Catholic Church Crisis Could Have Been Avoided, Prominent Cleric Writes
The Roman Catholic Church is facing an unnecessary crisis "that could have been averted if the overriding priority in
recent years had been the welfare of the church's children rather than the welfare of its priests and its assets," a
prominent religious authority writes.
The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of the FaithTrust Institute and editor of "The Journal of Religion and Abuse," said,
"Not reporting allegations of child abuse to authorities, secret settlements which place gag orders on survivors,
harassment of complainants, retention of pedophile priests, and secret placement in new parishes---these are the
outcomes for which dioceses have paid a high price---mostly to their lawyers."
In an article in "The Long Term View," a publication of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover(MSL), Dr. Fortune, a
minister in the United Church of Christ, writes, "From east to west, we are learning information that some dioceses not
only kept these crimes a secret for decades, but they also misrepresented facts to survivors and used depositions to
harass and blame victims for their victimization."
"These longstanding cases of abuse by priests, silence, and cover-up are all the evidence we need that the hierarchy of
the church has been hijacked by those who chose the institutional protection agenda," Dr. Fortune said. "Behind the face
of robes and incense, clerical privilege was allowed to trump the Gospel. And they have brought the church to the
The church's accusers, she notes, are survivors of sexual abuse that do not usually come forward to complain until they
reach adulthood. Yet, Dr. Fortune points out, some diocesan counsel have attempted to utilize states' statutes of
limitations. She writes, "the fact that some dioceses (not all) have opposed statutory changes which would extend the
statute of limitations in order to accommodate survivors and really get to the perpetrators (who may still be offending)
creates huge questions in the minds of parishioners about the diocesan's genuine commitment to healing and justice for
victims and survivors of abuse."
Another legal tactic employed by some dioceses has been a First Amendment defense that says the separation of church and
state precludes the state's involvement in any business of the church but most particularly in civil or criminal actions
regarding the church's handling of clergy sexual abuse cases.
"This is a cynical affront to both the church's values and the Bill of Rights," Dr. Fortune believes, noting the First
Amendment was established to promote free exercise of religion and to deny the state power to establish any particular
religious teaching. "It was not intended to shield churches from liability for mismanagement and malfeasance, not to
mention criminal behavior in the sexual abuse of children," Dr. Fortune writes.
She goes on to say that if every state consistently required every helping professional to report even the suspicion of
child abuse or neglect, disclosures of alleged abuse by clergy would be investigated relatively quickly by those trained
to investigate. In several states, Dr. Fortune notes, the clergy hierarchy is not required by law to report criminal
abuse of children and adolescents.
Positive Role For Lawyers Urged
Dr. Fortune said many lawyers for judicatories have seen their job as protecting a client diocese from legitimate
complaints by congregants, an approach that is "shortsighted at best and immoral at worst....If the Roman Catholic
Church persists in (its)aggressive legal strategy of secrecy, it will continue to reap what it sows." She called on
bishops to direct their lawyers to develop and implement policies and procedures aimed at stopping abusers, identifying
victims, and bringing healing help to them and to their families. She urged lawyers to "deal with the problem openly and
honestly and help provide justice for those who have been harmed. Justice leads to healing. Lawyers can help the church
be the church. Instead all too often lawyers have helped the church forget it is the church."
Dr. Fortune argues a justice-providing response is actually in the best interest of the lawyer's client, the diocese.
"It is consistent with the stated values of the institution. It addresses a very real internal problem of misconduct and
seeks to limit its impact. It ultimately saves money and protects the financial and moral assets of the institution."
Dr. Fortune's article was published in Volume 6 of "The Long Term View" and is titled, "The Improper, Anti-religious Use
of Secrecy by the Church in Child Sexual Abuse Matters." Her views are not necessarily those of the law school.
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