Where Do You Put a Pedophile?

What priests talk about when they talk about sex

The findings in the grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are bad enough: priests showing pornography to minors entrusted to their care, priests passing violated boys around amongst themselves, priests raping kids in cars, in parks, in the sacristy. But as reprehensible as the molesters’ behavior was, it can’t rise to the level of that of their superiors, who knew what was going on and, instead of rushing to defend the betrayed victims, engaged in a complex archdiocesan shell game, shuffling guilty priests from parish to parish in an attempt to keep a lid on their sins.

Can you imagine the discussions that must have gone on between Cardinal Bevilacqua, who approved priest transfers, and Monsignor William Lynn, who suggested them to him? Can you see these men of the cloth calmly debating where the perfect spot might be for, say, Father Edward Avery, who’d already been through an inpatient sex-offender program? (In the end, Bevilacqua sent him to St. Jerome’s Parish in the Northeast.) Can you picture them pondering where to assign Father James Brennan, whose “inappropriate relationships” had already been documented by church leaders while he was a teacher at Cardinal O’Hara and the chaplain at a home for developmentally disabled women? (He, too, wound up at St. Jerome’s.)

Those conversations are still going on today. The grand jury cited 37 priests accused of sexual abuse or “inappropriate behavior” who are still serving in the church’s active ministry—still out there among us, free to befriend and fondle and scar their victims for life. Cardinal Rigali’s tortuous words of comfort to his flock? “I assure all the faithful that there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.” Gee, do you think that could be because of all the roadblocks the church hierarchy has thrown up in front of victims who tried to speak up about the horrors they endured? “The evidence presented before us,” the grand jury report says, “indicates that the Archdiocese continues to engage in practices that mislead victims, that violate their trust, that hinder the prosecution of their abusers, and that leave large numbers of credibly accused priests in the ministry.”

What kind of mother would allow such a system to oversee the moral and spiritual education of her children? What kind of parent would prop that system up with money in the collection plate?