The Media

Will Mahony successor press for real priest abuse reform?

April 6, 2010 | 10:48 am

TalkBackLopez_187x105Richard Sipe, a retired Catholic priest living in La Jolla, had this to say at a gathering of Catholic clergy abuse victims in 1992: “The current revelations of abuse are the tip of an iceberg; and if the problem is traced to its foundations the path will lead to the highest halls of the Vatican.”

That’s right, I said 1992. Sipe told me on Monday that he felt pretty lonely out there, 18 years ago, when he began warning of the systemic molestation and cover-up scandal that would spread from parish to parish, country to country.

The latest news, of course, is that Pope Benedict XVI earlier in his career approved the transfer of an abusive priest in Germany and did not act to defrock a child-molesting priest in Wisconsin.

“We still don’t have the whole story out there. There will be more and more people, and more and more corruption,” said Sipe, who believes the church’s claims of reform are exaggerated, and that things might have to get worse before they get better.

Maybe, Sipe said, some bishops or cardinals will have to go to jail to rally the masses, and he believes some of them should. Sipe has been a fierce critic of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, whose archdiocese has been the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into the questionable handling of molestation by priests, including the transfer of abusive clergy on Mahony’s watch. 

Let's hope Mahony's successor, Jose Gomez, doesn't make the same mistakes. Let's hope Gomez -- currently the archbishop of San Antonio -- continues real reform and cares more about protecting children than his PR image. [Updated at 11:40 a.m.: Already, Gomez was questioned at his introductory press conference this morning about his handling of the abuse scandal.]

Sipe said he thinks reform of the greater church can happen if major donors stop bankrolling the Church, and if a few brave insiders speak out. Eventually, Sipe said, the Church will be forced to lift the ban on clergy celibacy, allow clergy to marry and women to be priests, and a true reformation will be under way.

Pardon me, but shouldn’t all that have happened long ago?

Readers have defensively argued in the past that the Church is defined by the faith of its people, not the misdeeds of its hierarchy.

That’s a rationalization.

When the hierarchy protects abusers rather than their underage victims, it’s time for the faithful to call the police, fight for change, or walk away.

If you’ve already left, tell me why. And if you haven’t, tell me why not.


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