Editorial | Church hierarchy must change

Editorial | Church hierarchy must change

The stunning revelations of child sexual abuse in Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania have the attention of the Vatican, which correctly called them "criminal and morally reprehensible," and the Catholic bishops of the U.S., who acknowledged that much of the blame for abuse rests with the church hierarchy.

A Pennsylvania grand jury report last week detailed horrific and widespread abuse of girls and boys by Catholic priests over the last 70 years and even worse, concealment by Catholic bishops. Among the stories: a priest who raped a 7-year-old girl in a hospital; a priest who raped a young woman, got her pregnant and arranged for an abortion; a network of clergy who created child pornography from their encounters with children and "shared intelligence or information among victims."

The abuse dates back to 1947, which knocks down the argument that the priestly abuse is the result of the liberalization of the church in the 1960s. This apparently is a long-held practice in the church, at least in some areas, with the church hierarchy either looking the other way or outrageously and corruptly allowing it.

The church, particularly the Vatican, must act swiftly and decisively to respond to these revelations. The Vatican last week released a frank and self-critical statement acknowledging that "abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible" and that "there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur."

The mention of "criminal" actions hopefully is a sign that the church would cooperate in the prosecution of pedophile priests as well as those who covered up the abuse. That's a start.

Further, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement admitting that much of the blame rests with the nation's bishops and called for better ways to report complaints against bishops, with review bodies that would operate with "substantial leadership by laity."

Reforms adopted by the church in 2002 may have reduced the incidence of clergy abuse but not entirely, and the reaction by the laity to the Pennsylvania report shows there is still a great level of distrust among the faithful. This is a pivotal time for the church, and it must respond quickly and categorically.

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