Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the clergy sex abuse crisis by reflecting on the enduring pain of the scandal, which he said is never "over or behind us."
O'Malley released a letter to Catholics and five pages of reflections two days before the anniversary of a Boston Globe story that broke news of the scandal. The story sparked revelations about scores of pedophile priests and the church leaders who transferred them between parishes while hiding their crimes.
The reflections touched a range of topics, from the effect on priests to the media's role in exposing crimes that have forever changed the church.
"As an archdiocese, as a church, we can never cease to make clear the depth of our sorrow and to beg forgiveness from those who were so grievously harmed," O'Malley said
"There will never be a time to presume the crisis is over or behind us," he said.
But O'Malley also said the church has enacted reforms to protect children, and he asked Catholics who left in disgust to consider returning.
"It is our prayer that by seeing the response of the church, and by viewing the issue in its proper context, all those who have been away will return to join with us, to make the church stronger and always a safe place for all people," he wrote.
The Catholic watchdog group, BishopAccountability.org, said O'Malley's words sound good, but he's blocked real reform by refusing to release a more complete list of accused clerics and opposing laws to remove the statute of limitations on child sex crimes.
"Sean O'Malley has mastered the trick of false transparency," the group said in a statement. "He speaks like a healer but acts like a CEO whose priority is protecting his organization's image and assets."
The Boston Globe's Jan. 6, 2002, story used court records to show how Cardinal Bernard Law transferred the Rev. John Geoghan between parishes amid mounting sex abuse accusations. It was the first in a rush of revelations of clergy sex abuse and cover up nationwide.
A decade later, the Boston church counts 159 accused priests, hundreds of victims and millions paid out in settlements. In his letter, O'Malley said he reflects daily in prayer on "how badly we failed those entrusted to our care."
His reflections included statistics to demonstrate the church's vigilance in addressing its failures, including 300,000 children and 150,000 adults trained to prevent and spot abuse and $7 million for counseling and medication for victims.
O'Malley said the media made the church safer by forcing it to deal with clergy sex abuse. But he asked it for help bringing context and referred _ without specifics _ to scandals at university athletic programs and summer camps to show other trusted places have failed to protect children. He also cited studies indicating most child sex abuse by clergy happened between the 1960s and 1980s.
"If the impression is created that the abuse is current or recent, Catholics and the general public are led to view priests with suspicion and presume that church environments are not as safe as the facts indicate they are," he wrote.
O'Malley said many good priests have suffered, as the public now views a clerical collar with suspicion.
"It has been painful for our dedicated, faithful priests to see seminary classmates and other colleagues accused of terrible violations of trust and, as well, to live with the fear that a false allegation could remove them from ministry and destroy their reputation," O'Malley said.
O'Malley referred to comments by Pope Benedict XVI, in which the pope said that, like abuse victims, Jesus Christ also suffered unjustly and his church is a place where wounds heal and hope is renewed.
"This past decade has been difficult for the church," O'Malley wrote. "Yet, we are transformed by the experience and the mission endures."