In August, a grand jury released a report alleging that at least one thousand children were sexually abused by deacons, seminarians, and priests in Pennsylvania in the past seventy years. The statute of limitations has expired in most of the cases, and many of the victims and perpetrators are already deceased. Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania report is an indispensable document. It is the portrait of an institution whose members posed as mankind’s moral arbiters while acting like they were above the law. The jury claims the Church officials involved in these crimes operated with a consistent set of rules. One of those rules was to “transfer a [predator known to the community] to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.” The ultimate rule for dealing with cases of “inappropriate conduct” was “don’t tell the police.”
It is worth flipping through the report, if only to understand the depth and breadth of the crimes. Here is one story from the document: In 1969, a student of the Immaculate Conception school in Irwin, Pennsylvania was tied up in the confessional and molested by Father Gregory Flohr. Flohr allegedly made use of a crucifix during this episode. The Greensburg Diocese reimbursed the victim with fifty thousand dollars for his medical treatment. In a letter to the victim, Father Lawrence Presico of the Greensburg Diocese wrote: “We extend such coverage to you only after the fact of your multiple emergency treatments, and as an act of Christian charity in your dire need.” Some victims were not treated with such generosity. When Juliann Bortz told the Allentown Diocese that she had been molested, they tried to discredit her. The Diocese’s lawyer attempted to obtain information which would suggest Bortz was a sexually active teen and her husband was a gang leader. Responding to charges of child molestation by discrediting victims was de rigueur.
When higher-ups in the Church were informed of an allegation against a priest, they would typically send the accused man to a clinic for counseling. These clinics were owned by the Church, so there was no chance that any information the priest gave regarding his “inappropriate” behavior would make its way to the police. After being accused of sexual misconduct in 1985, Father Edmond Parrakow was sent to a clinic in New Mexico where he told his counselor he had molested thirty-five children. The doctor wrote, “Parrakow certainly has pedophilia … if he had not got caught he would be continuing the behavior.” The Archdiocese of New York and the Bishop of Greensburg arranged for Parrakow to “be granted a ministry” in Greensburg in 1985. Both officials were aware of the allegations against Parrakow, who continued to molest preteen boys after he was accepted back into the Diocese.
This ground, some will say, is well-trodden. Catholics have known for more than a decade that the Church purposefully silenced the victims of molestation and shielded priests from criminal prosecution. However, the allegation that the current pope knew about sexual abuse committed by one of his close advisers is new, though not unprecedented for the papacy. Yet, some pundits continue to defend the culture of denial and obstruction which allowed Church leaders to avoid being held accountable for these crimes when they were committed. During an appearance on a Fox News program, Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, asked, “Why do they only have grand juries about the Catholic Church? What about Jews and Muslims and the public schools?” Several hardline Catholic leaders blamed the Church’s rape scandals on “homosexual culture” rather than pedophilia, willful ignorance, and moral desiccation.
Church leaders betrayed those who trusted them because they knew they would not be punished for it. Thankfully, the vast majority of clergymen are willing to institute reforms which prevent sex crimes from being swept under the rug. That is why there has been a sharp decline in reported instances of abuse in the last 15 years. However, this cover-up culture has not disappeared completely. Those who try to defend and deflect in the face of this catastrophic moral failure are perpetuating the attitudes which allowed it to happen in the first place.
Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.