What criticisms remain regarding the Church’s handling of these cases?
Much of the public criticism of the Church’s early handling of cases stems from a lack of knowledge about the historical context of this phenomenon.
I have seen newspaper articles criticizing officials for not reporting acts of abuse to the civil authorities during years when there were no child protective services and the particular behaviors involved were not criminalized yet. It is fair for criticism of decisions made in the ’60s and ’70s to focus on interpretation of moral behavior, weakness in the resolve of leaders or even the disregard of procedures set out in canon law. By the same token, it is essential to separate this from expectations that are based on the laws and standards of today.
We began studying sexual abuse in the 1970s, discovered it caused real harm in 1978, and realized perpetrators were difficult to rehabilitate in the 1990s. During the ’70s when we were sending offenders to treatment, the criminal justice system was doing the very same thing with convicted offenders — sending them to treatment instead of prison.
At the time, it was believed they could be cured with relative ease. This is a very young body of knowledge, and as we sort through both valid and questionable criticisms, we must consider the historical context of any given episode.
H/T: SoCon or Bust