Richard Serbin: Vatican should chip in for clergy abuse survivors
Finally, decades into a still-unresolved crisis, some Pennsylvania bishops are now agreeing to compensate victims of predator priests. But it seems that one responsible party is getting off scot-free: the Vatican.
For four days later this month, bishops from around the world will meet to discuss the child sex abuse crisis facing the church. At that meeting, I’m certain that few, if any, will ask how much money Rome will be giving to help the victims.
If you wonder why the Vatican should compensate abuse victims, I give you three unassailable reasons rooted in the church’s own past:
• More than a half-century ago, in 1952, a Catholic religious order known as the Servants of the Paraclete was the church entity dealing with “troubled priests.” Its mission was to attempt to treat priests who had sexually abused children and return them to their parish assignment. The founder wrote a stern warning to then-Pope Pius VI that leaving predator priests “on duty or wandering from diocese to diocese is contributing to scandal,” and that “real conversions” among them are “extremely rare.” He made the audacious suggestion that the church buy a Caribbean island and move child-molesting clerics there.
• In 1985, a priest who was also a psychologist and a civil attorney sent every U.S. bishop a lengthy, confidential report warning that the church “is facing extremely serious financial consequences and significant injury to its image” because of mounting abuse cases and civil lawsuits. Vatican officials also saw the report.
• In 2001, Pope John Paul II ordered that all reports of child-molesting clerics be sent to the Vatican, formalizing an already common practice and ensuring that top church staff were “kept in the loop” regarding nearly all abuse cases.
Clearly, the Catholic Church was aware that priests were molesting children. Clearly, the Vatican was in no hurry to stop it.
Vatican officials, at the apex of the church hierarchy, not only had a duty to warn others about this crisis, but more importantly, to do everything in their power to protect children from predators. They had more information about the global problem of pedophile priests than anyone, and because the church is a rigid hierarchy — in which bishops pledge to obey the pope and priests pledge to obey their bishops — the Vatican certainly could have severely curtailed these crimes. It is unfathomable why it did not.
So, since Vatican officials were “on notice,” as lawyers say, and were complicit in ongoing abuse, as ample evidence shows, they have a legal responsibility to provide compensation for abuse victims.
Be prepared to hear the Vatican argue that it will go bankrupt and local churches will suffer if it is forced to pay victims. Baloney. The Vatican is among the wealthiest institutions in the world. The Vatican itself contains thousands of priceless works of art and gold. Selling a few of these pieces would go a long way toward compensating abuse victims for their anguish. Bishops need to think about this as they meet at the Vatican and bask in the church’s material splendor.
Attorney Richard Serbin (richardserbin.com), a prominent national figure in the area of clergy child sexual abuse, testified before the Pennsylvania grand jury. He heads the Sexual Abuse Division of Janet, Janet & Suggs LLS.