The Catholic Church in the United States is facing an unprecedented scandal in the months since the Pennsylvania grand jury announced the names of hundreds of priests who have abused thousands of children. Currently, at least 15 states and the District of Columbia have publicly launched or are publicly declaring that they’re preparing to launch investigations to determine the full scale of the abuse Catholic clergy subjected victims to.
Organizations such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have reported that these investigations, both the types of investigations and the scales of the investigations, are unprecedented. Each of the investigations will differ because of varying local laws that have to be taken into account, as well as the fact that each state’s Attorney General has different levels of power and access to different resources.
One of the consequences of the original Pennsylvania report that is responsible for this national conversation about abuse in the Catholic Church is that reports of sexual abuse are up all over the country. In the days following the release of the original report, more than 400 phone calls were made to the Pennsylvania hotline dedicated to reporting Catholic priest abuse of children. Other groups have acted to reveal the scope of the abuse scandal, such as a law firm that released a report naming more than 200 priests in California who were accused of sexual misconduct.
The reactions of Catholics and by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church have been mixed. There have been pledges of support by some dioceses and even the Pope himself has spoken out against abuse and penned an open letter decrying abuse and celebrating the work done to prevent further abuse while holding abusers accountable.
In the letter, the Pope calls for an acknowledgement of what has been done to victims and says that both abusers and those who aided them must beg for forgiveness and move to be more committed to intervening against abusers and aiding victims. This comes months after the Pope accused victims of Catholic priest sexual misconduct in Chile of slander and would later call that action a “grave error” he made in part because of a lack of “truthful and balanced information.”
On the other hand, critics of the Pope, including some Catholics, say that he isn’t doing enough to meaningfully address abuse, with research from the Pew Research Center showing that six in10 American Catholics say the Pope is doing either an “only fair” or “poor” job of working through the crisis. One facet of this could very well be that controversial figures who are thought to have played a role in covering up abuse, such as Cardinal Wuerl, have been allowed to retain their influence even if they resign from high ranking positions.
In the case of Cardinal Wuerl, he has stepped down as archbishop of Washington D.C. but has said that he’ll be allowed to keep advising Pope Francis about bishop appointments. This leads many to feel as if the actions the Pope has taken are either not far at all or not far enough.