When will the priests’ judgment come?

The most recent wave of sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church hit close to home, in the Philadelphia archdiocese. As one of the most detailed and extensive investigations in the nationwide scandal, the Philadelphia district attorney’s report illuminates a horrifying series of abuses and cover-ups by the priests and bishops involved. The investigation, while uncovering some shocking (or not so shocking) truths, has raised more questions than it has answered.

This scandal has come at a time when the Catholic Church is already suffering from a lack of priests, further discouraging any young men who may be considering the vocation. The crimes have forced the Church to be even more discerning with candidates than before, cutting off the flow of new clergy at both ends. Not only is this deterring qualified young men from applying in the first place, but the church is also forced to reject them as well.

By not dealing with the issue internally, by covering up the scandal, the Church lowered itself in the eyes of the public and in the eyes of its congregation. The message they send is a scary one: Not only do we know about the molestations, we are helping to conceal them and thereby condoning them. And then they wonder why the moral fabric of society is unraveling.

The national media attention this scandal has attracted has hurt even the parishioners beyond those directly affected by the incidents. All the outsiders experience is the horror of the descriptions afterwards. This is bad enough because it is disillusioning to many members of the public: priests are, for the most part, supposed to be moral examples for the community. When they stray so badly from such a clear moral imperative, the bond of trust with the people is broken. And this is not something that is easily repaired.

What is the solution? Break tradition (or revive it, depending on one’s perspective) and allow priests to marry? Infuse new life in the church with female clergy? Expose to the light the darkness surrounding all of these scandals and hope the pressure of public punishments stifles the pedophilic priests, who, hopefully, leave the church before harming the community?

There are no easy answers to hard questions, and these are some of the hardest. The only thing that is clear is that the clandestine dealings, the shuffling of sexually deviant priest from one unsuspecting parish to another has left a need for accountability, and it is time for the criminal justice system to step in.