My Brush With the Sex Abuse Scandal

Perhaps the most destructive event of the past 20 years for the Catholic Church has been the concerted coverup of the sexual abuse of minors, a coverup involving cardinals, archbishops, bishops, pastors, school principals, and others, who neglected their duty to protect those in their care. While norms now exist to remove abusive priests, there have been many complaints over the years that the Church has made no provision for punishing bishops who covered up crimes and allowed them to continue. Likewise, too many others who colluded in coverups have escaped any consequences for their culpable failure to act. Some of them still hold high positions in Catholic education. This is the story of a coverup that went unpunished.

Grant Gallicho recently wrote an explosive series at the Catholic site Commonweal about Pope Francis's removal of the bishop of the Paraguayan diocese of Ciudad del Este after an investigation of a disgraced priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who founded a religious order, the Society of St. John (SSJ), which was suppressed amid charges of the sexual abuse. Urrutigoity, a highly educated Argentine aristocrat, took advantage of his order’s access to teens at a Catholic boarding school in Pennsylvania to ply boys with liquor and cigars, to curl up in bed with them as part of “spiritual direction,” and to actually molest one of the boys, according to the victim “John Doe,” who would later file a federal lawsuit that resulted in a $452,000 settlement. After “Doe” made his accusations, several more victims emerged—seminarians and students who claimed that Urrutigoity had abused them earlier in his career. Having fled the U.S., Urrutigoity quickly rose to one of the two highest ecclesiastical positions in the South American diocese and, until Pope Francis removed him from office just last month, was still surrounded by loyal adolescent followers—to the outrage of local residents, who condemned their bishop for championing this charismatic sociopath who has left behind him a long trail of accusations of homosexual activity spanning two continents.

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