It hasn't been altogether easy lately to be a lay Catholic who wants to believe that the clergy has really learned everything they needed to know to go forward in such a way that nothing like the Scandal will ever happen again. On the one hand, I personally know good priests and bishops who were outraged by the Scandal, who have gone out of their way to examine the records of their predecessors, who have (in my own diocese) acted swiftly and justly to remove from ministry any priest whose red flags "mysteriously" got overlooked by former diocesan leaders. I know both clergy and lay leaders who not only combed through priests' records but through those of other diocesan personnel as well, and who instituted policies to mandate regular background checks and child safety training for clergy and lay people alike.
On the other hand, we recently had the remarks of conservative figure of the stature of Father Benedict Groeschel to the effect that sometimes the victims were somewhat to blame (the fallout from that interview continues, as I wrote yesterday); and then we saw Father Zuhlsdorf write a blog post excoriating the National Catholic Reporter for calling for Bishop Finn to resign--and apparently refuse to post any comments other than those joining in NCR-bashing, which latter is apparently an act of great charity. (It is my personal belief that no lay person should tell a bishop to resign; rather, a lay person can only exhort that bishop to spend serious time in contemplation to discern whether or not it is fitting for a successor of the Apostles to fail to disclose for some five months that a priest in his diocese was taking lewd pictures of little girls including pictures of their underwear-clad crotches and--in at least one instance--nude genitals; and further whether the bishop modeled the Apostles by continuing to permit that priest during those five months to have unsupervised contact with children while failing to disclose to their parents, teachers, or anyone else that this priest might just possibly pose a small, unimportant threat to the little ones' innocent virtue and the privacy which they were justly owed as children of God: but if the bishop discerns that it's fine for a successor of the Apostles to behave that way, and is, indeed, so far above reproach that a newspaper saying otherwise should be loudly denounced for its deplorable lack of faith in Christ, why then, the bishop has spoken, and the matter must rest. And if you actually need a sarcasm alert here, then you don't know me, right?)
The problem here is not that our leaders will still keep having feet of clay and behaving with unbelievable dismissiveness toward the very real problems caused by priests who use children (yes, even 14-year-old children with that "come hither" in their eyes) as their sexual playthings; the problem here is that we keep expecting them to do otherwise. Some (a very few) bishops deserve great praise for the amount of time they've spent listening to lay people, especially parents, and developing sane and sensible policies designed to protect children--but I would counsel parents even in those dioceses that in the horrific event that their child reports an "incident," they should not call the diocesan abuse hotline or the chancery or the parish or their pastor. They should go straight to the police.
This is because the reflexive tendency to "protect our own" exists in all of our hearts--and in the hearts of bishops and priests, all too often, "our own" means their brother priests and bishops, not the sweet little girl sharing her parents' pew or the pious young boy who has just started training to be an altar server. If a priest like Father Shawn Ratigan has photographed the private parts of that sweet little girl, or a priest like Father Edward Avery has sexually assaulted that pious young boy, it will be the rare pastor or bishop who seeks to protect the little girl or the little boy first instead of protecting the priest. It is sad to have to say this, but the truth is often sad.
Once parents understand this, we will also be able to understand something else: it is our job to protect our children, and in the horrible situation where abuse has happened, it is also our job to call the police. If our children are grown or nearly-grown, we should still use our vigilance (the Keeping Children Safe classes say so, after all!) to make sure all the other children in our parishes are safe, and to report, immediately, to law enforcement anything we have seen that suggest that a child is in imminent danger of harm. If our pastors or bishops won't do that job (and some will, like I said, but we simply can't assume they will), we must. That is all there is to it.
It is not time for us to develop feet of clay when it comes to protecting children. They are not served by a cowardly reluctance to do what is right. Nor are they served by our idolization of priests or bishops whom we think will agree with us about the primacy of protecting children--not when they have shown us again and again by words and deeds that for them protecting children from predator priests may not be a top priority at all.