Note: The following post was scheduled to be published by a major metropolitan newspaper. Recent world events bumped it permanently. I am okay with that.
The beatification of Pope John Paul II upset and outraged thousands of victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church around the world … and rightfully so. Media coverage, history and the church’s own documents show that John Paul II oversaw a global church that covered-up for and facilitated thousands of cases of childhood sexual abuse. I am one of the voices of outrage.
I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church; and since 2003, I have been a volunteer public spokesperson and survivor advocate. It’s not a glamorous gig. My office is my kitchen table. I have suffered bed bugs and heat in Florida and sub-zero temperatures in Alaska Native Villages with no running water. I have trudged on and off of trains in Europe, sat alone in public meeting rooms in Guam, visited Native American Indian Reservations in South Dakota and have been stranded in more airports than I can count.
What does it mean when an ordinary survivor like me can show that she has traveled father and done more to meet with the Church’s victims than the Pope? Or that I can name at least 200 of my friends and colleagues who are braver, stronger, smarter, and far more photogenic than I am — and who have done more, traveled farther and endured more than I could ever attempt?
It means that John Paul II should not become a saint. Period.
It’s About the Institutional Cover-Up, Stupid
Since 2002, the world has watched as Catholic Church officials have been forced to come clean about child sexual abuse and cover-up. Some church officials only begrudgingly turned over secret abuse files because brave victims used the tried-and-true civil justice system. Other church officials were forced by law enforcement or required by criminal courts. But let’s face it: Transparency did not come voluntarily. In fact, I cannot recall a single predator’s secret personnel file that was made public by a voluntary move on the part of a bishop. My research has yet to find a single priest file that was voluntarily turned over – in its entirety – to law enforcement because of “church reforms.”
In fact, most Catholic Church officials still refuse to make public a centuries-old strategy and policy of wrongdoing, abuse and cover-up. This strategy of secrecy and abuse came right from the Vatican and it is protecting predators RIGHT NOW. The time to condone this strategy is over.
Exposing the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is not about politics, nor is an assault on religion or faith. It is about the institutional cover-up of abuse, abusers and evidence. The transparency and accountability we demand are components of morals, ethics and justice. It is about the safety of children and the healing of the most vulnerable and fragile among us. It is about adhering to the law.
Charity and good works mean nothing when we are forced to pay for them with the lives of our children. Since the citizenry of the United States demands accountability from every other aspect of our society, it is now time to demand it from Catholic Church officials. The American people don’t wax poetic about the career of Richard Nixon and ignore Watergate. And we can’t do the same thing here.
The Better Path
Unfortunately, there is little we can do to stop John Paul II’s path to sainthood. But there is much we can do to expose his crimes of omission and complicity, as well as the crimes of his colleagues. We can allow victims their day in court by reforming our criminal and civil laws. We can strengthen existing laws against predators and those who cover up for them. We can work with Congress to ensure that we have national standards to protect children from sexual abuse. We can work to revoke the nonprofit status of ANY organization that has been shown to allow abuse, transfer abusers and cover-up crimes. We can support victims in other countries who are also speaking out for children. We can encourage grand juries across the United States to do what the mostly Catholic Philadelphia Grand Jury has done – investigate abuse, expose predators, and indict criminals.
As a nation, we can refuse to allow victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to be marginalized. We can tell church officials that the survivors DO matter, whether the abuse occurred yesterday or in 1945. As a nation, we can embrace the hurting child in every victim of childhood sexual abuse, because the pain never goes away.
If we do these small and simple things, we will have done far more than Catholic Church officials – or Pope John Paul II – have ever done. And we can all be on the better path to sainthood.