Adjacent to this editorial, you'll see the letter with which the Rev. James E. Connell introduced, to Catholic and secular media, his criticism of the policy of the Diocese of La Crosse regarding the sexual abuse of minors.
Connell's argument boils down to this: The La Crosse Diocese's policy applies a standard of proof that is too high in the initial stages of a complaint when deciding whether to forward such a complaint to Rome, a standard - beyond reasonable doubt - more appropriate for final adjudication than for initial complaint.
In the wake of Connell's accusations that the La Crosse Diocese takes a lax approach in assessing the merits of purported victims' allegations, the church hasn't responded to the substance of his complaints.
That's to be expected. No one expected an "oops, we were wrong" response on Day 1 of what will be an ongoing story.
Last month, the acting head of the La Crosse Diocese dismissed Connell's complaints, which he had kept, until Thursday, within the domain of the Catholic Church. The interim administrator, Monsignor Richard Gilles, called Connell's accusations "careless and insulting," and compared them to those of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - with whom Connell has indeed met.
But, while Gilles derided SNAP for "irresponsible public utterances," SNAP has played no small role in calling the Catholic Church to account and changing its attitude and behavior toward the scandal of child sexual abuse by priests.
There are critics of whistleblowers and the media who wish such controversies could be contained within the church. But the media's reporting on the sexual abuse scandal, too, has pushed the church to move more aggressively to reform itself.
It's important to note that there's no evidence that the
La Crosse Diocese's policy has, to this point, led to buried accusations of child sexual abuse against diocesan priests or deacons. But could this purportedly high standard for complaints do so in the future?
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The diocese's high threshold for accusations in the sexual abuse of adults might be perceived to be parallel to the stated standards for children.
When a diocesan parishioner last year accused a priest of improper sexual behavior, the diocese dismissed the accusation. But a La Crosse County prosecutor found, in the same case, enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the priest and let a court decide the outcome.
So, at least at the adult level, in one case, the Diocese of
La Crosse had a lower standard than secular authorities when it came to taking purported victims of sexual abuse seriously.
It seems a church so important to the underpinnings of our society would have a higher standard of investigation of such charges than secular authorities.
Perhaps that's what Connell is trying to point out.
When La Crosse Bishop Designate William Callahan takes over the diocese in August, he'll have an opportunity to review and explain - and perhaps revise, if he deems it appropriate - the diocesan approach to such allegations.
The Catholic Church in America has made important strides in protecting children and addressing a tragic history of sadly inadequate responses to the sexual abuse of children, and we trust that progress will continue.