Column: For Catholic church, just another brick in the wall

The gigantic scandal that is the Roman Catholic Church continues to grow worse, with new revelations of criminal behavior and the sexual abuse of children. With each new disclosure, the church itself looks more and more like a criminal cabal partly inhabited by pedophiles whose behavior was covered up and filed away, hidden from the public.

The latest report involves two women now in their 60s who say they were sexually abused as children by former Diocese of Rockville Centre Bishop John McGann. They were about 11 at the time of the alleged abuse, when McGann was a monsignor and auxiliary bishop. One of them said she was also abused by another priest in the diocese at age 5. The parents of these girls were devout Catholics who believed priests and bishops were in a special class by themselves and were to be revered. Little did they know the truth.

McGann is the once-esteemed bishop whose name adorned the Catholic high school in Riverhead, which was shuttered by the current bishop of the diocese — whose name appears in a grand jury report published last year about abuse by priests in Pennsylvania and the bishops who knew about it.

And, of course, McGann, like so many others of his ilk, wagged his finger in Catholic faces, lecturing on Catholic teachings and how to live the moral life, and freely criticized pro-choice politicians for their failings. As hypocrisy goes, there is nothing like Catholic hypocrisy.

At a press conference in Rockville Centre Tuesday, Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney for the two women, laid it all out. The women did not attend the conference and were not named. His accusing words sounded like a broken record, as they have been echoed across the country — and the world — for the past 16 years as the sex abuse scandal has grown.

Last weekend, Pope Francis defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who once sat at the center of Catholic power, after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of widespread sexual misconduct, including abuse of young seminarians. A story in Monday’s New York Times described the hidden world inhabited by the children of Catholic priests. Earlier news reports this year spoke of priests and bishops sexually abusing and raping nuns — some of whom then had abortions.

Given decades of criminal behavior covered up by a sanctimonious hierarchy, the Catholic church itself looks like a deserving target for a RICO investigation, just as federal law enforcement went after organized crime.

During his tenure as bishop, McGann said on multiple occasions that there had never been a single accusation of sexual abuse against a priest in the diocese. He repeated this to reporters even after the scandal erupted in Boston in 2002, the subject of the movie “Spotlight.”

McGann was not only a liar, he was an abuser himself, according to the women’s accounts. It’s no wonder then that he covered up allegations against scores of priests under his supervision, who would later be named in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s grand jury report. Four of those priests once served in Sacred Heart Parish in Cutchogue, marrying young couples who wanted Catholic weddings and baptizing babies. Some parish families had these priests over for dinner. Little did they know.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Mr. Garabedian said that, on one occasion, around Christmas 1967, the two girls, who were both around 11 at the time, were “passed around from lap to lap” in a conference room and fondled and penetrated by a group that included McGann, Monsignor Edward Melton, Father Robert Brown and “two or three other priests the women could not identify.” Melton and Brown are both deceased. McGann died in 2002. And that’s too bad. It would be great to see them photographed in a perp walk on their way to prison.

Catholic priests. All together in a room. Passing two children around as sex toys. Here, Father, it’s your turn!

Then — what? Off to consecrate the host at the next Mass? Perhaps another homily denouncing pro-choice politicians for their failings? Or arrogantly dismissing divorced women from receiving communion? These priests must find it a burden to be so high and mighty.

What possible credibility does an organization have when it is so rotten at its core that the people in charge are as disturbed as some of the people under them? The McGann name should be stripped from any building, any foundation, any nonprofit where it still might be.

In his recent column titled “The Vatican’s Gay Overlords,” Frank Bruni of The New York Times writes of a book by an Italian journalist that describes the Vatican hierarchy this way: “… 80 percent of the male Roman Catholic clergy members who work at the Vatican, around the pope, are gay … And not all of them are celibate. Not by a long shot.”

To some Catholic conservatives, homosexuality is the key issue in the church. That’s wrong. Attacks around the country on gay men and women faithfully serving the church are nothing but a witch hunt. Homosexuality and pedophilia are vastly different. The issue is hypocrisy. Abuse has no sexual orientation, as Mr. Bruni writes. Yet there is something disturbing, he writes, about the book’s descriptions of Vatican officials — the very members of that hierarchy who condemn homosexuality as a central church teaching — linking up with male prostitutes in Rome.

This week, Pope Francis will convene a conference in Rome called “The Protection of Minors in the Church.” Just the name of the conference is an indictment of the church. All the bishops will attend. This conference, then another conference, and then another one in a few years, won’t change a thing in an institution with this many problems.

At the press conference, Mr. Garabedian said all sealed documents should be unsealed and all names of accused church officials should be released.

“I’d say it’s shocking,” he said, “but it’s become par for the course with the Catholic Church … This is unique in the sense that we have two little girls sitting in a room with priests who are drinking alcohol, and they are seeing each other passed around on priests’ laps. One girl finally just ran.”

An essentially closed society that is so deeply and disturbingly dysfunctional — where two young girls were abused “in the sacristy, in the church, in the rectory, in the girls’ homes, where the priests used to come over” — may be too far gone for any reform.

Steve Wick is the executive editor of the Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].