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Catholic Bishops Promised Reform in Sex-Abuse Scandal, but They Didn’t Look at Their Own Misdeeds

Bishop Robert Finn wasn’t going anywhere.

He never alerted authorities about photos of young girls’ genitals stashed on a pastor’s laptop. He kept parishioners in the dark, letting the priest mingle with children and families. Even after a judge found the bishop guilty of failing to report the priest’s suspected child abuse — and after 200,000 people petitioned for his ouster — he refused to go.

“I got this job from John Paul II. There’s his signature right there,” Finn had told a prospective deacon shortly after the priest’s arrest in 2011, pointing to the late pontiff’s photo. “And that’s who I answer to.”

Sixteen years after the clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded in Boston, the American Catholic Church is again mired in scandal. This time, the controversy is propelled not so much by priests in the rectories as by the leadership, bishops across the country who like Finn have enabled sexual misconduct or in some cases committed it themselves.

More than 130 US bishops — or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to a Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer examination of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment.

Most telling, the analysis shows that the claims against more than 50 bishops center on incidents that occurred after a historic 2002 Dallas gathering of US bishops where they promised that the church’s days of concealment and inaction were over. By an overwhelming, though not unanimous, vote, church leaders voted to remove any priest who had ever abused a minor and set up civilian review boards to investigate clergy misconduct claims.

But while they imposed new standards that led to the removal of hundreds of priests, the bishops specifically excluded themselves from the landmark child protection measures. They contended only the pope had authority to discipline them and said peer pressure — public or private shaming they euphemistically called “fraternal correction” — would keep them in line.

It hasn’t.

Bishop accountability has proved a contradiction in terms; resistance and indifference remain all too common. Even some of the bishops who wrote the 2002 reforms would themselves be accused of enabling or ignoring abuse. And the chairwoman of the new civilian board overseeing compliance with the reforms quickly despaired of the seriousness of the bishops’ commitment, saying, in a 2004 letter not previously reported, that their pledge to change “appears to be nothing more than a common fraud.”

In short: The price of reform has been paid, visibly, by parish priests. Their bosses, however, have been largely spared.

Read more at the Boston Globe