Harry Truman’s famous phrase “the buck stops here” is often quoted when talking about taking ultimate responsibility for issues, problems, and their solutions. Often “the buck stops here” is used by presidents, committee chairpersons, directors of divisions or programs. Bishops and archbishops are directors of their dioceses. In many ways, bishops and archbishops are the princes of the Catholic Church’s geographical domains. I say princes purposefully because as everyone knows, the Catholic clerical hierarchy is all male and always has been. Bishops rule the dioceses over which they have been given authority by the Holy See, i.e., the Pope.
Given their position within the diocese and the Catholic Church you would think that bishops would speak the truth when it comes to an issue as serious as child sexual abuse by clergy. You would think that given the grave impact that child sexual abuse has on survivors that the Church and its princes would speak honestly about it. Moreover, given the apparent fundamental change in position that Pope Francis has taken with regard to clergy sexual abuse in the face of global condemnation of past Church practices of shielding pedophiles, you would think that a bishop would not lie or feign lack of memory about whether sex between an adult priest a child constitutes a crime. Apparently the more things change the more they stay the same.
Recently, St. Louis Diocese Archbishop Robert Carlson testified that in the 1980s he was in charge of investigating clergy sexual abuse allegations. Amazingly, however, in the same deposition the Archbishop testified that he did not know in the 1980s whether it was illegal to have sex with children. See the clip of the Archbishop’s testimony here.
Think about the juxtaposition of those two facts for a minute. This bishop was in charge of investigating clergy sexual abuse claims but testifies under oath that he did not know that sex between an adult a child was a crime. Is it any wonder why the Catholic Church has lost so much credibility when it comes to child abuse allegations? The attorney examining Archbishop Carlson produced documents that directly contradicted his sworn testimony. This is no small feat.
The willingness to lie under oath exposes a broader problem which needs to be recognized. And that problem is this. The Church and its officials will do just about anything to protect themselves and the Church’s assets. For those who advocate on behalf of child sexual abuse survivors, the task is not just to represent and advocate for victims/survivors. We must turn over every stone to shine the light of day on these lies. We must ask for help from other attorneys and survivors organizations to gather the growing volume of deception and present in courts. Juries do not forgive liars especially powerful, arrogant people who lie to protect themselves and the institutions they represent.