Youngstown Diocese must stay its course of openness
In one sense, Tuesday ranks as one of the darkest days in the 75-year history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown. On that day, Bishop George V. Murry and other church leaders released a long-awaited list of 34 names of priests and other church authorities who have been credibly accused of the most horrid and heinous of crimes: sexually abusing minor children.
In another sense, however, Tuesday rose as the dawn of a new day for the six-county diocese as the results of the intensive investigation could now pave the way for a cleansing of some of the many stains the long-standing sex-abuse scandal have left on the Catholic church in our region, state and nation.
To be sure, however, the report does not bring full closure to the abominable abuse scandal. The deep psychological wounds of dozens of young children who were victimized at the hands of those on the list even decades ago will continue to fester.
But knowing that their voices were heard and taken seriously should at least provide those victims some degree of comfort and closure. For the broader church, the report at last lets in a few rays of hope, healing, transparency and accountability in openly acknowledging the many years of aberrant behavior on the part of priests who committed the unseemly acts and on the part of some church leaders who covered up abusive acts or minimized their destructiveness.
BISHOP MURRY’S CANDOR
Indeed, we were impressed by the sincere candor with which Bishop Murry, leader of the diocese, addressed the sins of the church at his news conference earlier this week.
“I am very sorry that the church has failed to act aggressively to eliminate this evil,” he said in a statement for the diocese. “I humbly ask for forgiveness from the victims and their families for the grave mistakes that the church has made.”
Even when he noted that the scope of documented sex abuse in the diocese covering Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Ashtabula, Stark and Portage counties falls below that of the national average, he was far from an apologist for the guilty priests and church hierarchy here over the past seven decades.
“We have to do something to ensure, always, that children are protected,” he said. “Our promise to our people is that this doesn’t happen again.
That is a promise that Bishop Murry and others throughout the diocese must work tirelessly to keep in coming months, years and decades. We and others will be watching.
They can start by filling in the many blanks left on the list of accused abusers released this week. That list, which was published in The Vindicator on Wednesday, did not include, for example, information on the priests’ parish affiliations, church assignments or what years they served in the active ministry. We therefore hold the church to its pledge that it would today release that detailed information – even against the recommendations of diocesan attorneys who fear it might open floodgates of new accusations. To do otherwise only would fuel additional rumblings of cover-up.
In addition, files on the abusive priests should be shared with the criminal justice-system, even if statutes of limitations likely would prohibit prosecution. Bishop Murry should continue to cooperate fully with Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains and the county prosecutors elsewhere in the diocese.
In addition, The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which has assisted several abuse victims in the Mahoning Valley, is urging Ohio officials to execute an independent review of diocese personnel files and abuse records here and in other dioceses by the state attorney general’s office.
“Only independent law enforcement professionals can truly determine when an allegation is ‘credible’ or not, especially given that we have seen church officials deem accusations not credible only to be proven horribly wrong later, a statement issued by SNAP said this week.
If such an investigation takes place, we’d encourage the diocese to cooperate fully with it so as to remove any seeds of doubt over its commitment to maximum transparency.
Though clearly on the right track, the Youngstown Diocese must work continuously to stay its course of openness and double-down on its commitment to protecting its flock, particularly the most vulnerable children within it.