The report about the rape of children by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania is out, and it is disturbing and horrific. Over 300 priests are on the list, and thousands of children were affected by their evil actions. As horrible as this is, I think the numbers are impossible to estimate, and there are probably dozens more priests yet to be named, and thousands more children yet unspoken for. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to people like Rep. Mark Rozzi and Mary McHale ( a member of Calvary) for their courage and tenacity in forcing this to come to light.
There are more problems with all of this than I have room for here. Advocates for these children have been calling for accountability for decades, and with a few exceptions, the Catholic Church has ignored their pleas. It isn’t just the children who have been affected – their families, friends, neighbors, good church members – and other Christians who just trying to be faithful – all of us are stained by this systemic crime. This evil has inhabited the churches for much of its existence, and it isn’t over yet.
We who are not Catholic can’t be smug – we have our own demons to wrestle with. The greed exhibited by so many clergy, as well as a variety of sins being regularly committed and ignored, makes it clear that we are not paragons of virtue either. We might point fingers and say “I told you so”, but we are not free of guilt for our own complicity. Our silence and fear have kept us from telling the truth, and because of this, we have damaged the name of Jesus.
It has been my opinion for his entire tenure that Pope Francis, as good as he is and as much positive change he has brought about, has failed in this. The day he was elected pope should have been the day he began the process of excommunicating these deviant priests. He has been slow to address this, and is complicit as well. Anyone who knew about this needs to make confession and work to atone for their sins. Silence and fear are no excuse – these are children, for God’s sake!
Christians need to hold each other to account. We need to expect better from ourselves. We need to forgive – of course – but before there is forgiveness, there is confession and repentance. These acts are not just about saying you are sorry – they are about admitting what you have done and then trying to make it right. If this means you go to jail, so be it. If this means you lose your ordination, then fine. If this means you never work in a church again, then I think that is good. Pope Francis needs to push for changes, regardless of the fallout. He needs to stop being afraid of his own hierarchy and do the right thing. God is watching. Peace…maybe.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC (an Open & Affirming Congregation) in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).