Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM
Archdiocese of Boston
66 Brooks Dr.
Braintree, MA 02184-3839
Dear Cardinal O’Malley:
My letter, which I ask that you share with the members of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, is my plea as a lifelong Catholic (age 74) who views the subject of clergy abuse of children as the most outrageous and unimaginable crisis in the church in my lifetime. Throughout history there have been worse catastrophes in the church, but in this modern world, I think nothing matches this breakdown in the collective conscience of the church's ordained ministry. There are countless stories to illustrate the severity of the impact on ordinary people.
The Commission appointed to address this crisis carries an extraordinary burden insofar as the issues are complex, the suffering is extreme, and a large proportion of the world, especially Catholics, watches and waits for a clear sign that this failure will not be repeated or tolerated in any form without severe consequences for those responsible.
I think most thoughtful, prayerful Catholics would agree that those clergy guilty of destroying the lives of countless children did not set out to destroy. They are probably men who set out to serve God and the people of God in the best way they knew how. Whatever their motives, they deserve our compassion and forgiveness. They have undoubtedly suffered and will continue to suffer throughout their lives for their failures. Despite the need for compassionate, humane treatment, they are not exempt from civil laws and penalties and the church must not aide them in their understandable desire to escape due process under the law.
It is not too extreme, in my view, to cite this issue as analogous to the Christian failure in an earlier time to boldly speak out against the evil of slavery and segregation. While the number of victims may be much smaller, the advancing consciousness of our world serves only to magnify the grave injustice that has been done to the victims.
As for the bishops and others in the authority structure who have exhibited grave negligence in their practices to protect the guilty, the church must demonstrate that a new era has begun. It is shameful to think that my church is perceived to care more about protecting abusive priests and their bishops than it cares about the lives of children, and families, destroyed by their abuse.
The work of the Commission will be judged by many more than those who are directly affected. It will be judged by those of us, a far greater number, who want to believe that the Spirit will always guide the church in search of Truth, Justice and Wisdom, and that the same Spirit has been welcomed into your deliberations and heard with an open mind and loving heart, and not merely given lip service while the lives of innocent children are sacrificed at the altar of clerical denial and inventive rationalization. Please remember the extraordinary demands on parents responsible for the care of deeply troubled children suffering irreversible harm at the hands of abusive clergy. Your mission is as much to show that justice applies to all as it is to demonstrate compassion toward the deeply flawed among our brothers.
May the guidance of the Spirit be with you in your time of extraordinary responsibility.
Michael A. Ricci, Sr.
cc to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio
Archbishop John Nienstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese
Fr. Thomas Balluff, Pastor of Saint John the Baptist Church, Little Canada, MN