Cincinnati's 30 pieces of silver
December 12, 2003 - The Cincinnati archdiocese sidestepped a grand jury investigation by pleading no contest to felonies in knowingly failing to report sex crimes involving minors and priests of the archdiocese from 1978 to 1982.
The diocese -- in the person of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk -- was fined $10,000 and given a stern rebuke from Judge Richard Niehaus, a Catholic, who pointed out that the church had lost its way in its disregard of civil and moral law.
This is the third time U.S. courts have intervened in the operation of Catholic dioceses to regulate them or sentence them for violations of law in regard to their misdeeds in handling sex abuse of minors. The New Hampshire diocese is under the supervision of law enforcement for five years. The bishop and the Phoenix diocese narrowly escaped being indicted for their neglect of the law, and they, too, are under oversight. There was enough evidence to bring Bishop Thomas OBrien to trial. Now, clearly, the Cincinnati archdiocese is guilty of criminal activity.
This admission of criminal guilt is historic. It is not the end of the line. In fact, those who say the American church has turned the corner on the sex abuse crisis are not correct. There is much more to come. The future and the truth are in the documents of Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and beyond. In addition, the 11 grand juries already empanelled have not received the attention they deserve either from the church or the public.
Before those who are edified by the humility of Daniel Pilarczyk or gratified by his humiliation become too complacent, they should examine closely the fine print in the Cincinnati deal. The archdiocese said that it would set up a $3 million fund for victims of sexual abuse of priests and church employees.
At first blush the offer sounds magnanimous, healing and even accountable and transparent. Is it? Or is it just the opposite? Is it another obfuscation and shell game to avoid the scrutiny of the civil courts and a new twist to seal documents? The five counts of failure to report crimes, 1978 to 1982, were all under then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardins watch. This is a fact not lost on those who know that the full history of abuse in Cincinnati has not yet been written. Civil cases from that time period are still to be litigated. Will Pilarczyk see that the documents are produced? Will he assure that the victims have a full hearing? Or is this another cover-up, a million-dollar buyoff and betrayal of victims and the truth?
A bit of humiliation and $10,000 are a small price for the archdiocese and Pilarczyk to pay for continuing denial of the truth and control of the documents that contain the stories of decades of betrayal. Thirty pieces of silver was an affordable sum for the Sanhedrin. It was not enough to solve their perceived problem. Money will not solve the problem in Cincinnati, either.
A.W. RICHARD SIPE