At this point in the history of the Catholic Church no one should be surprised, let alone shocked, by the existence of child sexual abuse by priests and its cover-up by the church hierarchy.
As a child and young man, I attended Mother of Sorrows Church in the Pittsburgh suburb of Murrysville. My childhood church is featured prominently in the 40th Statewide Grand Jury report released by the Pennsylvania Attorney General.
Our priest, the Rev. Dennis Dellamalva, appears in the section profiling predatory priests from the Diocese of Greensburg. He’s No. 1 on the list. He served in our parish from 1977-1982.
We called him Father Denny. He was suave, charming and even looked like Jesus Christ. But he was also a sexual predator who preyed upon the boys in our parish.
Father Denny sexually assaulted at least five boys at Mother of Sorrows. Three of the victims lived just down the street from my family. The parents of two brothers whom he abused confronted our Bishop. When asked by the Bishop, Father Denny confessed.
The Bishop then transferred him without informing the new parish of his abuse. God only knows whom he abused there. Father Denny died of AIDS in 1994.
The grand jurors found what we experienced at Mother of Sorrows to be not an isolated occurrence. In parishes across Pennsylvania, “Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them, not only did nothing, they hid it all.
The Catholic Church leadership would undoubtedly like to close the book.
Pope Francis, admonished, “…most of these cases belong to the past…” But that’s only because the bulk of the church records the grand jurors reviewed were from before the early 2000s. This scandal will not end. There will be more.
Despite protestations to the contrary the Catholic Church will not reform itself. The grand jurors lament, “We think it’s reasonable to expect one of the world’s great religions, dedicated to the spiritual well-being of over a billion people, to organize itself so that the shepherds stop preying upon the flock.” But, there will always be wolves among the sheep. And there are still some wolves in charge of the shepherds.
No institution that tends to children is immune from this sordid fact of life – that some from within will use their proximity and authority to prey upon the young and innocent.
The Pope does not seem hell-bent on reforming the institution he leads. It appears he’s playing the role of Pontius Pilate. He writes he’s, “conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children…”
Deferring to others and being “conscious” of their efforts is not leadership. And, several of these church leaders the Pope is deferring to, including the Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Rev. Ronald Gainer, are faulted by the grand jury for how they handled the abuse in their midst.
Most of the Pope’s statement touts the remedy of penance, prayer and fasting; yet, something a bit more is necessary.
The grand jurors themselves included several recommendations in their report. From eliminating the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions to providing a temporary two-year window to allow victims to bring civil suits that are otherwise time-barred.
These are well-intentioned reforms. But criminal prosecutions against individual priests and traditional civil suits have not stanched the wound. They have not done what even the Pope says is needed, “…create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”
To change the “culture” of abuse and cover-up, I suggest bolder action that comes from without, not from within.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly and or the U.S. Congress could amend the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to among other changes, include as a “predicate act” the sexual abuse of a child.
This powerful statute could then be used to punish church leaders criminally for covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests and to compel the church to make the internal reforms necessary to achieve the goals stated by both the grand jury report and the Pope.
The church will not reform itself.
It’s time for our legislators and prosecutors to change the culture of the church for it and help us parents protect our most precious of God’s gifts.
PennLive Opinion contributor Marc A. Scaringi, of Camp Hill, is an attorney and host of the “Marc Scaringi Show” on WHP580-AM in Harrisburg. His work appears biweekly.