On July 5, Judge John W. Potter
approved a settlement between the Diocese
of Covington, Kentucky, and over
100 victim-survivors of clergy sex abuse.
The diocese has secured $40 million for
the settlement fund and is working to
recover another $80 million from insurance
A month earlier, former Covington
priest and convicted sexual abuser Earl
Bierman died in prison.
In reading the coverage of both stories,
I realized that, while both of these
events represented milestones in a
sense, neither will bring closure to the
victims. Recovery from sexual abuse is
a lifelong journey.
Three years ago, when the clergy sex-abuse
crisis became big news nationally,
the coverage seemed to be everywhere.
We here at St. Anthony Messenger devoted
our entire June 2003 issue to the
crisis. But as is often the case, after a
while interest began to fade. We began
to hear from our readers: “Enough
already. Let’s just move on.”
And I must confess, there have been
times when I have wanted to scream, “Enough already!” I have wanted to say
that myself, as a writer who reports on
the issue in this magazine’s “Church in
the News” column every month, as a
mom who can’t stand to hear of one
more child being hurt and as a parishioner
who gets tired of seeing my parish—
with four of its past priests accused
of sex abuse—on the nightly news.
But each time I begin to feel that way,
I remind myself that for so many victims,
this story never goes away—won’t
go away. And as much as I’d like to act
as if this never happened, I can’t. It did,
and those who were hurt will continue
to hurt for a long time to come.
An Ongoing Issue
Over the past three years, the U.S. bishops
have also learned that recovery
from this crisis is going to be a long and
painful process. In fact, during their
June 16-18 annual spring meeting in
Chicago, clergy sex abuse was again a
major topic of discussion. At that meeting,
the bishops took some important
steps toward realizing that this crisis
isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
The bishops voted to adopt revisions
of both the 2002 Charter for the Protection
of Children and Young People and the
related Essential Norms, which carry the
force of Church law. They also made
the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual
Abuse a standing committee, renaming
it the Committee for the Protection of
Children and Young People.
They passed a “Statement of Episcopal
Commitment,” which is a mutual
pledge to help one another fully implement
the Charter and Norms.
And the bishops promised to provide
up to $1 million of their own reserve
funds to help finance a study on
the causes and contexts of clergy sex
abuse. The study, called for by the Charter,
will cost between $2 and $5 million.
It is expected to be the largest study
ever conducted on the issue of sex
abuse of minors by clergy.
The bishops and the National Review
Board also conducted a confidential
national online study earlier this year
asking sex-abuse victims for their input
on how the Church can better prevent
sexual abuse of minors and how best to
respond to those who have been abused.
The survey is part of the Response and
Prevention Project. As of this writing,
the survey’s results were scheduled to be
posted online (www.usccb.org/ocyp)
by late summer.
But despite all these steps forward,
there continues to be room for improvement.
For instance, neither the
Charter nor the Norms nor the “Statement
of Episcopal Commitment” were
passed unanimously. I can’t begin to
speculate why, but I do know that a
unanimous vote would have sent a
And when the latest round of audits
by the National Review Board was
released in February, seven dioceses were
not yet in full compliance with the Charter.
The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska,
chose not to take part in the 2004 audits,
saying that the audits were “voluntary”
and not required by Church law.
So while I say kudos to the bishops for
continuing to move forward on a very
painful and challenging issue, I also say,
keep going. There’s still a long way to go.
Archbishop Harry Flynn, head of the
bishops’ committee on sex abuse, acknowledged
this need when asked about
complaints from victims’ groups that the
Church still wasn’t doing enough. “Look
about you. See what has happened in
the past three years and see what is
going to happen in the next three,” he
said. He also added that for some victims’
groups, “no matter what we did or
said, it would not be satisfactory.”
Where the Laity Comes In
That’s where we can help. This is an
opportunity for Catholics to put their
faith into action. But first we have to
care. No more “Enough already.” No
more “Let’s just move on.”
So why should we still care? There are
a lot of reasons. We should care because
there are still victims who have
not come forward and there are victim-survivors
who are hurting and struggling
to go on with their lives with the
memory of their abuse. We should care
because, while it may help them to
move forward, no monetary settlement
is going to erase the pain of the abuse
these individuals have suffered. We
should care because “Whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine,
you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). For
those reasons, and more, that’s why we
should care. —S.H.B.
The revised Charter, Essential Norms and “Statement of Episcopal Commitment” are available at www.usccb.org/ocyp.