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Something is Rotten in the State of Maryland
The Archdiocese of Baltimore owes abuse victims and the faithful more than hollow apologies.
The Office of the Maryland Attorney General recently completed its nearly 4-year investigation into widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests over an 80-year period in Baltimore area parishes. Attorney General Brian Frosh has now asked the Baltimore Circuit Court to fully release its report to the public since state law requires a judge’s order to disclose confidential grand jury materials.
It’s a grim history of abuse and cover-ups according to the court filing requesting disclosure:
The Report identifies 115 priests that were prosecuted for sex abuse and/or identified publicly by the Archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. The Report includes an additional 43 priests accused of sexual abuse but not identified publicly by the Archdiocese. The Report summarizes the sexual abuse and physical torture perpetrated by all 158 identified priests and the Archdiocese’s response to that abuse.
As shown in the Report, both boys and girls were abused, with ages ranging from preschool through young adulthood. Although no parish was safe, some congregations and schools were assigned multiple abusive priests, and a few had more than one sexually abusive priest at the same time. One congregation was assigned eleven sexually abusive priests over 40 years. The sexual abuse was so pervasive that victims were sometimes reporting sexual abuse to priests who were perpetrators themselves.
The investigation also revealed that the Archdiocese failed to report many allegations of sexual abuse, conduct adequate investigations of alleged abuse, remove the abusers from the ministry, or restrict their access to children. Instead, it went to great lengths to keep the abuse secret. While the Archdiocese reported a large number of allegations to police, especially in later years, for decades it worked to ensure that the perpetrators would not face justice.
The consequences of the Archdiocese’s actions are immeasurable. The investigation identified over 600 victims. There are almost certainly hundreds more, as the Department of Justice's Annual Crime Victimization Report has demonstrated that most incidents of sexual assault go unreported.
As the Baltimore Banner reports, the Archdiocese of Baltimore currently covers the city and 9 other counties in Maryland, including a total of 153 parishes with an estimated 24,000 children in its multiple elementary and high schools. The Archdiocese has cooperated with the state over the years providing hundreds of thousands of documents to aid investigations, and has published its own list of the accused and where they worked. However, as the new court filing notes, among the 43 additional priests identified by the state, 30 have since died leaving 13 living priests accused of abuse who have not been identified publicly and who have not been prosecuted.
The Baltimore area Catholic community is understandably angry and confused by the extent of priest abuses and the complicity of the Church hierarchy in covering up these crimes over many decades.
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori apologized to victims and other lay Catholics saying: “We feel renewed shame, deep remorse and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being.”
Apologies are in order, of course, but more actions are needed to repair the moral breach and move beyond hollow words. The Archdiocese could help by first agreeing to the release of the attorney general’s report, identifying the remaining priests accused of abuse, and cooperating, if warranted, in fair judicial proceedings to hold any living priests accountable for their actions. Beyond that, the Archdiocese needs to atone for its corrupt actions over the past 80 years by providing full restitution to all remaining victims and their families, and by proving the Church has corrected its ways and implemented procedures to ensure these crimes never occur again within its jurisdiction.
People across the country are fleeing parishes in record numbers for good reasons. This isn’t an assault on religion by secular forces but rather the repercussions of the Church’s own impunity and failed moral authority. How exactly should Catholic parents tell their own kids about the behavior of the Church over decades? Why should anyone listen to the homilies of bishops and priests about personal responsibility, solidarity with others, and moral rectitude when the Church itself acted like a criminal enterprise for decades with no real consequences?
Children were abused by trusted priests, the powerful leaders of the Church covered it up, and state officials failed to intervene to protect families for decades. Those are the painful facts for us Catholics.
All the decent-hearted and faithful Catholics and clergy remaining as important stewards in their communities deserve to have the stain of past abuse and cover-up removed. They didn’t cause this harm but are left trying to rebuild their faith and local parishes under a cloud of institutional impropriety. The hierarchy of the Church broke the faith and lost the trust of hundreds of victims and their families in Baltimore plus thousands of more regular parishioners across the state.
The faithful will continue carrying out the Catholic mission of serving others and assisting the poor and vulnerable. It’s time for Church leaders to do their part as well. Redemption begins with truth and restitution for past crimes—plus genuine institutional reform.