With horrifying reports of widespread sexual abuse and ensuing cover-ups in a handful of Catholic dioceses in the United States, the magnifying glass is being turned on other areas of the country.
Now, Nebraska is no exception. Attorney General Doug Peterson requested 40 years’ worth of documents from all three of the state’s Catholic dioceses – based in Lincoln, Omaha and Grand Island – and all have said they will cooperate with the request.
Last month, we emphasized the importance of transparency as the Diocese of Lincoln looked into several accusations of improper behavior by priests. An independent inquiry is imperative, as an external examination must determine what the diocese knew and if its actions were appropriate, given that information.
Recent news only underscores the importance of this third-party probe.
The Lincoln Diocese has suspended three priests from their parish assignments within the last month, and another resigned following an unspecified incident from his past time as a military chaplain. One retired and one deceased priest, too, have been accused publicly of decades-old sexual misconduct.
What’s worth noting is that actions unbecoming of a Catholic priest don’t have to be illegal to spur action from the bishop. Priests take vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, and violation of those oaths can be grounds for suspension or removal from the priesthood. This somewhat blurry line – immorality that doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of illegality – is often misunderstood.
While the specifics of the reports that led active priests to be pulled from their pastoral duties aren’t fully known, none thus far involve public statements alleging sexual abuse perpetrated against minors.
However, the Lincoln Diocese faces two publicly known accusations of sexual misconduct – one against children, one against seminarians – that long predate the tenure of current Bishop James Conley, who recently apologized for a lack of transparency. His predecessor, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, was the lone holdout who refused to participate in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ sex abuse audit.
Bearing those two situations in mind, Peterson’s request for documents and cooperation he’s receiving mark a critical first step toward ensuring the facts come out. Catholics in Lincoln and Nebraska as a whole deserve nothing short of the unvarnished truth.
As Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said in a release once the attorney general’s actions were made public, “The truth is good for everyone. I see this as a real moment of grace.”
We hope it ends up being one, too. The allegations of misconduct levied against individual priests and the dioceses themselves are grave and must be investigated to determine if any criminal actions or cover-up occurred – and this sweeping probe can provide the necessary answers to the many unanswered questions.