Outside editorial: Prosecute the priest sex-abuse scandals

The following editorial first appeared in the Seattle Times:

After decades of silence, deceit and settlements, the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse scandal might finally be headed where it truly belongs, U.S. criminal courts.

Church leadership has been granted extraordinary latitude in handling epic cases of sexual assault against children who put their innocence and trust in religious figures who violated them, sometimes for years. Again and again, bishops invested more loyalty in the clergy responsible for the assaults than in the people in the pews.

Last week, a $166 million settlement was announced for victims abused by Jesuit priests on Northwest tribal lands and in remote Alaskan villages. Affirmation of their suffering and belated accountability for their exploiters will mean as much as the eventual financial payouts.

But real progress came across the country in Philadelphia, where a judge approved requests by the district attorney to move ahead in a case involving accusations of rape and conspiracy involving clergy, and a subsequent cover-up by a senior church official.

In a related development, The New York Times reports a grand jury in Philadelphia found as many as 37 priests accused of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior were allowed to continue serving in the priesthood. The church’s local review boards were in the dark about the failures to adhere to decade-old guidelines that came out of a horrific scandal in Boston.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, the church was given authority and deference it did not deserve and repeatedly violated in the handling of cases that date back decades. Instances of abuse are still being revealed. Unconscionable acts with injurious results have been met with the most hypocritical behavior.

The church’s response has amounted to an international cover-up for heinous acts from California to Connecticut, as well as Australia, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany.

Worldwide the pattern has been to hide the truth, mount counterattacks about Catholic bashing and stall.

The outside world did not sully a sacred vocation. No more operating above the law. Turn those accused of assault and abuse over to secular authorities. Send the guilty to jail.

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