Vatican News
2018.10.20 Cattedrale di San Pietro e Paolo, Philadelphia, PA Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, USA 

Commonweal Magazine challenges PA grand jury report

An article in the American Catholic journal, Commonweal, questions the structure and wording of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, released last August, regarding clerical sexual abuse.

By Vatican News

Five months after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on the abuse of minors in the Catholic Church, commentator Peter Steinfels has challenged some of the report’s findings. He is also critical of media coverage of the report, which he says is based largely on summaries of the document, rather than on the report itself.

Relying on his own careful reading of the full report (which runs to over 1300 pages, including a long appendix), Steinfels notes that the Pennsylvania grand jury makes two distinct charges: the first concerns “predator priests, their many victims, and their unspeakable acts.” As far as can be determined, he says, this charge is “dreadfully true.”

The second charge relates to the response of Church leaders to accusations of clerical abuse. Steinfels quotes the report: “‘All’ of these victims, the report declares, 'were brushed aside… by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all.'” It is this charge, in particular, that Steinfels attempts to refute throughout his long article. “[My] conclusion,” he says, “is that this second charge is in fact grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust.”

Steinfels admits that this conclusion runs contrary to the public perception of the crisis in the Church. In his article, Steinfels is at pains to highlight the inherent limitations of a grand jury. He also points to notable deficiencies in this particular report, including: the decision to cover a long timeframe without making appropriate distinctions; the failure to compare the Church’s response to that of other institutions; and the failure to take into account the progress the Church has made since the Dallas Charter was implemented in 2002.

The “ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory” charge that Bishops routinely covered up abuse, and allowed abuse to continue is “unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence,” Steinfels maintains. It is “truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for an impartial investigation.”

He acknowledges that, “the prevalent story about Catholic clergy sex abuse as deeply entrenched, largely unabated, and uniquely Catholic is now so embedded in the media as to make it resistant to evidence to the contrary.” Thus, Steinfels argues that it is up to Church leaders to “remove persistent doubts that these failures are being thoroughly investigated, with consequences for those found responsible.”

Peter Steinfels' article can be found on the website of Commonweal Magazine.

10 January 2019, 15:03