The United States of America is currently undergoing an era of #MeToo—a movement of empowerment seeing previously silent victims of sexual assault expose their abusers. It would seem this reckoning has spread to religious institutions.
In August, a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that some 300 priests molested over 1,000 children and seminarians over a 70-year period. Those include former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The grand jury also accused Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington D.C. of covering up the abuse.
Rev. Blake Deshautelle is the main pastor at Natchitoches’ Immaculate Conception and, like many priests, is grappling with how to respond to allegations of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
The community seems unconcerned, despite the serious charges made against the Catholic Church, Deshautelle said. No one has come forward with abuse claims, he added.
“Hopefully no one’s been abused. Now if someone has been abused, hopefully they will come forward,” the priest said.
“A lot of times, the victims are sitting back and watching,” he said. The priest added that many victims will wait until somebody else comes forward. They watch to see how the accusers are treated.
Deshautelle is also pastor of St. Mary’s High in Natchitoches. Its student population ranges from pre-K to senior level classes, with many identifying as non-Catholic.
Deshautelle said he has not addressed the sex abuse scandal with students, and he does not know how many are aware of it. Deshautelle said they will eventually have to address it.
In regard to why McCarrick and others were not reported earlier, Deshautelle said “there is a grossly unhealthy sense of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.’”
Deshautelle said he was in seminary during the sex scandal of 2002. He said the abuse by McCarrick was an open secret and that people knew about it. The priest added McCarrick’s attraction to younger seminarians.
Recently, archbishop Carlo Vigano, a high-ranking member of the church wrote a letter accusing the pope of knowing about McCarrick’s actions. Vigano has called on Pope Francis to resign.
Deshautelle said the accusations made by Vigano need to be looked into.
“If the truth came to light, and heaven forbid if it is true, then the Holy Father would have a very difficult decision to make,” Deshautelle said.
Deshautelle explained, under canon law, the pope has sole authority to punish abusive clergymen. Priest may be removed from the priesthood. They may also be forbidden from appearing in public, celebrating Mass or the sacraments.
The pope can also commit a priest to a life of prayer and penance, and excommunicate him from the faith. Given the long history of abuse, many cases fall outside the statutes of limitations.
Prior to the recent scandal, a report written by the National Review Board, a Catholic organization, found that as many as 7,664 valid cases involving 12,813 children were abused in Louisiana between the years 1950 and 2002.
Photo by Cassandra Phillips.