After the report this month detailing hundreds of cases of abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania, Baltimore’s Archbishop William E. Lori said the “anger, disillusionment and pain” with the church raised by the revelations “must be met with more than prayers and promises. They must also be met with action by any and all with responsibility for ensuring the safety of children and others in our care.”
What does that mean? So far, the most direct public sign of action by the archdiocese is its decision not to name a school after the late Cardinal William H. Keeler, whose name crops up about three dozen times in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report, including instances when he failed to act on allegations of abuse by priests he oversaw in his previous role as the bishop in Harrisburg. That’s not nothing, considering the esteem Keeler was held in here and his previous reputation for transparency in such cases, but it is a symbolic gesture. We’ll make a symbolic gesture of our own — The Sun named Keeler Marylander of the Year in 1994, the year he became a cardinal. We hereby rescind the honor.
But as with the school name decision, we don’t believe for a second that it is of any real comfort to those who were abused or who have seen their trust in the Catholic Church destroyed by years of revelations of misconduct and cover-ups.
To his credit, Archbishop Lori recognizes that more needs to be done, and a spokesman says he is reaching out to other American bishops to develop new, independent mechanisms to hold themselves accountable. Since reports of widespread abuse began to surface 15 years ago, the church has developed policies to deal strictly with abusive priests and other church officials, but only the pope can dismiss a bishop. In a statement, Mr. Lori said he would work with his peers to develop procedures for the reporting of alleged abuse by any church official, regardless of rank, with the goal of fostering confidence that they will fully and fairly be investigated and acted upon.
We welcome his efforts, but we are concerned that it they won’t be enough. Mr. Lori is a respected and influential leader in the American church, and now is the time for him to be bold.
He should start by releasing all of the church’s files related to alleged abuse by Archbishop Keough High School’s A. Joseph Maskell, the subject of the Netflix documentary “The Keepers.” We recognize the archdiocese’s reasoning for not doing so before — concerns that even redacted documents could expose the identities of victims who do not want to come forward and a worry that the release could lead to frustration if it fails to include all the answers critics are demanding. But in the wake of the Pennsylvania report and Pope Francis’ recent letter on abuse, the value of displaying greater transparency cannot be overstated.
Archbishop Lori should also work to strengthen a lay review panel the church uses to evaluate its handling of abuse cases and other complaints. Its independence is laudable — most members aren’t even Catholic, and it has spoken out critically of the church’s handling of some cases before — but the church needs to make it a direct conduit for complaints, not just a body to review investigations and disciplinary actions after the fact. Those who have lost faith in the church’s ability to handle these matters need to be reassured that abuse allegations won’t be ignored or buried.
And if he really wants to get his colleagues’ attention, he should join the movement to get all American bishops to offer their resignations en masse, as those in Chile did, leading the pope to dismiss a handful. We say this not because we believe Archbishop Lori should be replaced — although we have disagreed on various matters at the intersection of church and state, we respect his sincerity and thoughtfulness — but because such a radical step may be necessary to shake a church culture that has been far too slow to recognize its culpability for abuse and to give Pope Francis the latitude to remake the institution.
The church cannot survive without the faith of its parishioners, but that faith is badly shaken and is in danger of being lost. No half-measures will be enough to restore it.