One of the most widely covered events during the Pope Francis visit to the U.S. was his meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Francis, who met with survivors of abuse on Sunday, his last day in Philadelphia, expressed his regret that trusted church officials had violated the innocence of children and had failed to protect them.
Francis consoled them by saying God heard their cries and believes them, and vowed to hold accountable the people who committed and covered up the crimes.
The overture was welcomed by some as a step in the right direction. For those who still struggle with the ravages of the years of abuse at the hands of a trusted priest, the pontiff’s gesture was little more than lip service.
More than 10 years after the clergy sex abuse scandal rocked the church in the U.S., the issue has forged little resolution between church officials and victims.
“I kind of wanted to like the pope until I saw what he was doing,” said John Delaney, who as a student at St. Cecilia Church in Philadelphia, was molested by a priest for more than 10 years. “He is not doing anything for me. He was applauding the bishops. It was a smack in my face. I was very hurt.”
Delaney was “Sean” in the 2005 grand jury report that detailed widespread clergy abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The 2005 report, alleged how the The Rev. James Brzyski subjected Delaney and at least 16 other boys to “unrelenting abuse, including fondling, oral sex, and anal rape” while working as an assistant pastor at two churches in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Delaney who now lives in Tennessee, continues to deal with the ravages of his abuse and the knowledge that the priest he says abused him for the better part of 12 years is a free man living in Texas.
“He is still out there molesting kids,” Delaney said. “He gets a pension from the church.”
The archdiocese defrocked the former priest, who was in charge of the altar boys when Delaney was an altar boy himself at St. Cecilia’s. Delaney said he is more than certain that at least 13 of the altar boys at the time were abused by the priest.
In 2011, another grand jury report out of Philadelphia detailed widespread sexual abuse of minors at the hands of priests. Philadelphia was one among dozens of cities across the U.S. – and eventually the world – where Catholic priests were credibly accused of molesting children.
In the wake of those reports, victims and their advocates have continually butted heads with the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the church.
Archdiocese spokesman Kenneth A. Gavin, responding to a PennLive report on the pope’s visit and abuse victims, said the archdiocese had gone above and beyond to reach out to victims and rectify the concerns detailed in the two grand jury reports.
Gavin said claims in that report by victims that the diocese continued to shield priests with credible allegations against them were false.
“There are currently no known allegations against a member of the clergy who is in active ministry in the (archdiocese),” Gavin said in an email. “If any new allegations were made, it would be immediately reported to law enforcement.”
Gavin pointed out that since being assigned to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2011, Archbishop Charles Chaput has been committed to “taking immediate action when an accusation is made against any clergy, lay employees and volunteers who engage in misconduct with children. He has also reinforced the Archdiocese’s commitment to educating all those who work with children, as well as children in our schools and education programs on how to recognize improper contact and be comfortable enough to report a problem, whether it be at church, home, school or extracurricular activity.”
The archdiocese has spent millions of dollars in recent years to provide therapy, treatment and care for victims of abuse.
The archdiocese, Gavin said, has worked “tirelessly” to address the concerns of the grand jury reports and implement changes, including separating the Office of Investigation from the Office of Victim Assistance and referring all complaints against clergy involving minors directly to law enforcement and the Archdiocesan Review Board. To ensure that any past allegations were properly reported, Chaput tasked the Office of Investigations with the review of files, and commissioned an independent review.
“Many people don’t realize that for years the child protection policies of the archdiocese have exceed what Pennsylvania law previously required,” Gavin said. “Many of the recommendations of the Task Force for Child Protection that are now law actually reflected (archdiocese) policies including: requiring background checks for all people working with children, including volunteers; requiring Safe Environment training and mandated reporter training; and requiring all employees and volunteers with regular contact with children to report suspicions of child abuse.”
Victims and their advocates, however, insist that until the state’s statute of limitation is suspended and reformed, victims will not be able to fully heal.
They call on Chaput and his powerful lobbying arm, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, to get out of the way of legislation that would give victims, past and present, more time to file civil and criminal cases against abusers.
Delaney said the changes in the archdiocese that have been implemented in the wake of the grand jury reports help minors today, but they do little to allow him to prosecute is predator.
“What they are saying and what they are doing are two different things,” said Delaney, who has battled drug addiction and incarceration as a result of his abuse. “I ‘m not asking for financial support. If someone would come out and say ‘We are sorry. We screwed up… what can we do”‘ I’d be apt to not be so harsh, but there is nobody doing that.”
Chaput, who argues that the current statute is adequate, has taken issue with negative portrayal of his archdiocese.
“We deeply regret the past,” he said Monday, at the closing of the week-long World Meeting of Families event “We commit ourselves to a better future. People are angry. They want to say we’re not doing anything but symbolic things. I understand their anger. I don’t know how to get through that, except that we keep trying.”
State Rep. Mark Rozzi stands by his claim that the archdiocese and the church are not doing enough.
“The fact remains that we know there’s still predatory priests out there,” said Rozzi, a survivor of clergy sex abuse. “I hope they are doing a better job. I’m sure the numbers have to be down but at the end of the day, they are not doing enough. As long as they continue to block changes to the statute of limitations, it doesn’t matter. We are dealing with victims from grand jury reports 1 and 2 and at the end of the day, they are still blocking the healing of victims.”
Rozzi said that the Task Force put in place processes and procedures for responding to child abuse but left out the review of current laws with regards to statute of limitations.
“For the church to make that statement that is a hypocritical lie,” Rozzi said. “They are trying to distort the truth and make it look like it’s good in their position. They need to start telling the truth. The sooner the victims can have voices heard and have healing, the church will start healing.”
Rozzi last year filmed a documentary on victims; Delaney was one of the victims interviewed for that piece.
Gavin said that while the church’s history had been long and complicated, its focus now was on helping victims heal.
“We recognize and understand that the pain felt by survivors of abuse is very real, which is why we continue to provide counseling, medication, travel and childcare assistance, and other forms of support for survivors and their families,” he said. “We also recognize that each survivor’s path to healing is different.”
For Delaney, the pope’s visit may have given him a momentary blip on the church’s radar, but it has now faded.
“The reality of what they say and what they do is so contradictory,” he said. “They don’t do anything.. They do if a kid now gets molested. I don’t know that they could shuffle that under the rug like they did to me 30, 40 years ago. Maybe they do now, but I ain’t buying because they are doing nothing for a guy like me.”