Editorial: Diocesan abuse department can’t become bureaucratic
“If only there were more bureaucracy.”
File that under things no one has ever said.
On Thursday, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik announced a new department to address sexual abuse claims and recovery. The Secretariat for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults is open for business as of Monday.
For the moment, let’s ignore the decades of bishops in Pennsylvania obscuring reported abuse and shuttling offending priests from parish to parish. Let’s just appreciate that things are actually getting done to address the very serious problem going forward.
According to Zubik, the new department brings together people who have worked with abuse victims within the diocese before but puts them all under a single umbrella to get the job done more effectively.
It’s not a new idea. It’s basically the same thing President George W. Bush did after the 9-11 terror attacks when he shuffled the decks in a number of departments, pulling out an agency here and a bureau there to create the Department of Homeland Security. Today, DHS is the third largest department in the federal government and has an annual budget of about $40 billion.
There is no question at all that the diocese and the church as a whole must take the damage already done seriously and must take steps to prevent children from being victimized going forward. Those things must happen. Full stop.
But now it has to be on all of us to keep it from happening again.
Let’s go back and remember why it is necessary. It isn’t just because there was horrifying abuse of children going back 70 years and across the entire state, as detailed in Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report in August.
It’s that it was institutional.
It isn’t that it was happening outside the view of the bishops. They knew. It isn’t that there wasn’t a procedure for how to handle it. There was. The procedure involved “secret archives” and locking away the information, hoping no one would ever find out.
Zubik’s creation of the secretariat is a good step. Publicizing the new department and naming the people who will staff it and what they will do is, too.
But the parishioners and the public can never forget why it is there and must keep the spotlight on it to prevent secrets from ever again hiding in bureaucratic shadows.