Michael D’Antonio came to Trinity this week to talk about his new book Mortal Sins, the best account yet of the abuse scandal in the American Catholic Church. D’Antonio, who was part of the team at Newsday that won a Pulitzer in 1984 for coverage of the Baby Jane Doe case on Long Island, is a prolific author who likes taking the side of those who take on the system.
In this case, the system is the Catholic hierarchy; those who took it on, an improbable assortment of lawyers, priests, and abuse survivors. D’Antonio shows the latter struggling through their own personal problems to achieve some measure of justice for the victims. At center stage is Jeffrey Anderson, the Minneapolis lawyer whose out-of-control lifestyle was exceeded only by his determination to hold Catholic bishops’ feet to the fire. His personal redemption helps frame the story.
Apologists for the hierarchy’s response to the scandal like to claim three things: that bishops handled accusations no differently than the heads of other organizations; that priests have, if anything, been less guilty of the sexual abuse of children than others entrusted with their care; and that the Church is now doing a better job of protecting children than any other institution.
These claims are all problematic, but leaving the problems aside for now, they avoid the elephant in the living room. When a serious sexual abuse case comes to light at a secular institution like Penn State, the heads that roll include the iconic football coach and the president of the university. When a bishop like Robert Finn of Kansas City is convicted in civil court of failing to report a case of abuse, his bishops conference says not a word, and his superior in Rome does not a thing.
At Trinity, D’Antonio was asked when he thought the Church would be able to put the abuse scandal behind it. Not, he said, until the system demonstrates the capacity to punish bishops who participated in covering it up.