Cardinal Sean O’Malley on sexual abuse crisis: ‘There is so much denial’

Print More
Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley on Sept. 2, 2009, defended his attendance at the funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley on Sept. 2, 2009, defended his attendance at the funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) “In many people’s minds it is an American problem, an Irish problem or a German problem," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston referring to the sex abuse scandal. "The church has to face it is everywhere in the world. There is so much denial."

  • Atheist Max

    Pedophilia is a problem in many institutions.
    But where the Catholic Church has failed is that it covered it up.

    Priests say, “We are in the business of forgiveness”
    And with that, this despicable problem continues unabated where other institutions have “ZERO tolerance” policies.

    It should be a lesson to Christians that forgiveness is very often the most immoral thing you can do.
    Jesus was wrong about forgiveness
    and many other things.

  • Re: “Priests say, ‘We are in the business of forgiveness'”

    True, and you can thank the Donatist controversy for it … or more specifically, Rome’s response to it. The Donatists of north Africa were purists who believed any clergy who lapsed due to the Roman persecutions (i.e. the renounced Christianity in order to save their own lives) could not remain clergy (although they could be accepted as lay Christians after penance). The Roman church (along with most of the rest of the church) opposed this view.

    Ultimately the only way they could counter the Donatists’ position definitively, and rationalize their own, was to insist there is nothing any priest can do that can make it impossible for him to serve as a priest. Thus, Roman policy is always to hold onto them, no matter what. No crime is too heinous to deprive a priest of his vocation. That the Donatist church was wiped out centuries ago after the Muslims invaded, is not relevant to the R.C. Church. Its position was staked out in the 4th and 5th centuries and Rome will not ever take it back. Not for any reason.

    Once again we see the dysfunction inherent in a dogmatically-straitjacketed approach to religion whose greatest concern is doctrinal and ideological purity, and doing anything and everything possible in order to disparage and maintain differences from heretics and other doctrinal rivals. It’s really very childish … but hey, what can this cynical, cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen possibly know about such incredibly holy matters?

  • Isabel Sinton

    Let me explain this from a mother’s Point of View:
    When toilet training a child there are three stages:
    The child has to know he did it. ( Talking poop, here.)
    The child has to know he is doing it.
    Finally, the child has to have enough awareness that he is going to do it.
    I think the Catholic Church is stuck at Stage One – We didn’t do nuthin’. To that I say Bull Poop.
    Until the RCC goes thru the stages, nothing will change.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Over the years that bishops were mishandling the abuse situation the public schools and many other organizations were mishandling things the same way. But, rightfully, people expect more of the Church so the Church’s mishandling gets 90% of the news coverage.
    But the NY Times did run ONE front page story about abuse problems in the public schools in NY. And guess what–abusive teachers were quietly being transferred around the city and sometimes sent to unwarned schools outside NY. The Times article made two major points.
    First, that there was more abuse regularly in the public schools than in the Church.
    And second, the school administrators treated the whole situation as best handled by what they called callously “Moving the trash. along”
    But, apparently, out of fear of harming the public school’s reputation there was little further coverage of the public schools situation.

  • Atheist Max



    Classic definition of immoral:

    Father Seromba of Rwanda who personally killed
    2000 Tutsis by bulldozing a church onto men, women and children locked inside – was allowed to change his name and move to Italy where he was protected by the Vatican!

    ONLY an international tribunal uncovered his location and sent him to prison. They had no help from the Vatican.

    Christianity is a misunderstanding and a blunder.
    Most of the preachings of Jesus are fundamentally immoral.

  • Atheist Max

    @Deacon John,

    If your NY Times article is true, it proves at least two things:

    #1. Jesus is wrong about forgiveness. (“forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7”)
    #2. Pedophilia is common and we have failed as a society to give children the tools to deal with it. Trusting adults is not always wise. Yet, Religion teaches only obedience – and not to question authority.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Max– I couldn’t find the NY Times article to send you to. But I found a similar article put out by CBS News based on the research of Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University who is an expert on abuse. She concludes that there is likely 100 times the abuse in public schools than by priests. She asked in the CBS story: Where are the headlines: “Nationwide teacher molestation cover-up” and “Are Ed schools producing pedophiles.”
    As for forgiveness–some historians are convinced that the reason there is so much violence in the Islamic world (not all religions are the same) because Islam is far more dedicated to “getting even,”” vengeance,” bloodshed for honor’s sake, etc., than is Christianity or Buddhism.
    What makes anyone think the whole world would be a better place if there was less forgiveness and more of “settling scores.”??? Justice is a delicate balance and can be very much abused and produce legal lynch mobs.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    “Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with superiors in the Church who have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,” he (Cardinal O’Malley) told reporters.

    If the new protocols are to be “clear and effective”, how should one describe the previous protocols that contributed to the devastation of many, many children and their families throughout the entire RCC?

    Sorry to say, but “clear and effective” just is not good enough. What is needed and has been so clear, evident and obvious for many, many years is that the protocols must be ENFORCED AND IMPLEMENTED.

    On the other hand, Cardinal O’Malley might want to ask his predecessor Cardinal Law about the protocols he used to hold his clergy accountable while the Boston RCC leadership was investigating clergy abuse allegations. Why bother, the protocol that “allowed” Cardinal Law to fly to the Vatican City in the midst of such devastation and horror brought on by clergy sexual abuse was CLEARLY EFFECTIVE.

  • John

    I hear some confusion here over the nature of forgiveness.

    Forgiveness is not about toleration. That is perhaps where so many churches go wrong on this concept. We tolerate immoral and evil behavior even in some cases going so far as to rewrite the rules so that immoral behavior is now somehow moral. And I suspect it all occurs for one reason. To protect the power, influence, and money of institutions and people who sit at the top and benefit from being at the top of those institutions. Genuine forgiveness and healing starts when the organization/group/system holds people accountable to a set standard for behavior and provides a redemptive means to move from failure to success within the system.

  • Atheist Max

    @Deacon John,

    No. The choices are not “to Forgive” or “to Settle the score.”

    That is a false dichotomy. The moral choice is to consider the greater good.

    There are times when we need to forgive for the greater good or crush a belligerent enemy for the greater good.
    Killing Osama Bin Laden was not only about justice or even base vengeance – it was about destroying an international threat.

    My point is that Jesus IS wrong.
    Civilization is impossible if we are deferring to Jesus on these matters.
    “Forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7” is abject nonsense.

  • Atheist Max


    Your comments about forgiveness are excellent. It is important to have a structure through which someone can go from failure to success and sometime forgiveness would be part of that.

    But your approach is not only correct – it is entirely secular.

    “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – (Matthew 18: 21-22 NIV)

    Your rational approach to forgiveness goes completely against the one Jesus offers.

  • The NYT article Deacon John referred to is from 2002. The situation is hardly similar, except that many victims are reticent about pressing charges, and school districts, like bishops, would prefer to see scandalous matters avoided. If there are no criminal complaints against a predator, that person is free to troll for another job.

    The difference with the Church is that it purports to be a universal organization, that its hierarchy holds to high moral standards and expects the same of its laity, and that clergy should be well-vetted.

    Cardinal O’Malley is right: sexual predation happens everywhere and people are in denial about it like they are any other addiction. A hundred times more abuse in schools? Could be. Are there twenty, a hundred, or a thousand teachers for every Catholic priest? The most common place for sexual abuse is in families.

    And while Atheist Max’s passion is somewhat admirable, I would no more trust his “expertise” on Jesus than I would ask my auto mechanic to play the piano or quiz Deacon John on the fine points of Buddhism.

  • Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    You’re right, John.

    Forgiveness does not absolve either the perps or, in the case of institutions including the Catholic Church, from accountability. That means justice.

    Childhood sexual abuse, in whatever situation and especially by those representing a religious institution along with those enabling or covering it up is a criminal act and society has laws covering such actions.

    Talk is cheap and meaningless without concrete results and that includes press statements made by Cardinal O’Malley or working in committees. Committees much like this one have been set up before.

    If Pope Francis expects Catholics to put any faith in this latest committee let him made a good faith gesture.

    Regarding the Church in the United States, for example, he could:

    1. Publicly remove Cardinal Law from all Vatican Committee memberships,

    2. Write him a public letter of censure and be specific about the reasons,

    3. Do basically the same thing regarding Cardinal Mahony,

    4. Remove Finn and Myers from their Church positions as heads of dioceses.

    For Pope Francis that’s doable. Perhaps then people might begin to listen to what this latest Church Committee mentioned is saying.

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Advocate for Survivors & Legislative Reform
    New Castle, Delaware

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Those who have been strongly attacking the concept of forgiveness on this site might find an article in the Sunday May 4th Boston Sunday Globe Magazine (if they can get it on-line or through a newspaper vendor) quite enlightening. It is titled: “Forgiveness” and is by a scientist, M.William Lensch.
    He grew up with a cranky father he didn’t like very much. But when his father was dying -when Lensch was about 14 years old–his father told him the story of his life and Lensch realized that his father was actually seeking forgiveness. Lensch wrote: ” All it took was that understanding with me and I forgave everything, immediately.”
    Later, at school he ran into a bully who had been beating him down off and on and expected more of the same.
    Instead, the bully told him that he had heard Lensch’s father had died and then said that he was sorry. Lensch was so shocked he went someplace and cried.
    Lensch writes:” Those two words:” I’m Sorry” are how I have remembered that kid ever since.
    Lench’s last paragraph is beautiful: “What do you do when your ‘enemies’ reveal that they are also human? I think you either forgive and move forward or hold onto resentment and live in the past I’m certainly not glad that my father got sick, but at the same time I realize that if he hadn’t, I might never have come to love him. It’s the damndest thing.”
    It is stories and happenings like this embedded in our Christian culture of forgiveness that is one of its strengths, not one of its shortcomings. That the story appeared today made it seem almost providential though I doubt those who hate the concept of forgiveness would find it so.

  • Pingback: Cardinal Sean O’Malley on sexual abuse crisis: ‘There is so much denial’ | Hartford Faith & Values()

  • Fr. Frank Vitus

    I am one of those priests who believe that at Dallas in 2002 when the charter was drawn up for the Protection of God’s Children the Bishop’s drew a target on every priests back. We were all considered to be abusers and the ministry to children changed forever. Parents no longer looked at us as trusted allies but became suspicious of every contact we had with children. So when the Bishop’s hold up the United States as a model of child protection encouraging the world to follow their example, does that mean we are going alienate all priests throughout the world. And by the way Bishop’s walk away free without any accountability at all. When Bishop’s are held accountable for their acts then I will find hope in the commissions goals and plans.

  • bergontin

    Max you are a serial propagandist. Perhaps someday you will learn to respect facts. Why do atheists always have to lie? It is utterly amazing. In almost every post, there is a lie:
    As to Father Seromba – you said the Vatican protected him. That is a lie. He secretly fled to Italy using another name and was successful posing as someone else:

    “Seromba fled Rwanda in July 1994, and later moved to Italy and continued working as a priest for the Catholic Church near the city of Florence using the alias Anastasio Sumba Bura. Under pressure from Carla Del Ponte, the then Chief UN War Crimes Prosecutor, Seromba surrendered himself to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on February 6, 2002. On February 8, 2002 he pleaded not guilty to the charges of genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. His trial began on September 20, 2004 before the Third Trial Chamber of the ICTR. On 13 December 2006, he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.”

  • bergontin

    Max you have trouble with extreme dogmatism. Who, knowing the full truth about religion, would spout such bumper sticker comments such as “Religion teaches only obedience – not to question aurhority. Again, this is one of those little lies that atheists tell themselves to make themselves feel superior. If religion teaches you not to question anything, why have Christian nations been the ones that have advanced furthest in science? Science developed in the West, where Christianity was strong.
    But modern atheism is not about facts, or knowledge, or thought. It is about getting on comm boxes and trying to mock people. There is the sum and substance of the New Atheism “I mock, therefore I am”

  • bergontin

    Well, you are going to have to deal with the fact that the Christianized West has done so well following these ideas. Of course, your philosophy seems to be more fitting to a tribal situation. They are great ones for unresticted retribution. So, Max is really a tribalist?

  • bergontin

    Again, the atheist has no idea what he is talking about. John and the Sister have it rignt. For some reason, the atheist doesn’t get that forgivemess and letting criminals go without punishment are the same idea.

  • Pingback: Cardinal O'Malley's extraordinary press conference | Spiritual Politics()

  • Larry

    Bergontin, you are guilty of the sin of omission. Max was correct. You left out a key part of the story in order to score a cheap shot and accuse him of lying

    “Catholic monks helped him get to Italy, change his name and become a parish priest in Florence.

    “After Seromba was exposed, the international tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, accused the Vatican of obstructing his extradition to face trial. The Holy See told her the priest was “doing good works” in Italy.

    The Vatican’s reluctance to confront the murderers in its midst is rooted in its refusal to face up to the church’s complicity in mass murder.”

    Considering you probably got your statement from a news item on the subject, it is telling you deliberately omitted the Vatican’s role in it. Despite the fact that every news source included it.

    When have you stopped lying for the Lord?

  • Larry

    “If religion teaches you not to question anything, why have Christian nations been the ones that have advanced furthest in science? Science developed in the West, where Christianity was strong.”

    Read Guns, Germs and Steel to find out. Guess what? It has zero to do with religion. Every place where fundamentalists of any religion take hold of government, they run it into the ground.

    Science education is currently being attacked by Christians because it makes their head hurt trying to fit it with their mythology. Democratic institutions are under assault by people who think religious freedom only applies to Fundamentalist Christians.

    Of course the big problem with the good Deacon’s attempt at misdirection is the omission of the fact that unlike the Catholic Church, when public school teachers are found to be abusing children and administrators found covering it up, people lose their jobs and/or get prosecuted. The Catholic Church merely moves money around to shield it from lawsuits.

  • Larry

    So well? Typical “Christian culture” propagandist being ignorant of history. Even recent events.

    It wasn’t until about 20 years ago Christians stopped killing each other over sectarian differences in the developed world. Christians couldn’t even get along with fellow Christians for much of the entire history of the faith. Even Shia/Sunni conflicts don’t have the history or ferocity of the wars between Catholic and Protestant.

    The most peaceful nations on the planet right now are the ones with the least adherence to religion in their cultures.

  • Simplynotred

    I will say emphatically that Atheist Murdered without question over 150 Million innocent People in the past 100 years. But they will continue to deny this fact. Why? To look good before the world as if they have no responsibility for the Massive Genocide of Communism, which itself eventually led to the genocide of Rwanda. Yes all Communist are Atheist, and not all Atheist are communist, but the do come from the same ilk which is the hatred and denial of God. Since they foment this hatred and denial, they in fact have no credibility to judge the Catholic Church. For the most part Communist are Atheist and want to deflect their sins by pointing out the sins of others. Atheist who rewrite history to cover their hatred of the Catholic Church seek justice for others but will deny that they need forgiveness for their very sins.

    Secondly it was the Vatican II’s Pack with World Communism that helped that denial founded in the preliminary meetings held at the time of Vatican II.

    Finally, child abuse is almost insignificant a loss, (that does not mean that child abuse is insignificant, however) compared to the immoral behavior of the church since Vatican II the loss of Catholic faith, the loss of priest, the loss of religious, the loss of morals throughout the world is staggering..

    Max wants to show were the harm was done by the Church, but will deny the Greater loss of lives by his affiliates the Communist Countries throughout the world. And yet still the greater loss of souls is truly the issue which Max has no conceivability towards. That happened when the Catholic Church accepted the Values of Vatican II.

    Max will never comprehend the meaning of forgiveness, nor should he, for Atheist like Communist are all Materialist to begin with. But what he does bring attention to is the loosening of the type of penance that the church should have issued related to these sins of child abuse. This loosening of the penances that were no longer handed out did occur because of Vatican II emphasis on making the Catholic Church open to the modern ways of the world. Unfortunately a part of the Modernist ways was the acceptance of Communism.

    So what must be done is to re-establish a serious penance that must be fulfilled for the sins of the Communist, as well as the sins of the Church. Communist who do not believe in forgiveness, should be captured and imprisoned and then executed for their sins. Atheist who supported the communist revolutions world wide needs have large financial penalties taken from them and given to those whose families they help murder. Priest who abused children, need to be defrocked, imprisoned, and in many cases must be forced to perform work that earn pay, and have that pay provided to those who the priest directly abused.

  • Pingback: Cardinal Sean O’Malley on sexual abuse crisis: ‘There is so much denial’ | Broward County, Florida, USA()

  • Pingback: Pope Francis’ meeting with abuse victims wasn’t a PR stunt, Vatican says |()

  • Anthony vaughan

    Dear Cardinal Sean,my name is Anthony Vaughan I’m a former victim from St. John’s home for boys in rock away beach New York . I would like to tell my story if you have time to listen. I thank you in advance I can be reach at 718-312-2004
    My address is 213-06 75th Avenue
    Bayside, New York 11364