The recent report of the Pennsylvania grand jury on clerical sexual abuse has shaken the faith of many people in Southern Louisiana and our whole country. The number of victims and perpetrators mentioned in the report is staggering. The pain and hurt inflicted on children over decades, the lives of hundreds of individuals and families whom these crimes have severely affected upset all of us. Moreover the cover-ups that failed to protect these children and end this sinful behavior are appalling and bewildering.
As a Catholic priest for 54 years, I would like to apologize to anyone who has ever been a victim of sexual abuse by any member of the church’s personnel. I am sorry for any harm or pain anyone might have experienced and if I can do anything to ease that pain, please let me know. I do believe that God’s compassionate love and Jesus’ healing power will bring us through this difficult time.
However, we as a Church must honestly and persistently deal with the culture that allowed the abuse of children to continue. We must address the sins committed in our communities, address the suffering and trauma it has caused, and work to bring healing and justice to its victims. We must also radically change the culture that permitted and protected it.
Addressing this problem in an open letter, Pope Francis said, “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain. So it is urgent that we again reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”
When the Archbishop ordained me a priest in December 1963, I was still in the seminary. During the spring semester of 1964, six of us newly ordained went to six different Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of New Orleans on a rotating basic for weekend pastoral experience.
When I went to one parish, several altar boys were hanging around the rectory. I talked with them and some of them revealed to me that they were being sexual abused by the associate pastor. I knew the Pastor very well and reported this information to him. The Archbishop removed the priest from active ministry. However, no criminal charges were brought against the priest. Nothing to my knowledge was done to help the altar servers deal with the abuse. Everything was kept quiet.
Maybe some of us remember the Fr. Gauthe case in the Lafayette Diocese. He was accused of sexually assaulting 27 youth over a period of years. Bishop Gerard Frey was on the hot seat because he knew about the abuses and moved the priest from parish to parish. I was a deacon under Bishop Frey when he was at St. Francis de Sales Church in Houma. He is not an evil man. He just did what everyone was doing at the time – trying to give the priest a chance to repent. Other Bishops should have learned from the Lafayette and Boston situations but unfortunately they did not.
Sexual abusers do not change. They need to be removed from their society. Most cases uncovered in Pennsylvania were old cases. Many perpetrators went to a high school seminary where they were isolated and did not go through the normal psycho-sexual development that ordinary teenagers experience. They did not date or have much contact with young women. When they were under pressure, they acted out shamefully.
I want to close with the words of Pope Francis, “Penance and prayer will help us open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. Make us hunger and thirst for justice that impels us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary.”