While many people, including liberals and atheists, have been pleasantly surprised at some of the things Pope Francis has said and done that put him in contrast with his predecessor, there is one issue that I have not and will not forget: the man formerly known as Jorge Bergoglio is currently the head of the largest child sex ring the world has ever seen. And while he has been winning the admiration of many by wearing a clown nose in support of volunteers assisting the sick, or embracing youth culture by taking a “Papal selfie,” he has also been quietly continuing the time-honored tradition of rewarding those that have protected child molesters.
Take, for example, Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo Diocese. Later this month, Blair will be officially installed as the new Archbishop of Hartford, replacing the retiring Henry J. Mansell. Despite his failures in leadership when it came to protecting the victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests and counselors during his tenure, Leonard Blair is receiving what amounts to a promotion.
In his introductory press conference, Blair was asked about the child sex abuse scandals that have become synonymous with the Catholic church. His response strained credulity, especially for someone like me who has grown up and lived in Toledo my whole life.
“When I came to Toledo, my predecessor [removed] a number of priests who were accused, and subsequently, I had to remove some as well,” Blair said. “But I think there’s been a great process of healing in Toledo and I think our diocese responded appropriately.”
Sure, the diocese in Toledo “responded appropriately” to accusations if by “responding appropriately” you mean outright lying to the faces of victims.
In the Academy Award-nominated documentary Twist of Faith, Toledo area firefighter Tony Comes is stunned to learn that the priest who molested him 20 years earlier is living on the same street as he and his family. During an appointment with then-Bishop James R. Hoffman, Comes is told that his allegations against the priest, Dennis Gray, are the first he had ever heard about him. Four months later, investigative reporting done by the Toledo Blade would reveal that this was not true. In fact, numerous men had stepped forward to accuse Gray of sexual abuse during prior years.
What, then, about that “healing” Bishop Blair was speaking of?
Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said in a press release that Bishop Leonard Blair “has done a poor job dealing with the church’s on-going child sex abuse and cover up crisis in Toledo,” and that Pope Francis has merely promoted someone who “failed to show real courage and compassion and refused to adequately protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.”
SNAP goes on to document the case of Kevin Yeckley, a Catholic school counselor in Fremont who, despite admittedly engaging in very suspicious behavior with a young girl, including hugging her, setting it up so he could work alone with her, and telling her that he was “having uncomfortable feelings for her,” Toledo Catholic officials stalled outside investigation attempts and kept the issue quiet for six to seven months throughout 2009 and 2010.
All this from the same man, Bishop Blair, who, in 2005, called for priests to help him fight a bill attempting to rewrite statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims.
The fact is that Pope Francis has been a much needed voice of reason in certain areas, but has shown poor leadership when it comes to resolving child sex abuse issues within the church. Granted, he has his work cut out for him, but promoting people like Leonard Blair, who has placed his own career and reputation ahead of the well-being of children, is not a good first step.
What I would like to see is for Pope Francis to immediately make public the names and whereabouts of any and all offending priests, whether they are still involved in active parishes or not. Open the doors and all church files to police officials, and pledge his complete and total cooperation in ferreting out offenders. If and when any are found, they should be immediately defrocked and handed over to face justice. Until that day comes, I am skeptical that the issue of child sex abuse is one the Catholic church truly aims to take completely serious.