Bishop Olson: Transparency, accountability needed amid sexual abuse scandals

North Texas Catholic

August 24, 2018

Storm clouds pass over a a Catholic church in Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report Aug. 14 on a months-long investigation into abuse claims spanning a 70-year period in six dioceses, which included Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Jason Cohn, Reuters) 

The Catholic Church in the United States is roiling from news of two sexual abuse scandals — one, a Pennsylvania report appalling for the breadth and longevity of clerical abuse, and the second shocking because the alleged perpetrator was one of the highest-ranking former cardinals in the nation.

Bishop Michael Olson stated in an Aug. 14 letter to the Diocese of Fort Worth that “ministry in the Church is a grace from God that carries with it sober responsibility. Ministry . . .  involves a covenantal trust established through our Baptism as members of the Church established by Christ.”

Bishop Olson continued, “We see in the immoral crimes and sins alleged to have been committed by those named in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and recent reports regarding now former Cardinal McCarrick the violation of that trust and the grave damage caused to the lives and health of their purported victims.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state’s dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and brushing aside its victims.
More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. 

“The main thing was not to help children but to avoid ‘scandal,’” says a biting sentence about the behavior of Church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in Pennsylvania dioceses.

The report of almost 1,400 pages covers a period of 70 years into the past, including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the Church since then, and also that not all of the report’s claims are substantiated.
In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, for example, a few priests named in the report are still working there because diocesan officials could not substantiate claims of abuse made against them, according to Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik.

But there are many painful claims.

In the news conference, Shapiro spoke of a “systematic cover-up” by Church officials who took information to the Vatican, which also did nothing to help victims. He also spoke of priests who “weaponized faith” and had the victims go to confession for the sins that had just been committed against them.

The grand jury said it found in its investigation that those who claimed sexual abuse of their own or of their children by Catholic clergy or other Church workers were “brushed aside,” and officials became more concerned with protecting the abusers because they wanted to protect the image of the Church, the report says.

Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up in the report are priests. Some on the lists released by dioceses are deacons, some are seminarians, teachers or other church workers, and some are no longer alive. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are listed as “sexually abusing a child.”

The Vatican responded to the Pennsylvania report, noting that most of the abuse cited occurred before the early 2000s. Greg Burke, director of the Holy See press office, stated, “By finding almost no cases after 2002, the grand jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse.”

However, the Holy See underscored the need for continued reform, vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, and compliance with civil law and child abuse reporting requirements to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm. 

Burke made clear that “the Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury findings come as the Church in the United States finds itself grappling with the late July resignation from the College of Cardinals of a beloved and respected retired prelate, now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, 88, of Washington, following decades-old allegations that he sexually abused seminarians and at least two minors. He has been removed from public ministry as of June 20 and is awaiting a Vatican trial. 

McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen, N.J., from 1981-1986, Archbishop of Newark, N.J., from 1986-2000, and Archbishop of Washington, D.C., from 2000-2006.

Two New Jersey legal settlements involving McCarrick were reached in 2005 and 2007 by the Diocese of Metuchen, the Archdiocese of Newark, and two men who claim they were sexually assaulted by McCarrick while they were seminarians and young priests.

In June, a substantial and credible allegation of child sexual abuse against McCarrick was made public. Since then, McCarrick has faced several additional allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. These include charges that he pressured seminarians and priests into sexual relationships, and another reported allegation that he had a serially sexually abusive relationship with a child.

Former Cardinal McCarrick’s alleged crimes might merit removing him from the clergy entirely, and they require accountability for all Church leaders who knew of his alleged misconduct and did nothing, Bishop Michael Olson stated.

He said, “The Church must take immediate actions to remove the immoral offenders, offer all assistance needed to those who have been abused, and to report and work with civil authorities to bring to justice the offenders. We must offer our solemn and humble prayers for the victims’ healing.

“Justice also requires that all of those in Church leadership who know of the alleged crimes and sexual misconduct and did nothing be held accountable, morally and legally, for their refusal to act, thereby enabling children and vulnerable people to be hurt.”

The bishop asserted, “The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and I have zero tolerance for sexual abuse against minors, as well as against vulnerable adults, by its clergy, staff, and volunteers, including me as bishop. This is manifested both in our policies and in our actions.

“During my nearly five years of serving as your bishop, I have always taken prompt action in removing priests, deacons, staff, and volunteers when credible allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct have been established. Our process has included transparently calling for victims, with due respect for protecting the identities of the victims.

“Our seminarians, priests, deacons, and religious and lay staff are taught to recognize and to report boundary violations without fear of retribution, no matter the status of the perpetrator.”

On Aug. 16, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued a statement after meeting the USCCB’s Executive Committee and other bishops. 

He enumerated three goals: an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; new, confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and more effective resolution of future complaints. 

According to Cardinal DiNardo, investigations will be conducted with: independence from the undue influence of a bishop; sufficient authority to protect the vulnerable; and substantial leadership by lay people, who bring expertise and independence.

A more developed plan will be presented at the USCCB general assembly in November.

Bishop Olson responded supportively, “As a member of the USCCB, I am especially hopeful that we will implement decisive means, in cooperation with the Holy See, to address openly the perpetrators and also those bishops and other parties responsible for covering up these grave and predatory crimes of deacons, priests, and bishops.”

Bishop Olson urged the faithful “to pray for the victims of these atrocities and resolve — with actions, not merely words — to once and for all see to it that these crimes against the vulnerable stop.”

Compiled by NTC staff including reports from Rhina Guidos of Catholic News Service and Kevin Jones of Catholic News Agency.


The Catholic Church in the United States is roiling from news of two sexual abuse scandals — one, a Pennsylvania report appalling for the breadth and longevity of clerical abuse, and the second shocking because the alleged perpetrator was one of the highest-ranking former cardinals in the nation.

Published (until 8/24/2030)