Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal In Pennsylvania Is Tragically Familiar Story05:26
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Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their family members react as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their family members react as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP)
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A grand jury report released Tuesday found that more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had molested more than a thousand boys and girls over seven decades — and that senior church officials knew about it.

The cover-up of sexual abuse comes as part of a pattern of similar scandals in recent decades, which NPR reports "amount to a deepening church crisis."

The news has prompted soul-searching among some Christians. New York Times columnist and author Bruce Feiler says voices like the church are needed more than ever as people grapple with stories like family separation at the border.

"Western civilization is built on the pillars of Athens and Jerusalem, on Western democracy and on Western religion, and the Catholic Church abdicating its moral authority is a horrendous thing for all of us who need these voices at this moment in time," Feiler (@BruceFeiler) tells Here & Now's Robin Young.

Interview Highlights

On his tweet saying the scandal represents "the biggest leadership debacle since the fall of the Roman Empire"

"I've been reflecting all day, and certainly since reading that report ... about the nature of this content. And what have been the biggest issues of our year? They have been the separation of children at the borders. They have been the cesspool that social media has become. They have been the corruption in government. I just came from Italy last month. What's the biggest issue in Italy right now? It's immigration, as it is across Western Europe, as it is in the United States. And how can the Catholic Church — we need nongovernment voices, we need moral authority — how can the Catholic church stand up and say, 'Let's protect children, immigrant children, in this time of fragility in their lives,' when they are doing this to children under their own care?"

"To me the message today is, time's up Catholic Church, time's up Vatican. The days of internal investigations, these have failed."

Bruce Feiler

On what to make of this story

"I think that this represents a tipping point in one important way. You mentioned the Boston [Archdiocese cover-up of sex crimes committed by area priests, reported by The Boston Globe] in 2002 — this goes back to the late 1980s, and I think the point to reiterate is, we're 30 years, we're three decades, into conversations about this. And I think that the significance of what happened with this report out of Pennsylvania ... and let's remember it is only six dioceses. This is not even Philadelphia.

"To me the significance is that this was done by outside authorities. So to me the message today is, time's up Catholic Church, time's up Vatican. The days of internal investigations, these have failed. And so what we need clearly here is outsiders. So if anybody listening here has a case, don't go to your priest. You're going to have to go to the police. We're going to have to have outsiders. I think the model here is the truth and reconciliation ... we have to have a clearing of the air of what happened to the children that were in your care."

On the way forward

"I think that I think there is a role for government. ... I think it's time to revisit the statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes against children, so that we can't hide behind that when this is now coming forward. This is a leadership crisis in the church, the church hides behind the idea that they're not ready for married priests. There's actually a conference going on ... the number of priests by the way, even for Catholics listening, the priest per parishioner ratio has halved since this abuse scandal came to light in the late 1980s. And now they're talking about having men of honor, traditional men, men of prudence and virtue, step forward.

"And I want to also add to that the role of women. The easiest way to do this is to have women priests — that's not likely to happen anytime soon. But there are tens of thousands of prominent women in the Catholic Church: Catholic religious orders, Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals, Catholic charities. We need outsiders. We cannot have this be run by the old men of the Vatican, to be kind of blunt about it. And so I think that we need outsiders. If there is a role of government, I'm somewhat skeptical of that, because one of the great virtues of this country at least is the separation of church and state. We need new leadership, and the Vatican has to come clear of what happened under its watch."

This segment aired on August 15, 2018.

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