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Sexual Abuse, the Catholic Church, and the Challenge of Transparency

The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has entered a new phase in which transparency is either volunteered by the church or demanded by the state. But how should this often shocking news be received?

This event, held at Santa Clara University’s De Saisset Museum and livestreamed at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, was the second in the series of four events co-sponsored by the Jesuit School of Theology and the Markkula Center of Applied Ethics to address the sexual abuse and abuse of power crisis in the Catholic Church.  At this event, two leading national figures on the abuse crisis, journalist Peter Steinfels and canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger, addressed the challenge of this new moment.

The Gospel of John says that “the truth shall set you free,” and there are few people who credibly think that the Church should not come clean on abuse. Indeed, throughout the country, the Church itself has begun releasing lists of priests who have been credibly accused or convicted of abuse. Moreover, state attorneys general have become more determined in demanding access to Church files and in releasing information to the public in the form of grand jury reports or indictments. A report in summer 2018 by a grand jury working with Pennsylvania State Attorney General Joel Shapiro shocked the Church throughout the world.

There is little doubt that such volunteered or demanded revelations will continue in the next years. But are there ways of making sense of such processes of transparency beyond the importance of transparency itself? In a major article in Commonweal magazine, Steinfels examined in detail the Pennsylvania grand jury report and criticized aspects of it including key information that it left out and a crucial lack of historical perspective. Haselberger was a whistleblower in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese who revealed cover-ups of sexual abuse and a general culture of blaming the victim. The different insights of Steinfels and Haselberger offer the promise of a rich trove of ways to assist in responding to the often shocking and disorienting and necessary challenge of transparency.

Watch the recorded May 7 event here.