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Editorial: Too close to home

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, discusses the release of the 40th statewide investigating grand jury clergy sex abuse report that identifies 59 religious leaders in his diocese, during a press conference in Scranton, Pa., Aug. 14, 2018. — Jake Danna Stevens/The Times-Tribune via AP
The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, discusses the release of the 40th statewide investigating grand jury clergy sex abuse report that identifies 59 religious leaders in his diocese, during a press conference in Scranton, Pa., Aug. 14, 2018. — Jake Danna Stevens/The Times-Tribune via AP

Warning: graphic content

People in this province might spare a thought for Pennsylvania with the release there on Tuesday of a grand jury report that says roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests molested more than 1,000 children in that state since the 1940s.

The report contends that senior church officials covered up reports of abuse to prevent a scandal.

It conjures up bitter memories of the Mount Cashel Orphanage and the horrors that unfolded there, where scores of vulnerable boys were sexually assaulted by Christian Brothers dating back to the 1930s, as religious authorities and other members of the establishment co-operated in a cover-up.

The abuse documented in the grand jury report is harrowing.

It’s difficult to contemplate the pain and terror experienced by so many children, rendered powerless and voiceless by the very people who were supposed to show them the way to the Kingdom of God.

The Associated Press reports: “A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils removed. Another priest forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him.”

It’s difficult to contemplate the pain and terror experienced by so many children, rendered powerless and voiceless by the very people who were supposed to show them the way to the Kingdom of God.

What chance do marginalized children have when facets of officialdom work together to keep them silenced?

In St. John’s, church officials and other authorities covered up Mount Cashel in an attempt to protect the Christian Brothers’ reputations and assets — which clearly took precedence over orphaned children’s well-being. By the time the story went public in the 1980s, the damage to fragile psyches and bodies had long been done.

In Pennsylvania, the scope of the abuse is still being peeled back, layer by layer.

What the grand jury report uncovered sounds eerily familiar.

“The panel concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability,” AP reported. “They failed to report accused clergy to police, used confidentiality agreements to silence victims and sent abusive priests to so-called ‘treatment facilities,’ which ‘laundered’ the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry.”

In Pennsylvania, as here, the depths of despair caused by the abuse may never fully be known. Stories of survivors of Mount Cashel are strewn with broken dreams, failed relationships, family estrangements, depression, addiction and suicide.

“I don’t know what childhood was,” one survivor has said to The Telegram.

As Catholics and Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania try to heal and move forward from this dark chapter, supports and understanding must be offered to those left permanently scarred by the trauma. It’s a hard thing to put behind you.

As the grand jury report so bluntly noted, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

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