Last August, Msgr. Timothy Doherty, Bishop of Lafayette in Indiana and President of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People of the U.S. Bishops Conference, had asked his brethren to hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of the allegations of abuses perpetrated for years by the former Cardinal McCarrick.
A few days after the publication of the Pennsylvania report, wherein over 300 priests were accused of sexual misconduct, he wrote to his faithful asking that bishops too should face trial, because in the face of the Cardinal’s abuses (now reduced to the lay state) they had for years “looked the other way and ignored the attacks on minors and seminarians”. Now that Pope Francis, in an unprecedented measure in the history of the American Church, laicized a cardinal who had resigned just last June, the sign of a radical turnaround has been given. Doherty, who has invested a lot in training and education both within the dioceses and in Catholic schools, told SIR: “All of us, priests and bishops, have suffered from McCarrick’s behavior: we kept asking ourselves what we could have done, what we did not do and what we should continue doing”.
He feels the responsibility of leadership in going deep into the questions that identify the dignity of the human being, his value, his vulnerability: “without training there can be no prevention or healing”, says the head of the Committee for the Protection of Children. To any priest or bishop who saw the McCarrick case and thinks that his church or dioceses, even across the ocean, is not affected, he stresses:
“Do the right thing, because you will have to do it, sooner or later. And we, as American pastors, at least in some places we did not, and were forced to do it only following investigations. For example, we did not listen to or help the victims enough, and this must always be done”.
Doherty is thinking above all of the institutional Church and the government of his brethren bishops. “As priests or bishops we sometimes believe that we always have the last word because we are institutional figures, and we are in charge. In the face of abuse, it is the victims, the survivors who must have the last word, and we must learn to be humble. We think about running for cover with documents and policies, but that is not enough. We must remain humble, we must learn humility from pain”. As the person responsible for the protection of children, he has often had the opportunity to meet with the victims to soothe their injuries as well as those of their parents, who had placed their trust on an institution, on trustworthy people who instead ended up betraying them. Doherty appeals to families, asking them to be vigilant from a very early age. He suggests not putting smartphones in the hands of children because “they transmit the power to feel like adults” and can negatively affect relationships. He invites them to attend training courses that take place in the dioceses and in Catholic schools “because when we think about the protection of a minor, education must be comprehensive and not just limited to sexuality. I have listened to the parents of adolescent children blame themselves for failures of supervision, for having delegated the State or an ecclesial authority without getting involved, and whose children are now on painful and evil paths”.
Doherty stresses the need to assist the victims, and calls into question the bishops in particular, who must demonstrate their trustworthiness instead of handing over “the eradication of a profound evil to magnificent policies,” as evidenced in the case of McCarrick, who was able to take advantage of intolerable cover-ups and diversions; instead, “knowledge is necessary to avoid recurrence and to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of children and their families”.
Regarding the upcoming summit on abuses, Doherty appreciated the letter sent by the Vatican to the U.S. Bishops Conference last November, asking not to vote on an independent lay commission which would have judged the bishops’ actions. “Can you imagine what would have happened in China or in other countries where the government decides over Church matters? I hope that the meeting on this ordeal will bring about progress in managing the problem and reaching shared solutions”. The final words of encouragement are addressed to journalists: “Do your job well and help us expose buried cases, just like the Boston Globe did, but also to discover all the good practices that are not mentioned often enough but which are instead indispensable to the healing process”.