My (ex-Catholic) father is really not fond of the Catholic Church in Portland, near where he lives. His very-memorable explanation, "Well, all they care about is gays and abortions, and I don't really give a damn about gays and abortions." It's not entirely fair; they're also, one would imagine, concerned with pedophilia. Local News WMTM: "A lawyer has confirmed that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland made a $200,000 settlement on Nov. 5 with his client, who said she was molested by a priest in 1976 in the rectory of St. Michael's Church in South Berwick." You know the rest by now.
You know, at some point, you have to ask why this was such a problem for the Catholic Church. It's starting to seem like the problem of child molestation is somehow uniquely acute in the priesthood. This probably isn't true- I imagine that all other occupations that allow for close, unsupervised contact with children attract pedophiles. There do seem to be a lot of them in middle schools. What I think shocks most people about the Catholic scandal though isn't that there were pedophiles; it's the apparently standard response of keeping them in the priesthood, but moving them to different parishes once they got caught. Most of us, I imagine, would have called the cops.
From the outside, it looks like the mob taking care of its own. Corruption arises in all organizations; the problem with large, hierarchical organizations is that they tend to deal with corruption by circling the wagons and silencing discussion. I've read all sorts of statements and essays about this scandal from Catholics that amount to intellectually circling the wagons. Actually, what got me thinking about the topic was a particularly self-serving article by Mary Eberstadt in the us-versus-them genre. Read it and see just how close she comes to arguing that the "liberal elite" only respond negatively to the child molestation scandal because they hate Catholics. I notice that a lot of religious people get caught up in the mentality of permanent war with the "secular society". This time, the secular society was right- the priests should have gone to a secular jail.
On the other hand, there really are people who don't much care for Catholics. I know a few militant atheists who seem to see this scandal as totally unsurprising and in tautological terms. Priests are child molesters and become priests to molest children. Well, it's a shock to me. Of course, I'm an old Romantic: to me, the Catholic Church is incense and art, history and borderline-pagan rituals. It's more Oscar Wilde's Catholicism really. On occasion, I like to go to mass and sing songs with the old people in my neighborhood. And I frankly have a hard time thinking of "the Church" in terms larger than the one down the street. I like that church, and don't care much about the one in Rome.
Of course, I'm not a Catholic. But the Church down the street is full of rational, ethically-minded people; it's hard to imagine any of them covering up for a child molester. Still, that's cold comfort. I wish I had a better answer for how something like this could have happened. The best I can figure is that the Church sees all sins as absolvable through confession and repentance, not to mention grace. Therefore, maybe they didn't see it as a secular matter. Perhaps it's like someone confessing to a crime; generally, the priests don't call the cops. And maybe the bishops saw the priests as fallen members of a sacred brotherhood.
Still, if it was me, I'd have called the cops.