Real Christian Heroes Step Forward

Twelve new apostles of truth -- they call themselves The Catholic Whistleblowers -- are raising their voices against a system of cover-up and denial, calling on Pope Francis to follow a six-point plan for ending the era of scandal caused by priests who have sexually abused children. Nuns and priests alike, the 12 Americans are asking for commonsense efforts including:
  • An international advisory board of abuse survivors to facilitate talks between church leaders and victims.
  • Revocation of pledges of secrecy to avoid scandal for bishops.
  • Full public access to documents relevant to abuse cases.
  • Removal of officials who facilitated abuse, obstructed justice or destroyed documents.
These and other policy suggestions form the base of the group's suggested program for resolving a scandal made worse by bishops who have been "proposing themselves to be seen as the victims" of the claims made by men and women who were sexually abused in childhood by clergy. They add, "For this reason, without a doubt, the Church's sexual abuse crisis and scandal live on today as strong as ever."

The whistleblowers include Rev. Thomas Doyle, a former official of the Vatican embassy in Washington who was the first priest to criticize the hierarchy's response to sexual abuse back in the 1980s. He is joined by five other active priests and two nuns who serve the church in Delaware and New Jersey. Among the group is the Rev. John Bambrick of Trenton, N.J., who was himself abused by a priest at age 15. After making a complaint, Bambrick was assured that the priest who abused him had been barred from working as a priest. He later discovered the man was still in ministry.

In their letter, the members of the group liken themselves to a New Testament beggar who sought healing from Jesus. "The beggar refused to be cast into silence for he knew his healing could only come from the dispenser of the divine mercy," they write. "Like this poor disfigured beggar we call out to you from the side of the road, we who have been cast off, the apostles telling us to be silent. Please, Pope Francis, do not pass us by."

Noteworthy because they are acting together, and in public, the new whistleblowers represent a larger number of Catholic priests, nuns and even bishops who have challenged the official church response to abuse survivors, often at much personal risk. Doyle, for example, lost his prominent position when he warned of a looming crisis. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit became an advocate for abuse victims and in 2006 testified for changes in the law to allow them to file suit against the church. Gumbleton was forced to retire soon after he spoke out. Members of the new organization say they know of other clergy who were removed from their positions or accused of mental instability after they spoke about priests who had abused children.

The letter, which was sent to several Vatican officials, is timed to take advantage of the opening created by the historic resignation of Benedict XVI, a remote figure who was tied to old policies of denial and deflection and the arrival of his more approachable successor. The group urges Francis, the ultimate leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, to "change the Church's response."

Plainly sensible and sincere, the appeal by these loyal Catholics is nevertheless a courageous step. Most of them live and work inside the church structure and in organizing and speaking together they risk their positions and open themselves to criticism. However they also join the ranks of heroic men and women who form a long tradition of service and sacrifice in the cause of justice. For this they should be regarded as heroes.