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Blowing the Whistle on Clergy Sex Abuse

Posted  May 24, 2013

By Gordon Schnell

They are the Catholic Whistleblowers.  At least that is the name this small, but growing band of renegade priests and nuns are calling themselves.  They even have a formal website, beseeching “whistleblowers, supporters, and everyone who cares about transparency and honesty in the Catholic Church” to join them in their recently launched crusade.  Their objective is plain and simple.  Support victims of clergy sex abuse.  Encourage Church insiders to do more to expose and root out the abuse that stubbornly persists.  And ultimately, rouse the Catholic Church to take a more aggressive stand against this horrific scourge.  To many, the Church does more to protect the perpetrators of this pestilence than it does the victims.

As their first official act of business, these modern day saints — who risk rankling their colleagues and superiors in an institution not known for tolerating internal dissent — are taking it straight to the top.  They have appealed directly to Pope Francis himself.  In a letter they recently sent him, the whistleblower group makes several recommendations to help remedy what they view as this ongoing crisis and scandal and the irreparable damage it is causing to the Church’s reputation: (i) create and support a group of clergy, lay professionals and abuse victims to serve as an intermediary between the Church and the victims; (ii) require complete transparency on clergy abuse and revoke any explicit or implicit oaths or pledges of secrecy within the Church; (iii) require zero tolerance and remove all clergy who have committed clergy abuse; (iv) remove all Church leaders who have facilitated or concealed clergy abuse; and (v) provide restitution and reparation to any victims of clergy abuse.

To bring their point home with some Biblical gusto, the whistleblowers compare themselves to the poor disfigured beggar who refused to be silenced when seeking some divine intervention:

The beggar was shunned by the apostles who attempted to silence him, to hide his hideous disfigurement from the Lord as if he might disfigure the one who created him.  The beggar refused to be cast into silence for he knew his healing could only come from the dispenser of the divine mercy.  Like this poor disfigured beggar we call out to you from the side of the road . . . .  Please, Pope Francis, do not pass us by.

There has been no response from the Vatican to date.  But the exertions of this courageous crew are certainly being noticed.  The New York Times just did a feature story on them, and the news conference they held this week at Cardozo Law School in New York City to lay out their mission and Papal appeal was widely reported in the press.

All of this was coordinated with the launch of a dedicated whistleblower page on BishopAccountability.org.  This is the website of the Boston-based nonprofit that spearheaded this new whistleblower group and which strives for more transparency and accountability on the issue of clergy abuse.  The new whistleblower page will profile and pay tribute to what they hope will be a growing assembly of priests, nuns and other church insiders who have the courage to speak up in the face of abuse even when it means going above or around their superiors’ efforts to discourage or conceal it.

Some have questioned whether this new-found charge against clergy abuse is still necessary.  According to the Times, the Catholic Church in the United States has already put in place a zero-tolerance policy and runs a host of prevention programs in response to the abuse scandal that peaked a decade ago.  And an annual audit of abuse cases released earlier this month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops showed the lowest level of reported abuse since the audit began in 2004.

Still, the whistleblower group contends that more needs to be done.  That the abuse continues while the Church keeps its head in the sand.  That abusive clergy still have access to our children.  That new reports of abuse pop all the time.  And that only through a more open and direct response from the Church, forged in partnership with this newest cadre of whistleblowers who refuse to be silenced, can this blight ever truly come to an end.