The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire last week released the names of 14 priests suspected of sexually abusing children over the span of two decades to local prosecutors. Meanwhile, the Dioceses of Worcester, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine have recently announced that they would disclose the names of pedophile priests to parishioners, and the New York Times reports that as many as 1,000 abuse cases involving the Roman Catholic Church have been settled out of court. Pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church is now a national scandal.
In addition to the recent actions taken by local dioceses, former cases of abuse are now getting more attention. Before establishing a board on sexual misconduct to address cases of sex abuse in the Church, the diocese of Dallas, Texas agreed to pay a $120 million settlement in 1997 resulting for accusations of sexual misconduct by priests. Another priest in Orange County, California was disciplined for having sex with a minor in 1991 but allowed to continue working in other parishes. The victim picketed outside of those parishes in an effort to expose his abuse.
Victims of sex abuse committed by clergy, however, rarely receive justice. State statutes of limitations prevent many from prosecuting their assailants, and the Church’s insistence on confidentiality hampers efforts to expose pedophiles. Church leaders are now trying to create policies to address pedophilia and sexual abuse, but there is still no universal Church policy on the issue in the U.S. According to David Clohessy, National Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the individual diocesan policies enacted by individual bishops are “worthless” because “if you look at the origin of them, most were drawn up at the insistence of the insurance company and at the urging of P.R. people when a diocese is in crisis.” Indeed, Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Archdiocese has called in a public relations firm to help the archdiocese recover from the scandal evoked by defrocked priest John Geoghan’s sexual abuse of minors and Law’s admission that he knew of allegations against Geoghan, and possibly others, but allowed him to continue in his duties as a priest.