Supreme Court

Child sexual abuse by priests was top 2018 story: What about McCarrick and the bishops?

Child sexual abuse by priests was top 2018 story: What about McCarrick and the bishops?

It was in 1983 that parents told leaders of the Diocese of Lafayette, west of New Orleans, that Father Gilbert Gauthe had molested their son.

Dominos started falling. The bishop offered secret settlements to nine families -- but one refused to remain silent.

The rest is a long, long story. Scandals about priests abusing children -- the vast majority of cases involve teen-aged males -- have been making news ever since, including the firestorm unleashed by The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" series that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

This old, tragic story flared up again in 2018, and Religion News Association members selected the release of a sweeping Pennsylvania grand-jury report -- with 301 Catholic priests, in six dioceses, accused of abusing at least 1,000 minors over seven decades -- as the year's top religion story.

"The allegations contained in this report are horrific and there are important lessons to take away from it," said Michael Plachy, a partner at Lewis, Roca, Rothgerber, Christie, a national law firm that emphasizes religious liberty cases. However, "to be candid, much of what's in this report has been known for years. … It's important, but it's mostly old news."

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia -- a diocese not included in the grand-jury report -- requested an analysis of the 884-page document focusing on the impact of the church's 2002Charter for the Protection Children and Young People. Among the law firm's findings: Of 680 victims whose claims mentioned specific years, 23 cited abuse after the charter -- 3 percent of claims in the grand-jury report. The average year of each alleged incident was 1979.

Much of the year's crucial news about clergy sexual abuse focused on efforts to hold bishops accountable when they were accused of abuse or of hiding abuse cases -- including sexual abuse of adult victims.

Thus, this was a year in which my views clashed with the RNA poll. For me, the No. 1 story was the fall of retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, for decades one of America's most influential Catholics. In public remarks, he even claimed to have assisted in efforts to elect Pope Francis. McCarrick was removed from ministry and exited the College of Cardinals because of evidence that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old altar boy in 1971 and, for decades, sexually harassed and abused seminarians.

My No. 2 story -- the pope's decision to cooperate with China officials when selecting bishops -- didn't make the RNA Top 10.

The RNA Religion Newsmaker of the Year was Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, after his stem-winding sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. McCarrick was not included on the ballot.

Father Paul Scalia keeps funeral focus on Jesus of Nazareth and prayers for his father, a sinner

Father Paul Scalia keeps funeral focus on Jesus of Nazareth and prayers for his father, a sinner

Catholics who faithfully go to Confession are unusual these days, with one study linked to Georgetown University noting that a mere 2 percent of American Catholics "regularly" confess their sins to a priest. 

Local odds being what they were, Father Paul Scalia of Arlington, Va., once learned that he had come very close to facing one faithful Catholic whose confession would have -- literally -- hit close to home. That Saturday evening he heard a unique complaint from his father, Justice Antonin Scalia. 

The issue "was not that I'd been hearing confessions, but that he'd found himself in my confessional line. And he quickly departed it," said Father Scalia, during his father's nearly two-hour funeral Mass (video here). "As he put it later, 'Like heck if I'm confessing to you!' The feeling was mutual." 

This anecdote drew laughter in the massive Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. But even this personal story was part of the priest's focus on eternal issues, rather than details of the life and lengthy U.S. Supreme Court career of his famous father.

After all, Antonin Scalia had made his feelings crystal clear -- writing to the Presbyterian minister who performed the 1998 funeral of Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. -- that funerals should contain real sermons, not touchy-feely eulogies.