A First Step, But Not The Last, For The Catholic Diocese Of Charlotte

May 20, 2019

The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte is crawling into the 21st century. They should get some credit for finally moving forward. But they should also understand that there’s a long way to go.

For years – for decades – the diocese refused to name its clergy members who had been accused of sexually abusing children. But now the diocese plans to publish a list of those clergy by the end of the year.

That’s probably because some of those names have started coming out anyway. In February, the diocese in Richmond published its own list that included two Benedictine monks who had worked in the Charlotte area. One had been accused of sexual abuse at a Gastonia parish in the 1970s. And both had worked at Belmont Abbey College.

Then in March, the second-in-command of the Charlotte diocese resigned. He was facing allegations of sexual misconduct toward an adult student at Belmont Abbey in the 1980s.

All of this belongs in the bigger context of the gut-wrenching global scandal involving Catholic priests and sexual abuse. The church knew for decades that thousands of its priests had been credibly accused of abusing members of their flocks, often children. The vast majority of the cases never became public – instead, a priest might just disappear from a parish one day, only to surface in another one two or three states away.

Pope Francis recently announced a new church law on sexual abuse. Priests and nuns around the world are now required to report all cases they know about to church authorities -- even ones that happened long ago.

That’s a powerful step for the church as a whole. And naming names is a powerful step for the Charlotte diocese. But both steps fall short.

Allegations of sexual abuse can’t just be reported to church authorities – they have to be reported to the police. The priesthood is not a shield against the law.

But being honest about what happened still doesn’t go deep enough. The real work comes in figuring out why.

Here’s a theory. The church considers the discipline of celibacy to be something that brings its priests and bishops closer to God. But it also denies them an outlet for natural human desires. At the same time, priests and bishops hold huge positions of authority, especially over their youngest members. Those two huge forces are hard to control. It seems inevitable that some people struggling to control those forces would use their power to satisfy their desire.

One of the powerful things about any church, and especially the Catholic Church, is the connection to the past. You can walk into some Catholic churches today and worship in much the same way people did 1,000 years ago. Tradition and values matter.

But justice matters, too. And now that the Charlotte diocese and the church as a whole are stepping toward this awakening on sexual abuse, they have to follow the path all the way to the end. No matter where it leads.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.