Jerome Christenson: In diocese abuse cases, we owe it to the children

Winona Daily News: Sometimes you don’t have to see the movie. Sometimes it’s not a movie at all.

A letter arrived at my house last week that, right away, caught my attention. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s something about an attorney’s return address on an envelope addressed to me that makes finding out what’s inside a lot more important than the latest missive from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. So I stood there, barely in the door, coat still on and read, “We are sending this letter to anyone who may have attended a parish or school in the Diocese of Winona …”

The letter was from Jeff Anderson & Associates, a reminder that “anyone who was sexually abused by a priest, deacon teacher, or anyone else associated with the Diocese of Winona … must bring a claim by the May 25, 2016 deadline.”

I put the letter down and took off my coat. I hadn’t been abused.

But I could have been. When I was a boy the Bishop of Winona moved Thomas Adamson, one of the accused priests, into the rectory three blocks from my house.

I was fortunate. My friend and classmate was not so lucky.

He wasn’t the first. The bishop knew that when he sent Adamson to our town.

He knew.

Sunday night, in the midst of Hollywood gowns and glitter, “Spotlight” was named Best Picture of the year. It’s the story of the 2001 outing by the Boston Globe of Cardinal Bernard Law’s cover-up of Father John Geoghan, convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing boys.

Like the Bishop of Winona, the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston knew. In relatively short order, the spotlight that revealed the darkness long hidden by the Boston church hierarchy became a floodlight that reached the recesses of the church in Minnesota, even to the little town I grew up in.

It hasn’t been pleasant. For many it’s been devastating to grapple with the revelation that men to whom they’d entrusted their eternal life, men who stood at the altar in the stead of Jesus himself, were raping children. And that the bishops, direct spiritual heirs of the Apostles, were aware of it and allowed it to continue.

They knew.

And now we know as well.

So what do we do now?

Maybe we take a tip from pop-culture Christianity, the folks wearing the little rubber bracelets embossed WWJD? — What would Jesus do?

What He’d do, we don’t know, but Matthew tells us what he said:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

I’m guessing it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have shuffled Tom Adamson, John Goeghan, and scores and scores of other sexual predators from parish church to parish church, from family to family, from child to child.

So why bring this up again? Isn’t it better to leave the past in the past? To forgive, forget and move on?

If that is so, the Church would do well to abandon its observance of this season of Lent … the season we revisit our shortcomings, recognize our sins and resolve to repent and make amends.

Lent is the reminder that there are things we must never forget.

Never forget lest we repeat them. Never forget for fear we may allow them to happen again.

Never forget that while the children suffered — they knew.

We owe it to the children never to forget.