On August 16, 2018 – just days after the release of the Grand Jury Report detailing the sexual victimization of more than 1000 children and youth by nearly 300 Pennsylvania priests – the investigative journalism site PublicSource published an in-depth piece on another failure of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. They chose to scrutinize how the Diocese used ‘bait and switch’ tactics to trick Mon Valley parishioners into donating money to keep their preferred parish buildings and churches open.
Essentially, a group of older white faithful Catholics are angry that their preferred church was merged into another parish with the intent of the building to be sold. They are suing the Diocese.
Now I have little doubt that the Diocese would swindle parishioners. After all, they colluded and covered up abuse of children for decades. Some priests named in the Grand Jury Report were born in the late 19th century so I think it is fair to assume that the violations & collusion stretch back at least that far. Money is a powerful factor in Diocesan decisions.
And in a larger sense, I feel bad for the people who lost their church just like I do when a school closes or any community space is shuttered for any reason. It hurts and we feel those losses.
But the PublicSource piece is lacking context or any reference to the Grand Jury Report. And that matters because children are more important than buildings, even churches. Obviously, that needs to be said often by any Catholic over the age of 60 who failed to speak out when the reports were circulating around the sexual abuse of children in their church buildings. Those of us who were teenagers and younger during the 80s were trying to say these things, but few listened.
So I have a problem with these older Catholic folks spending their money to save a building, no matter how important, that they knew never belonged to them. We all knew that the Church via the Diocese owned and controlled everything. To say otherwise is simply absurd and belies the deep ‘head in the sand’ mentality of too many older Catholics. That’s the same mentality that left me and my friends at the mercy of 3 predator priests in my home parish from 1983-2006.
If these good Catholics felt so betrayed by their Diocese, why don’t they have the humility and ethical consistency to recognize their own complicity in the sex abuse? Why don’t they express empathy toward the 1,000 victims whose pain and suffering hasn’t yet been made whole? Why can’t they see that the history they cling to is wrought with real harm to actual people who were children?
The article reads as tone-deaf considering the release of the Grand Jury Report. None of these buildings or assets are as important as the thousands of victims who will not have any day in court. If good Catholics embrace the recommendations of the Grand Jury to heal and prevent further violence against children, it will require massive infusions of cash to pay off the civil lawsuits that should justly rule against the Diocese. That means more schools closed and most assets sold off. To pay a debt accrued in part by adults of the generation in this story who weren’t listening to children and not pushing back against the Diocese on the sexual violence. Fighting over assets in the wake of this report is a slap in the face to thousands of victims and survivors.
I was shocked that PublicSource didn’t include the context of the Grand Jury Report, especially as this was published the same week the report was released. It felt like they (still) weren’t hearing us in spite of the report. It was a disappointing decision by that otherwise reliable outlet.
Let me be clear, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is going to go bankrupt if the civil lawsuits are allowed to proceed. They will have to sell a lot of assets, perhaps most of them. Schools will close. The faithful who now express outrage over the situation will have to literally make the sacrifices of those assets to set things right. And we know that robust groups like the ‘Central Catholic Mafia’ alumni network will be pushing hard to protect their power base – can you imagine that group willingly advocating that the school be closed and the buildings sold to support the moral and ethical stance of the Grand Jury Report?
No, of course not. No one gives up power and control without a fight if they can fight. That fight might be a child struggling and saying ‘no’ or it might be a youth going to their parents about an abusive experience, asking for help.
Or it might be a group of clueless older white Catholics who ignored all of the signs of corruption and abuse over the past 40 years until it came home (literally) to roost in their preferred church building.
In a perfect world, the litigants in this lawsuit would acknowledge the larger issues and invest their resources toward supporting reform rather than perpetuating the past. I doubt they will.
I asked PublicSource if I could submit a response to the piece and was politely turned down. They told me ‘We don’t think it would be a productive furtherance of the conversation to scold the people within this story for the concerns they are sharing based on their experiences.’
The word scold hit me in the chest. The people in this story were part of the experiences of sex abuse and cover-up even if they preferred not to acknowledge it. To suggest that I as a survivor don’t have a right to hold them accountable for their priorities, then and now, is just hurtful. And wrong. It is wrong of PublicSource to publish this piece and benefit from the journalistic accolades without acknowledging the sexual abuse cover-up.
All they had to do was include a few sentences to offer context about the larger problem, perhaps even ask the contributors about their concerns in light of the report. I’m not a journalist so I don’t know. I’m not a publisher so I don’t know why they had to publish this the same week or if they could have added anything. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part.
I am a supporter of PublicSource and will continue to be one. If my concerns are considered scolding, then so be it. It is a great silencing tool and will likely keep me from pitching to them in the near future.
St. Anthony of Padua was more than just a finder of lost things. He was a Franciscan so the question of who owns the property as well as the questions around poverty & austerity should also be considered when invoking his name.
I would hope St. Anthony of Padua would be concerned with finding the lost innocence and the lost time thousands of victims experienced, finding the lost trails of documentation and paperwork, finding the lost morality of the thousands of lay people who also perpetrated this cover up. But he can’t find a lost church that existed in a world where children being sexually violated was routine.
Moving forward, I can’t imagine any credible story about the Catholic Church in this region failing to mention the Grand Jury Report. If that requires me to be a scold to more media outlets, so be it. It certainly can’t be worse that what I’ve already endured being silenced by the Church.
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