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Catholic ChurchChurches have oftentimes found themselves at odds with what is right and what is legal. For example, churches that wanted to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants were concerned that they might lose their nonprofit status for harboring what the government considers criminals. Most houses of worship are exempt from paying taxes, but they do have to comply with legal requirements to maintain that status. One of those requirements is that they must not break the law. Religious officials who break the law not only face losing their 501(c)3 status, but can also be subject to fines and imprisonment, just like the rest of us.

So why aren’t they concerned when it comes to the child abuse scandal?

Pennsylvania Catholic Church Abuses

The recent sex abuse report out of Pennsylvania has shaken the Catholic community. It’s probably more damning than the infamous 2002 report out of Boston. People are rightfully outraged that yet another shocking scandal has been uncovered. The details of the report are quite disturbing: Over 1,000 young boys and girls were abused by 300 priests over a period of 70 years, with specific allegations outlined in harrowing detail. The report estimates that there are hundreds if not thousands of additional victims who have not come forward.

Sadly, the Pennsylvania report is not the only one. There have been many other dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy because they’ve had to pay victims. Nuns have come forward with allegations of abuse from priests. Abuse cover-ups have been rampant in dioceses across the country. And this is just in the United States.

Indeed, child abuse in the Catholic Church has been rampant for decades. In 2004 a report commonly referred to as the John Jay Report found that roughly 4% of Catholic clergy had allegations of child sex abuse made against them. The report also outlines that rather than refer abusers to police for criminal investigation, many dioceses simply moved the abuser to a different location in an effort to cover up the allegation.

The Catholic Church Protects Criminals

The facts are clear: The Catholic Church has protected itself at the expense of the innocent. Serial abusers and predators have been protected for decades to make sure that Catholic Church does not get a black eye. Pope Francis even acknowledged this recently in a letter:

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives…We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

Pope Francis’ letter at least acknowledges the depth of the problem, but it does little to spotlight how the Catholic Church will prevent abuse in the future. The Catholic Church hid this problem by allowing bishops to deal with the cases instead of going to the law. The church knowingly harbored monsters. What is being done to prevent that in the future?

Francis is calling for penance and prayer of the church “to open our eyes and our hearts to other people's sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils.”

Why isn’t Francis calling for priests to come clean and face judgment? Instead of asking the church to fast for justice, implore the priests who perpetrated the crimes to step forward and accept the consequences of their actions? Parents trusted these men to protect their children and they were betrayed by the church leadership. If there is not a clear plan to prevent future abuse, what is to stop it from occurring again?

Tax Exempt Status?

Tax-exempt status was granted to churches as part of the church and state separation, but also because of the good they do for society. The idea dates back to Roman times, when Emperor Constantine gave the Christian Church exemptions from taxation. In the United States, most of the original 13 colonies gave some kind of tax relief to the churches. Tax exemptions help small churches stay open and provide valuable community services.

The Pennsylvania report has made it obvious that the Catholic Church protected its own at the cost of its victims. If churches feared to lose their tax-exempt status over immigration, why aren’t they scared of losing their status over harboring pedophiles? Unlike immigration, there is no moral grey area.

Catholics are being urged to hold their leadership accountable, but to really deal with this issue, it may take the court of public opinion. Americans need to demand that churches who cover up crimes get held responsible. Churches do make a difference in society, and often have very positive benefits to their community. But when it has been proven that time and time again the Catholic Church will uphold their own interests over the wellbeing of thousands of children, they are no longer holding up their end of the bargain of doing good for society and they deserve to lose their tax-exempt status until there is an actionable plan in place to prevent future abuse.

Category: Society Church

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