(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)
They read like scenes from a Marquis de Sade novel. A teenager forced to pose naked like Christ crucified while sadistic priests laughed at him. A priest who abused five sisters in one family and collected samples of their urine and menstrual blood for his own sick pleasure. Another who groomed underage students for oral sex by telling them that the Virgin Mary had to “lick” the just-born Jesus. Whips and leather straps. Bondage and forcible sodomy.
Yet the blockbuster grand-jury report on abuse in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania is credible, deeply researched and all too real. The findings — that 300 predatory priests victimized 1,000 children over seven decades — mark a crisis of still-unfathomable scale in the American church. It involves clerical fathers who gravely sinned against their children and against the Father in heaven, and others who averted their eyes or made excuses or covered up the sins.The most painful aspect of all this is the blasé response of many American hierarchs and especially those, like Washington Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, who are implicated in the report. Wuerl and his colleagues have treated the report as a PR headache rather than a moral and spiritual wake-up call. They have acted like corporate reputation managers rather than successors to the Apostles. Instead of venting prophetic anger, they’ve taken refuge behind flacks.
Catholics believe that Jesus founded the church when he charged the Apostles to make disciples of all nations and handed them the power to forgive sins.
Those who regularly go to confession know by heart the steps for expiating sin: contrition, disclosure and a commitment to do penance and never to sin again.
Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find these quintessentially Catholic themes in the heavily lawyered blabber that has issued forth from the US episcopacy.
Those with the most authority here seem to be the most unrepentant. Even before the grand-jury report was made public, Wuerl gave a cringe-inducing interview on the topic of his predecessor in Washington, the disgraced Archbishop Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, who recently resigned from the College of Cardinals as abuse allegations against him multiplied.
“I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis,” Wuerl said. “It was a terrible disappointment.” Yes, McCarrick’s fondling of a boy he’d baptized — disappointing, indeed.
Wuerl even published a website, theWuerlRecord.com, that portrayed him as an anti-abuse hero during his time as the bishop of Pittsburgh, from 1988 to 2006 — a period covered by the grand jury investigation. After an outcry, he took the site down.
“The sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic Church has been a terrible tragedy” is typically mealy-mouthed verbiage from the expensive-looking site.
The cardinal goes on: “While I served as Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and as our understanding of child sexual abuse increased, the Diocese worked to strengthen our response and repeatedly amended the Diocese’s safeguards and policies.”
That bit about “our understanding” of abuse “increasing” over time is particularly rich, as if the Catholic Church hadn’t prohibited sexual immorality of all kinds for two millennia.
Whatever “amending” took place during Wuerl’s time in Pittsburgh wasn’t enough. On his watch, the diocese allowed a predator priest, Ernest Paone, to interact with kids in other states, though cases against him had piled up at the Pittsburgh chancery.
In 1994, a diocesan staffer wrote a detailed memo about Paone’s past to then-Bishop Wuerl. But Wuerl withheld much of the information from officials in California and Nevada, where Paone had been transferred.
“The Diocese did not recall Paone,” the grand jurors note. “Nor did it suspend his faculties as a priest. To the contrary, Paone continued to have the support of the Diocese.”
The most revolting facts surrounding Wuerl involve a priest named George Zirwas, a member of a pedophile ring that manufactured child pornography on diocesan ground.
He whipped his victims and forced himself on them. And when he was done, he would hand them gold crosses, which “were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization,” per the grand jury.
Zirwas had been removed from the ministry under a scandalous cloud when his strangled body turned up in Havana in 2001. Wuerl celebrated a funeral Mass for this monster, and he told the local press in Pittsburgh: “A priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever.”
Zirwas, Wuerl said of the departed, had responded to God’s call by joining the priesthood.
These days there is a lot of talk of “mercy” and “accompaniment” in the Roman Church. But these outrages call for a different kind of spirit: the spirit of judgment, the fiery spirit of Saint Paul, who raged against sexual immorality in the early Church in his epistles and consigned those who defiled the people of God to fates worse than excommunication. For mercy without truth and penance is just PR.
Sohrab Ahmari is senior writer at Commentary and author of the forthcoming memoir of Catholic conversion, “From Fire, By Water.”