In the Book of Matthew, there is an oft-quoted verse about the hypocrisy of attempting to look righteous on the outside — “like whitewashed tombs” — while not addressing the unclean within. That has, of course, long been the perception of efforts to confront sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, including in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
This month, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh finished a 456-page report, which is thus far private, detailing 80 years of devastating abuse and torture of hundreds of people — children — by priests and others associated with the Catholic Church in Maryland. The Baltimore Archdiocese subsequently issued a statement claiming to support public release of that report, which is ultimately up to a judge because the document is based largely on secret grand jury materials.
“We believe that transparency is necessary to rebuild the trust that has been damaged by evil acts of abuse committed by representatives of the Church and by historic failures of Church leadership to respond adequately to those acts,” reads the Nov. 22 statement. It further observes that the image revealed by the attorney general’s office “is not the Archdiocese we are today.”
We would like nothing more than to believe that. But when that same archdiocese is helping to pay the legal fees of an anonymous group that the AG’s office says is seeking to block public release of that report — well, we think of the whitewashed tombs and the line that immediately follows: “On the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).
Sun reporter Lee O. Sanderlin wrote Monday that the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which has a history of turning its back on abuse victims, is contributing to the costs of two high-profile lawyers — former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein and prominent white collar lawyer William J. Murphy — who were hired to represent certain people named in the AG’s report that were neither accused of abuse, nor contacted by the AG’s office. The archdiocese says it’s merely observing “legal requirements” and furthering “the opportunity to participate” in the process by those unnamed people, and that the case is thus far only about keeping secret court arguments over whether to make the document public.
But it sounds like hypocrisy to us.
As Raquel Coombs, a spokesperson for Frosh’s office, put it: “The archdiocese is paying for the opposition to the release of the report.”
While the clients of Bernstein and Murphy deserve to be heard, having their concerns underwritten by the Archdiocese of Baltimore raises questions of where the church’s interests really lie. Is it in protecting the flock, as they say, or the would-be defrocked?
There is a strong public interest at stake here. For too long, terrible things have happened as this powerful institution protected abusers in Maryland and beyond. There are numerous instances of church officials sweeping allegations under the rug and allowing pedophile priests to retain positions of power and the cycle of abuse to continue. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori must understand just how damaged the church’s credibility is on this issue. Anything less than full transparency on the decades of tragic transgressions will represent yet another round of, as the archdiocese noted, “failures of Church leadership to respond adequately to those acts.”
If any religion should know that its best chance of redemption lies in complete confession, it is Catholicism. But the time for whispers in a closed confessional to other church officials is long past. That’s too literal a reading of James 5:16: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” These sins must be heard by all if they are ever to be stopped.
Justice cannot wait for the next world; it must begin in this one.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.