NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A local author who helped bring church sex abuse in Louisiana to light believes it’s time for the church to do more to police itself.
Jason Berry said the future of the church could hinge on change if the Justice Department launches a nationwide investigation.
The harm is immeasurable.
Twenty-six years after author Jason Berry first wrote about Catholic Church sex abuse in the Lafayette diocese, victims are still coming forward.
“I was the canary in the coal mine before people realized there was a coal mine,” said Berry, who wrote, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”
With the church paying out billions in settlements worldwide, church leaders grapple with reform. Berry said bishops may have made a mistake this week when they delayed - at the request of the Vatican - a vote on setting up a bishop oversight commission.
“The optics are not good for the Vatican, at the last minute, to intervene,” Berry said.
For more than two decades Berry has called for the church to set up a separate investigative agency.
“The church needs to have an independent criminal venue in the Vatican to oversee bishops across the world, separate from the Pope,” said Berry.
But at least one church sex abuse victim doesn’t believe such an approach will work. The problem is real, for Mark Crawford, who heads up the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. He said a priest who’s still in clergy today abused him as a teenage seminarian.
“They told me he was gone and wouldn’t hurt anyone else, but then I learned he went to a parish in New York, and then sent to a boys boarding school in Florida,” said Crawford.
The New Jersey attorney general is investigating church sex abuse, while other state attorneys general, like Louisiana’s, haven’t started. The Justice Department moved in on Pennsylvania after a scathing report involving 300 priests.
“We don’t know the full extent of what they will do, but the fact that they have told dioceses across the country to preserve their records is a telling sign,” Berry said.
Berry, himself a Catholic, said it may take an outside agency to bring true reform.
“I hope so. I know when at my funeral the obit will say, ‘This is the guy who blew the whistle on the church,’” said Berry.
Mark Crawford said he is now working to change laws in New Jersey, which he said are far too protective of abusive priests due to a law that grants charitable immunity to churches.
He is also working to get New Jersey archbishops to release the names of abusive clergy, as has been done in New Orleans.