This is the year the Diocese of Norwich filed for bankruptcy because church officials and lawyers have acknowledged that dozens of alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse are able to bring charges in civil court . If they win their individual case, they could get compensation for injuries inflicted years ago by priests who were allowed to get away with it.
No one is claiming that the current leadership of the diocese has a personal connection to what happened decades ago, but as successors to those in charge at the time, they represent the institution.
That a pastoral institution that preaches justice, mercy and repentance defends itself against any legitimate claim of a former young Catholic shows how the church can be in internal conflict. On the one hand, the church preaches the need to confess our sins. On the other hand, he calls on lawyers, because every diocese and every parish is a society which can be sued under the law of the land. The fear is that damages awarded under civil law could deprive the diocese of resources for other purposes. The tactic does not work well; the legal fees have swallowed up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Many long-time Catholics find this difficult to accept. While they may never have known or suspected abuse was taking place, many are old enough to shudder and realize, âIt could have been me or my brother. ” I did this.
The non-financial cost has been increasing for decades: loss of innocence, loss of confidence, loss of faith, loss of credibility for the church as a moral teacher on other matters, and ultimately loss of Catholics. In terms of spirituality and human relationships, money is the least that the church has lost and stands to lose.
It would be a radical response for this diocese or any other to sell what it has and give it to the poor – in this case, to the victims of proven harm. And yet, that sounds good.
The Diocese of Norwich has paid damages for past claims, but is now in a purely defensive position. He cannot do anything that would increase his liability if he is to control the damage. A bankruptcy filing aims to limit the damage. Bankruptcy can also hurt victims again, not only by limiting compensation, but by treating them as legal adversaries, unloved and suffering members of a community grieved for their pain.
Think about how they must be feeling. If another institution were in the diocese’s situation, one would expect the church to defend those who suffer against those who do not protect them. After all, the church is reaching out to refugees, the homeless, the hungry, and those who are unfairly treated.
But the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, especially in the United States, continues to respond defensively to allegations of clergy sexual abuse. Yes, there are now strict policies for eliminating potential abusers in religious jobs and volunteer roles, and procedures for reporting new claims. These make it unlikely that an abuser or his supervisor will sweep new allegations under the rug. But an apology for adult victims of past abuse seems unlikely.
Here is a fact and a suggestion: The Catholic Church is not made up entirely of clergy employed by the corporation. Catholics who deplore the treatment of victims and have no legal implication in the affairs of the diocese can express their solidarity with the victims. They can support them during their trials. They could set up funds to help those in need of healing who are not getting it from the world church. They might say, in their faces, we feel your pain; we know it could just as easily have been us.
Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day’s editorial board.