Recently, one of the members of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors spoke to media via Skype as she trains church members in Australia to implement more robust measures to protect children from abuse. Her sobering comments hold damning implications for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Susan Goff, and the way that diocesan officials respond to allegations of clergy misconduct.
“If we would expect that with all the guidelines we have in place we can prevent abuse 100 percent, we would be naïve,” said Dr. Myriam Wijlens of the Netherlands. “We cannot prevent it in the Church in as much as we cannot prevent it in the Scouts or sports. No system will ever be perfect.”
However, she [said], “we can, and I believe we do, learn to be more attentive, listen and see the signals better and thus improve our reaction. This goes for those in leadership as well as parents and other faithful in the church: we are indeed all more attentive. There is also a better culture that encourages victims to speak and report. The preventive measures will hopefully mean that abusers are not moved and that thus repetitive abuse may be prevented.” (Emphasis added.)
That raises the question: Would any person in his or her right mind go to the diocese with concerns about potential clergy misconduct when the diocese allows retaliation, up to and including perjury on Bob Malm’s part? Would you be comfortable sharing your story with a diocese that is prepared to say that perjury by a priest is only actionable if criminal charges are brought? How do you feel about a church that tries to drag the dying into court?
The answer, of course, is that no one is going to stick their neck out when the diocese responds like this.
The answer becomes even more starkly clear when, as in Bob Malm’s case, the diocese turns a blind eye to breach of confidentiality in the complaint process. Complaints are supposed to be confidential, but the diocese knew and turned a blind eye to Bob Malm’s disclosure of my complaint to Jeff Aaron and others. Yes, it eventually took action, but nothing serious. The fact that Bob Malm doesn’t even adhere to canonically mandated confidentiality should serve as a warning sign to anyone dealing with him, or the diocese itself.
This paradigm has profound implications within the larger Title IV process. Given that clergy occupy the position of perceived power in any complaint situation, parents who for example allege sexual abuse of a child face insurmountable challenges if the diocese is willing to allow retaliation, and turn its back on all clergy misconduct that does not involve criminal charges. Their only option is to get out, and hope that police take their complaints seriously.
In short, the situation with Bob Malm calls into question the entire Title IV system and its ability to address clergy misconduct. Additionally, it makes clear that diocesan officials simply cannot be trusted with issues of this sort.
Read more about the Catholic Church and Dr. Wijlins’ interview here.