The Catholic Church’s egregious concealment of its sexual abuse scandals compounds the pain felt by survivors and the wider church. In turn, the Seattle Archdiocese must do more to address the betrayals by opening up its long-secret clergy-abuse files for a full independent review.
The church cannot absolve itself, but it must make every possible effort to heal its flock. Painful hidden truths will only fester the longer they remain secret.
The Seattle Police Department is a useful role model on the need for transparency. SPD recently announced it would reexamine allegations against one of its longtime employees, victim advocate Garry Boulden, dating from his tenure as a priest in Spokane decades ago.
As Chief Carmen Best wrote in a letter to the Office of Police Accountability, “tremendous leaps forward” in handling sex-assault allegations call for a fresh investigation into the former clergyman. Boulden, who is now on SPD administrative leave and has denied the abuse allegations, holds a position working closely with crime victims. The past allegations should be scrutinized with extraordinary care to ensure he is suitable to hold the job. Within the law-enforcement world, victim advocates are in daily contact with people who have experienced serious trauma and may be especially vulnerable.
Likewise, the archdiocese should commit to releasing all its files. For too long, it has held materials back while claiming an “ongoing commitment to transparency.”
Some evidence has been disclosed in an archdiocese website set up in 2016. Dozens of clergy members and other church associates are named as having been credibly accused of abuse. A graph shows the year-by-year payouts to settle abuse claims; since 2006, the total comes to $89 million for 243 claims. But this is not enough.
Dozens of prominent Catholics — including former U.S. attorney for Western Washington John McKay, retired King County Judge Terrence Carroll and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes — signed a January request for “not only legal but moral transparence” and follow-up work by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The call comes from a credible need to see more done.
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne’s initial response that “we already completed an independent review of our clergy files in 2015” overlooks criticism that review received upon its release. The questions posed then — including specifics about abuses and the money spent fighting claims — remain unanswered.
Carroll has since 2004 urged the archdiocese to be fully transparent about what it knows. He said the need for healing exceeds even the abuse scandal.
“The church is facing an overall crisis of confidence of the laity, and specifically, confidence in the hierarchy, that it has not faced in centuries,” Carroll said. “In my view, as important as this clergy-abuse scandal might be, it’s symptomatic of deeper issues of trust in governance and acceptance of church teachings.”
As the advocates wrote in an Op-Ed, cooperation with a lay-led Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the complete disclosure of abuse files represent the path toward healing the archdiocese urgently needs. Etienne’s long journey to leadership of the Seattle Archdiocese parallels the long push for full disclosure of local abuses. Now he should help bring closure by bringing the full facts to light.