Catholic religious orders have served as the spiritual and social backbone of the Catholic Church for centuries. When Benedict of Nursia left the city of Rome to more strictly adhere to the teachings of the Christian faith in the midst of cultural and social collapse, no one would have ever predicted that the movement he spawned would lead to the religious, social, political, and moral renaissance of Europe.
And yet that is what happened. The Benedictines were not the only Catholic religious order to influence the surroundings they inhabited. In the United States alone, hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, social outreach ministries were largely started and operated by religious orders of the Catholic Church.
Up until the mid-1960’s, they served as the social safety net for the country’s large cities and rural poor. Yet, in the midst of all these good works lay something else.
Something so sinister, so dark the Catholic Church would spend decades covering it up to ensure those stories never saw the light of day. The brutal sexual abuse of children that occurred in Catholic schools, hospitals, and orphanages not only in the United States but across the world.
While the media has focused most of its attention on priests who belong to dioceses, commonly known as secular priests, members of religious orders were also committing these same heinous acts against children.
We are not writing about a small segment of the Catholic religious population either. In the Archdiocese of New York alone, there are nearly 1,000 priests belonging to religious orders that serve the Archdiocese.
There are over 120 different religious congregations serving the Archdiocese, most of whom are involved in teaching youth or serving in various capacities related to youth ministry.
In many ways, 2019 has been a watershed in the history of the latest iteration of the Catholic priest abuse scandal. Archdioceses and dioceses have released publicly lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Grand juries have been convened and their reports have prompted elected officials to seek and obtain legislative reform to hold the Catholic Church liable for this abuse. Yet, the religious orders have remained unscathed, mostly.
The Atlantic magazine published a piece on the scandal earlier this year and wrote the following, “But even in Boston, where the archdiocese released a list of credibly accused priests in 2011, the disclosures have been controversial and confusing.
For one thing, abusive priests serving in the Boston area who belonged to religious orders, such as the Jesuits, were not included on the archdiocese’s 2011 list.
According to O’Malley’s letter from the time, “the Boston Archdiocese does not determine the outcome in such cases; that is the responsibility of the priest’s order or diocese.”
The cardinal expressed “hope that other dioceses and religious orders will review our new policy and consider making similar information available to the public.”Many of these organizations, which are all accountable to different civil laws, have still not done so.”
Religious orders are not accountable to an archbishop or bishop and grand juries have not investigated them or published a list of credibly accused religious.
Some of the Jesuits provinces have come forward and published lists but even those lists are suspect because they are based upon self-reporting and not the result of an independent investigation.
As incredible as it may seem, we have no real data on the extent of abuse in religious orders. We do know that the number of religious order priests serving in the Archdiocese of New York is very close to the number of secular priests.
Given the number of abusive priests already known in the Archdiocese of New York, one could reasonably conclude there are as many religious order priests who have abused.
Investigation of religious orders in the United States, particularly in New York where they are so prevalent should be the next step in protecting children and stemming the tide of sexual abuse of children.
Lawsuits need to be filed against religious orders so that the truth can be revealed. We expect this from our recently filed lawsuit in Manhattan against the Dominican Order.
The truth will set you free but freedom only comes at the price of the truth. We intend to aggressively pursue the truth in this case and all the other religious order cases we handle in the state of New York.
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