The Hypocrisy and Danger of Internal Policing of Perpetrator Priests

How is it that numerous priests accused of child sexual abuse in multiple lawsuits can be allowed back into ministry and given access to children?

It’s happening in the Diocese of Buffalo, right now. Why? Because of the use and misuse of one of the more ineffective and controversial policies in the U.S. Catholic Church: the lay review board. These boards are proof of a universal truth: an institution is not and will not ever be able to properly police itself.

Nowhere else is the hypocrisy of “internal policing” more apparent than in these kangaroo court review boards—where, in cases of child sexual abuse, the fate of survivors and the safety of children are put in the hands of bishop-picked, secret committees. These “independent” boards work behind closed doors and in secret to determine whether a survivor’s allegations of child sexual abuse are “credible” and whether or not an accused priest is removed from ministry or should remain out of ministry. These boards are not connected or responsible to law enforcement, serve at the whim and discretion of the bishop and his attorneys, and the results of their investigations are often kept out of the eyes of the public and are not shared with the survivor.

These boards have been blasted by critics, former members, and survivors since their existence became public and widespread in 2002. Numerous survivors who served on these committees stepped down from local boards in protest, saying they were kept in the dark about allegations and not provided access to evidence regarding abuse. The protest even reached the National Lay Review Board, culminating with the 2003 resignation of former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who compared the Catholic bishops to “La Cosa Nostra” in their handling of child sexual abuse.

In the ensuing 18 years, little has changed in how these boards have operated. The members, who should be the first line of defense for kids who may still be in the path of a predator cleric, instead operate in secrecy, require survivors to go through re-traumatizing and invasive interviews and often undermine a survivor’s legal rights. Many times, predators have been allowed back into ministry simply because the survivor refused to undergo an invasive, unnecessary interview with the review boards—even after the survivor reported to law enforcement and filed a civil lawsuit.

If a survivor is using the civil justice system and has reported to law enforcement, why must they bear the additional and unnecessary burden of restating their entire case to a panel hand-picked by the person who covered up the abuse in the first place (or his successor)

And why, like in a recent case in the Diocese of Buffalo, should priests with multiple child sex abuse lawsuits be allowed back into ministry and given access to children, even when survivors have done everything in their power to expose the truth except bend to the will of a bishop?

Bishops should immediately remove any priest accused of abuse in a civil lawsuit and that priest should remain out of ministry until the resolution of the lawsuit, just like they immediately remove any priest arrested for stealing money from church coffers. Why do men who sexually abuse children get an additional layer of protection that embezzlers do not?

That’s a great question for the Bishop of Buffalo.