PostBulletin: Some wounds, if closed too quickly, can appear to heal on the surface while festering deep below the skin. When that happens, it can be necessary to reopen the wound, to expose and remove the infection.
Minnesota’s Catholic church is at such a point. The infection, in this case, is a list of alleged sex offenders among the clergy in each diocese in Minnesota.
Such lists were compiled across the nation in 2004 in response to a 2002 Boston Globe investigation of sexual abuse and coverup within the Catholic church. Five Boston-area priests were convicted and sentenced to prison, but this was merely the tip of an ugly iceberg. Since 2002, the church nationwide has paid more than $2.5 billion in settlements with more than 5,000 victims of sexual abuse.
But many victims have not yet had their day in court.
There are 178 dioceses in the United States, and about 150 of them have yet to reveal their list of accused clergy. That’s the case for every diocese in Minnesota, including the Diocese of Winona, where in 2004, 13 names appeared on the list.
Before this year, the church could make an almost-plausible argument that the release of some of these names would have served little purpose because the statute of limitations for civil claims against long-retired priests and/or their diocese had expired.
But in May, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Minnesota Child Protection Act, which opened a three-year window of opportunity for now-adult victims of long-ago sexual abuse to file civil claims. Not surprisingly, lawsuits are now pending against every diocese in Minnesota, seeking the release of the secret lists.
One goal of such litigation is to obtain some measure of financial justice for the victims, but another is to ensure that credibly accused clergy are not being shielded by the church — and thus being enabled to find new victims.
In Winona, the diocese faces a lawsuit filed by a 61-year-old Iowa man who claims to have been raped at age 12 by a priest at St. John’s Parish in Caledonia. The lawsuit seeks the disclosure of all 13 credibly accused clergy in the Winona Diocese — which, of course, might prompt other previously silent victims to come forward.
The way we see it, the disclosure of the names on these lists is the last major hurdle that the Catholic church must clear before it can close the book on the darkest chapter in its modern history. Yes, such disclosures are likely to come at a fairly substantial cost, but the church must recognize that integrity has value that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
The guilty parties must have their crimes made known, and the church must allow itself to be held accountable for offenses that occurred on its watch.
And we don’t think the church will be able to “run out the clock” for three years.