The Elephant in the Sacristy, Revisited
Sixteen years ago, at the height of the 2002 clergy sex scandals in the Catholic church and on the eve of a meeting of bishops in Dallas, The Weekly Standard published an essay of mine called “The Elephant in the Sacristy.” It included an in-depth look at some of the most notorious clergy abuse cases of the time. Back then, like today, the plain facts of the scandals were submerged in what we now call whataboutism. According to these evasive maneuvers, the wrongdoing was supposedly explained by reference to clericalism, celibacy, sexual immaturity, and other attributes invoked to avoid the obvious. I examined and dismissed those analyses, offered up an alternative, and made several recommendations for cleaning up the Catholic church of the future. The scandals, I wrote, were:
a cluster of facts too enormous to ignore, though many labor mightily to avert their eyes. Call it the elephant in the sacristy. One fact is that the offender was himself molested as a child or adolescent. Another is that some seminaries seem to have had more future molesters among their students than others. A third fact is that this crisis involving minors—this ongoing institutionalized horror—is almost entirely about man-boy sex.
Like most people, I could hardly bear to read what needed to be read about the cases. As well, anyone back then who described the facts in unadorned English was guaranteed vituperation, and got it. But I wrote it anyway because of the conviction that “the most important mission facing the bishops and, indeed, all other Catholics . . . is the responsibility of doing everything in one’s power to prevent this current history, meaning the rape and abuse of innocents by Catholic priests, from ever being repeated.”
That was then. Here we are now.