Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

The large-print headline on the front page of the Nov. 30 issue of the (Springfield) State Journal-Register read, “Diocese names priests in abuse cases.” The sub-headline read, “Ex-Bishop Daniel Ryan on list of 19 released by Diocese of Springfield.” It is a matter of great shame that such terrible sins have been committed by priests of our diocese, as well as by one of our previous bishops, the late Bishop Daniel Ryan, who resigned in 1999 and died in 2015. I am deeply concerned for all those who suffered harm as a result of these sins of sexual abuse of minors. I pray for their healing and for God’s justice and mercy for the perpetrators of these crimes, and I continue to work diligently to prevent the circumstances that allowed these crimes to occur in our church.

When Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called me to discuss the investigation of the Catholic dioceses in Illinois, she said that the objectives were to make sure that our policies and procedures were adequate to provide a safe environment for young people and to verify that there are no priests currently in ministry who pose a threat to children. I am confident that both objectives have been met.

Another story much less prominent on page 26 of the same issue of the State Journal-Register bore the headline, “Hundreds of sex abuse complaints at Chicago schools this semester.” I would like to reflect a bit on this second story, not as an attempt to deflect attention from the bad news of abusive clergy, but rather to provide context for what is clearly a much broader threat to our children and society and one that we must come to terms with outside of the church, not just within.

The story in that issue of the State Journal-Register reported that a new office created to look into cases of sexual abuse of Chicago’s public schools “has received nearly 500 allegations of student-on-student sexual violence in less than three months.” In addition, “they had received 133 reports of alleged misconduct by adults — many of whom work for the district.” A review of background checks on tens of thousands of public school district workers, vendors and volunteers “resulted in 126 employees being fired, recommended for dismissal or resigning under scrutiny.” Similarly, for all the justifiable attention being paid to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, it seems largely unnoticed that 42 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania lost their licenses due to sexual misconduct in 2017 alone — which is nearly double the instances of abuse reported in the entire Catholic Church throughout the United States.

Some media have referred to the recent reports involving the church as the “Catholic sex scandal,” as if sexual abuse of minors only occurred in the Catholic Church. Others mistakenly think this only involves clergy. Some parishioners in our diocese have complained about our requirement that all church personnel, including volunteers, must undergo criminal background checks and safe environment training. One blogger, for example, complained that attending safe environment training “seems like the penance imposed on the laity for the sins of the clergy.” In reality, the problem must be recognized as much broader and more pervasive than that, otherwise many more victims will be harmed if we ignore the problem elsewhere in our society.

A 2006 study conducted by John Jay College found that, over the 54-year period covered by the study, out of more than 100,000 priests, deacons and religious order clergy, 4,392 (approximately 4.4 percent) were accused of sexual abuse, 252 (less than 0.26 percent) were convicted and 100 (less than 0.1 percent) sentenced to prison. In contrast, a scientific study of the general population of sexual abuse of minors in the United States published in 1996 by Douglas W. Pryor found that 70 percent of sexual offenders who abused minors were married. The Pryor study also found that 23 percent of the incidents of sexual abuse were perpetrated by the victim’s biological father, and another 38 percent of the abuse was perpetrated by the minor’s stepfather, adoptive father, or mother’s boyfriend. In other words, married men and men in other heterosexual adult relationships account for the vast majority of the sexual abuse problem in the United States.

More recently, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, a 2005 study showed that 79.4 percent of child abusers were the parents, and the next largest pool of abusers consisted of unmarried partners of the parents of child victims. A staggering 40 percent of child victims were abused by their mothers acting alone, and a disturbing 17.3 percent were abused by both parents.

Clearly, the greatest casualties of the sexual revolution in contemporary culture are children. This devastation of young people must stop. What is needed first of all is to recognize that sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin, followed by a renewed commitment to the virtues of chastity, purity and marital fidelity. Given the current cultural disregard for traditional forms of morality and sexual restraint, this will be a long, uphill struggle, but it is a battle worth fighting, confident that success is possible with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, and the grace of our Lord Jesus.

May God give us this grace. Amen.