The Roman Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles, the largest diocese in the country, has agreed to pay $660 million to settle its parishoners’ claims of sexual abuse by diocese officials. The diocese elected not to file for bankruptcy; instead, the diocese will fund their settlement by selling some land holdings and by raising money to compensate the victims. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles believes this settlement will allow the diocese to move forward, and more hopefully, allow the victims to move on with their lives.
Unlike the LA diocese, San Diego’s diocese chose not to settle with their plaintiffs and instead filed for bankruptcy protection in February of this year. In doing so, our diocese opted to ignore all responsibility for the crimes its priests committed. While filing for bankruptcy may help the diocese remain viable financially, it makes us wonder whether the local diocese has lost moral credibility with its own faithful. How can local Catholics, even those not directly affected by abuse, continue to support the priests and bishop of San Diego in the midst of a huge cover-up of abuse, some of which spanned decades? Most victims of sexual abuse by priests simply want the church to acknowledge that they have been violated. The bankruptcy filing closes the door on acknowledging abuse, as well as the opportunity to heal the victims. This is especially ironic, given that churches are places of healing.
If the diocese of San Diego is truly committed to its parishioners, why don’t they offer all victims free abuse counseling, for all who request it? This would certainly cost the diocese plenty, but it would also send a message that the church cares for its community. San Diego’s bishop, Robert Brom, should also offer up a clear plan to prevent abuse from happening in the future, so the Catholic Church can begin to heal itself, as well as its parishioners.
We recognize the important role the Catholic Church plays in our society. The church is an important voice on a broad range of issues that critically impact San Diego and the nation as a whole. For many of us, the church gives context to the dilemmas of our modern society; issues like immigration, the war in Iraq and global poverty. All require an authoritative moral voice that will allow Americans to engage in a credible discussion of these issues. The current policy of our local diocese in the matter of the sexual abuse scandal shows us an institution that is more interested in protecting its financial base than administering to its moral base - its own congregation.
The local diocese should take a cue from its neighbor in Los Angeles and make an earnest effort to confront its problems. Only then will our diocese regain its credibility. We eagerly await that day.