In a few weeks, Catholics in south Louisiana will join with Christian communities across the world in observing Lent, a season of somber self-appraisal and reflection on the church calendar.
But the Diocese of Baton Rouge isn’t waiting for Ash Wednesday to acknowledge grievous lapses of heart and mind that have shaken the church’s credibility. On Thursday, the diocese released a list of some three dozen clergy who had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors over the past few decades.
Victims of abuse have already waited too long for help from a church where they had sought spiritual comfort, only to be harmed by those in positions of sacred trust. While that shameful past can’t be changed, Thursday’s release of accused clergy is a necessary step toward reform.
“It is hard to publish this list for all to see, but real renewal and healing cannot take place until we acknowledge the truth of our past,” Bishop Michael Duca, who was appointed last year to lead the diocese, wrote in a letter earlier this month. “Yet even though in this moment we are rightly brought low, I have not lost hope.”
The Diocese of Baton Rouge is the third in the state to release a list of such accused clergy members. The Archdiocese of New Orleans released its list late last year, and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux identified 14 accused priests earlier this year.
Dioceses across the country are releasing such lists in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation that revealed more than 300 priests had abused some 1,000 victims over the years. Similar revelations have periodically rocked the church for a generation.
As in any scandal like this, the cover-up is usually at least as bad as the initial wrongdoing, further corroding public trust. That breach of trust resonates deeply in heavily Catholic south Louisiana, where the church has played a strong role in community life for centuries.
Transparency isn’t a strong tradition in the Catholic Church, but it’s the only way to restore accountability to an institution that has done much good in Louisiana and around the world, a mission advanced by hundreds of good priests, nuns and lay people.
The church’s steps toward accountability have, sadly, come too late for many victims who have endured anguish in isolation.
That’s a sad legacy for a church committed to moral instruction, and it should obligate leaders to make sure that such tragedies never go unanswered again.