The primary purpose of a grand jury is to vote on indictments. The Pennsylvania grand jury that examined the Church issued two indictments. Forty-four percent of the priests mentioned in the report are dead; the average age of the remainder is 71. The Pennsylvania grand jury report does contain details of actions that can only be described as horrific, even demonic. It does not, however, undermine the fact that most clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States occurred between 1965 to 1985.
Yet some Catholics are clamoring for more states to follow Pennsylvania's lead and impanel grand juries to examine historical crimes, most of which can never be prosecuted, thinking this will somehow dislodge the “lavender mafia.” Such thinking is naive at best. The attorneys overseeing such grand juries will likely be secular liberals and very protective of homosexuality. If they issue reports, they will focus the blame on the Catholic Church as an institution, not on homosexuals in the Church and certainly not on homosexuality.
And they will also probably issue recommendations in line with secular, liberal views. The Pennsylvania grand jury wanted the bishops to end their opposition to extending statutes of limitations for civil lawsuits. If this recommendation were accepted, the principal beneficiaries would include plaintiffs' lawyers and those hurt would be ordinary Catholics who harmed no one, but who would ultimately need to pay for the judgments and settlements and who would also see the infrastructure they built torn apart to enrich the plaintiffs' bar. Note that the Pennsylvania grand jury did not recommend any cap on damages to accompany a change in the statutes of limitations.
Other recommendations are likely to be bolder. The Royal Commission in Australia recommended an end to priestly celibacy and a removal of the seal of the confessional in certain cases. Some Australian jurisdictions have followed up with laws requiring priests to report certain confessions to the police.
How long before a grand jury investigating clerical sexual abuse recommends that the Church allow not just married priests, but gay married priests?
Be careful what you wish for.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.