Here is a compelling story about a priest who has decided to stand with sex abuse victims, even if that means standing up to his diocese. It is, of course, a welcome thing to see, and Fr. James Connell is to be applauded for his actions.
But a deeper question arises: why is this news? Why unusual? Should it not be the case that this action– a priest standing with wounded members of his flock, speaking the truth even if it means taking on his own superiors — is the norm, and not the exception?
I have been a child sexual abuse attorney now for over 15 years; I have represented over 300 men and women abused as children, the vast majority of them victims of abuse in the Catholic Church.
And yet, aside from this story, I know of only one other active priest who has spoken out for victims, even if and when that means taking on the Catholic heirarchy: Fr Tom Doyle, the most morally courageous man I know. For nearly 30 years now, this relentless man has tirelessly taken a stand on behalf of victims, and against secrecy and cover-up. But how can it be that we almost never hear of this kind of thing happening?
Surely there are thousands of good and faithful priests in the Catholic Church. This is what the Vatican and the American heirarchy repeatedly tell us, and we all know good and holy priests. So why do so few stand up and speak out? The only answer I can come up with is that the pressure put on these men to stay quiet and “show obedience” is immense. If true, then that is a terribly wrong and misguided attempt by the heirarchy to protect the reputation of the Church.
I am a man of Christian faith– though a deeply flawed one, to be sure. But one of the things that this means is that I expect more from the leadership of the churches, especially the Catholic Church.
Anyone who holds the Christian faith in high regard, and the Catholic Church, expects the Church to do the right thing. And so I– we– have been especially disappointed over the years at the response to the abuse crisis. Surely the Church would have been better off to fling open the doors, get the truth out in the open– “we had and still have a serious child sex abuse problem in this Church, and even the bishops and heirarchy have sinned in hiding it; we apologize unconditionally and beg forgiveness, and we commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes to heal victims and protect children”– than to take the path of denial and cover up that it has taken.
People can and will forgive a wrong, even a serious wrong, if there is real remorse, repentance and change. But this is not the path the Church has taken. And, because of that, stories like this one are an exception, and not the rule. That is not only a tragedy for tens of thousands of victims; it is a tragedy of the first order for the Catholic Church.