In Maryland, the Catholic crisis carries on
In a decreasingly religious nation, vile reports of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups within the Catholic Church continue to surface.
The environment in which uneven power dynamics foster abuse is alive as ever in America.
And, as a report released Wednesday by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office once again found, the predation — and attempts to cover it up — are perhaps more prolific in religious institutions such as the Catholic Church.
“The staggering pervasiveness of the abuse itself underscores the culpability of the Church hierarchy,” the report states. “The sheer number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying upon children are astonishing.”
This is no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to news about the Catholic Church.
In recent decades, investigations have repeatedly detailed widespread abuse within the religious organization and attempts to cover up the crimes.
It may seem obvious to some, then, as to why the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has been falling for decades.
As recently as the early 1990s, about 90% of U.S. adults identified as Christians, according to data released by the Pew Research Center in September.
Today, about two-thirds of adults are Christians, according to the polling.
At its core, religion allows its followers to delegate the understanding of matters too complex for themselves to a higher power while providing an ethical and moral framework to unite behind and abide by in life.
But when those beliefs form any sort of hierarchal structure, such as a Catholic priest and simple church goer, who is that individual to question the actions of someone closer to God?
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The report released this week in Maryland offers troubling examples that may explain to some extent why are becoming disenchanted with religion.
In the 1960s, for example, a priest by the name of Father Laurence Brett admitted to sexually abusing a teenager at a Catholic university in Connecticut.
Similar to the journey of other priests who have admitted to abusing children or have been accused of doing so, Brett was simply moved around within the church system without being held accountable.
In his case, he was sent to New Mexico for “hepatitis treatment” before moving to Sacramento, where a boy said he was abused by the priest, The Associated Press reported.
He eventually landed in Baltimore as a Catholic high school chaplain, resulting in the abuse of more than 20 more boys.
As for how the Catholic Church may respond after details such as those in the Maryland attorney general’s report, one does not have to look very far.
A similar situation occurred in Pennsylvania, where in just more than a decade, there were three grand jury investigations that revealed thousands of child sexual abuse cases by Pennsylvanian Catholic priests and attempts to hide them.
How did the church respond?
All of the reports were welcomed by significant increases in spending on lobbying by the church, something that will likely also occur in Maryland.
In 2019, while working in York, Pennsylvania, I covered the matter. Using state financial data, demonstrated that the church threw millions of dollars at lawmakers after allegations surfaced.
As of April of that year, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm for the church in Pennsylvania, spent $7.2 million in lobbying since 2007, according to Department of State.
Lobbying expenditures increased from $529,000 to $786,000 following the release of a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report, the largest increase in the conference's history and the most it had ever spent in a year.
Beginning in 2016, expenditures would then increase for three years in a row for the first time. That year, a six-diocese investigation by former state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is now the state’s governor, began and a separate investigation into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown concluded.
The PCC spent more than $777,000 in 2018 alone, the second most it's spent in a year, according to data dating back to 2007.
Attempts to hold the church accountable at the legislative level have had mixed results.
In Maryland, for example, the Democrat-controlled state legislature passed a bill to end the statute of limitations on abuse-related civil lawsuits the same day as the report was released.
In that case, Gov. Wes Moore is expected to sign the legislation and codify it into law.
Similar pieces of legislation in Pennsylvania have not had as much luck.
For years, the Pennsylvania Senate, for example, to no avail has weighed proposals that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on sex crimes going forward and raise the civil statute of limitations, meaning victims could file civil lawsuits, until they were 55 years-old.
That legislation has been championed by Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, who has been vocal about how he was molested by priests when he was young.
Unfortunately, legislation that seems as though it would be agreed upon regardless of party affiliation has remained dead in the water in the bitterly partisan Pennsylvania legislature.
It has unfortunately become clear that even something as straightforward as child sexual abuse has become incredibly politicized.
It doesn't help that Republicans in particular have become inseparable from their more strict religious beliefs, effectively killing any legislation that would hold religiouis institutions accountable.
So, America, how many more bombshell reports about priests molesting children and getting away with it will it take?
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