ShareThis Page
George Will: Has Catholic Church committed worst crime in American history? | TribLIVE.com
George F. Will, Columnist

George Will: Has Catholic Church committed worst crime in American history?

George Will
871168_web1_gtr-cmns-Will-031419

PHILADELPHIA

“Horseplay,” a term used to denote child rape, is, says Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, part of a sinister glossary of euphemisms by which the Catholic Church’s bureaucracy obfuscates in documents the church’s “pattern of abuse” and conspiracy of silence “that goes all the way to the Vatican.” “Benevolent bishops” are those who allow predatory priests, shuffled from other dioceses, to continue as priests.

The fuse for the national explosion of fury about sexual abuse by Catholic clergy was lit in Boston — the excellent 2015 movie “Spotlight” recounts The Boston Globe’s victory over the stonewalling Catholic hierarchy in 2001-02. But the still-reverberating detonation occurred in August in a Pittsburgh grand jury’s report on the sexual abuse by approximately 300 priests of at least 1,000 victims in six Pennsylvania dioceses.

Seven months later, the nationwide stonewalling and cover-up continue by the church that, Shapiro says, has resisted discovery “every step of the way.” And “bishops are still involved.” The church fought his office’s jurisdiction, and fought the release of the report with its sickening details of, for example, giggling priests photographing and fondling boys, and “whips, violence and sadism.”

The church’s crime wave is global. A French cardinal is convicted of concealing decades of sexual abuse by a priest in his jurisdiction; The Washington Post reports how clerical pedophiles “preyed on the most isolated and submissive children,” at an institute for the deaf in Argentina. Scrutiny of Latin America, from which today’s pope came, will be interesting.

In America, the acid drizzle of stomach-turning revelations might become a deluge now that 45 states’ attorneys general have contacted Shapiro about possible investigations in their states. It is highly unlikely that the abuses and conspiracies of silence about them are confined to Pennsylvania. Asked if this might be, cumulatively, the worst crime in American history, Shapiro says: Perhaps, considering the power of the guilty institution, the scale and prolonged nature of the crime, and the “sophisticated criminal cover-up.” He speaks of charging the guilty — when possible; many predatory priests have died, and statutes of limitations shield others — “the way you would typically charge the mob.”

An issue that used to bedevil Western nations — negotiating the border between the powers of civil authorities and the church’s prerogatives of self-governance — has been settled in favor of the former. So, when other states’ attorneys general consult with him, Shapiro says, “do not trust the church” about voluntarily surrendering archives. The U.S. Justice Department has put dioceses on notice about preserving records concerning things such as the shuffling of predatory priests to benevolent bishops.

In November, a much-anticipated meeting of American bishops in Baltimore concerning sexual abuse was neutered by the Vatican, and the pope’s February meeting on the subject produced nothing reassuring. In America, the unfolding story — Shapiro says this is “only the third or fourth inning” — will involve legislating. Pennsylvania might open “a civil window” for suing the church, a measure fiercely resisted by the insurance industry that has sold liability policies to dioceses.

Many common locutions — e.g., “Catholic Italy” and “Catholic Ireland” — no longer denote anything real. In the United States, the most religious modern nation, Catholics are leaving their religious affiliation at a higher rate than any other Christian sect. In December, Illinois’ attorney general said the church in that state concealed the names of all but 185 of the 690 priests accused of sexual abuses. The former archbishop in the nation’s capital, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, came to Washington from Pittsburgh. The church’s leaders, says Shapiro, “have shown over decades, centuries really, a focus on protecting the power of their institution.”

In a homily in September, the pope discerned something Satanic in the sexual- abuse scandal. He meant, however, that “the Great Accuser,” aka Satan, was attacking the pope’s bishops.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.