There is a time to mourn. There's also a time to demand answers and accountability. This is a time for both.
The church is supposed to be the light of the world. But this week, the doors of the church opened and what the world saw was darkness—on a staggering scale, on both sides of the Tiber.
A long-awaited grand jury report on sex abuse among Pennsylvania Catholic clergy was released on Tuesday. In over 900 pages, the report revealed criminal conduct in six dioceses, going back seventy years. Three hundred "predator priests" were identified, as well as a thousand probable victims—a figure which, according to the report, is likely a fraction of the true total.
The stories from the major dioceses—especially in Pittsburgh—are sickening and horrific. "Children were raped in places of worship, in schools, and in diocesan owned vehicles, and were groomed through diocesan programs and retreats," the report stated.
One priest abused five sisters. Another impregnated a minor, and then helped pay for the abortion. Another assaulted at least a dozen boys and was later praised by his bishop for all he had "done for God's people." One raped a seven-year-old girl in the hospital as she was recovering from surgery. Another had victims pose without clothes like the crucified Christ.
As if that weren't enough, Pennsylvania state Attorney General Josh Shapiro then described a pattern of denial and "systematic cover-up" by the clergy.
"Priests were raping little boys and girls," the grand jury wrote, "and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades."
Rod Dreher of the American Conservative was among those whose reporting years ago helped reveal the extent of the Boston priest abuse scandal. He thinks this is far from over. "There will be more grand juries," he writes, "and more revelations."
Now, I'm not Roman Catholic. Some of my dearest friends and colleagues are. To watch how this abuse and institutional cover-up is tearing them apart is awful. Shepherds trusted by millions have failed them in the worst way possible. Their futures include millstones around necks.
Simply put: The Catholic Church needs to clean house. Clergy at every level must cooperate with independent investigations into all allegations of abuse. No more bishops handling these charges. This needs to stop, now. Our nation's 70 million Catholics have to demand it.
And all Christians should be praying for the victims—some of whom haven't had justice for their entire lives.
In fact, across our culture an historic reckoning is afoot. We see it at U.S. Gymnastics, we see it in college football. And lest Protestants be tempted to gloat, evangelical megachurches and entire denominations are being forced to confront pastors and leaders who abuse their spiritual authority for sexual gratification.
And in every single case, many who should have blown whistles remained silent. They chose to protect organizations instead of victims. Skeletons are being found in closets of churches everywhere. God help us.
But this must happen. Judgment must begin in the house of God. And Christians—especially pastors—are accountable before God in a way that football coaches and doctors aren't. To abuse children—and then to cover up the abuse of children—while acting as a representative of Christ, is a sin that puts all of us in remembrance of the reality of Hell.
This epidemic of sin has cost more than a thousand victims their innocence and trust in church, and for many – in Christ Himself. It's a sin that will cost us all—Catholic and evangelical alike—credibility in this culture we can't afford to lose.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah come to mind: "Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honored her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away." Let us repent. And may God remember His promise not to turn away from us.
"For it is time for judgment to begin with God's household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" 1 Peter 4:17