are almost certain to repeat.
If Pope Benedict is serious and sincere about reform he will need to take bold and sweeping action.
First, he needs to order the entire global church structure to immediately report all sexual abuse cases to law enforcement. And to institute severe consequences for those who fail to comply.
Second, he needs to organize a church-wide policy for providing restitution the victims to date. This is going to be hugely difficult and expensive, but it is necessary.
Finally, he and the rest of the Church leadership need to undertake a sincere and searching analysis of why, in the first place, the Church is such a haven for sexual predators. And then they need to set about changing those reasons.