For Catholic bishops, PSU scandal 'reopens wound in church'

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BALTIMORE -- At the Catholic bishops' annual meeting in Baltimore, hallways have buzzed with talk about Penn State University's child sex abuse scandal.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the bishops conference, said he hopes that Penn State and other institutions learn from both the bishops' failings and their reforms.

"Whenever this painful issue comes into public view again, as it has sadly recently with Penn State, it reopens a wound in the church," he said in response to a question about the scandal at a news conference. "We once again hang our heads in shame as we recall with contrition those who have been suffering. ... It also makes us a little timid from wanting to give advice."

When an assistant coach allegedly witnessed a child being sexually assaulted in a Penn State locker room in 2002, the news media were carrying nonstop stories about some Catholic bishops who had failed to remove child molesters from ministry or to aid the victims. Among their reforms, the bishops started a grass-roots "safe environment" campaign to train millions of Catholics to identify and report suspected child molesters.

"One of the things that we've learned the hard way -- and Lord knows we earned our Ph.D. in the school of hard knocks on this one -- is that education in this area is extraordinarily efficacious," Archbishop Dolan said. "One of the good things that might come out of this evil and tragedy would be some type of alliance between the religious and educational establishments in a major national campaign. ... The Catholic Church in the United States would be eager to be invested in it."

No such discussion has taken place yet, he said.

Archbishop Dolan said the Penn State scandal illustrates what statistics have long shown: Child sexual abuse isn't just a problem of priests or of religious institutions but is committed by all sorts of people who are often in positions of trust.


Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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