By Sean O’Grady
As students were preparing to return to school this past August, a horrific report was released by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, which cited evidence of decades of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and details of widespread coverups by ranking members of clergy. Along with all concerned Catholics, I immediately looked upon this ordeal as being both morally repulsive and legally abhorrent.
As a young Catholic person, I am worried for the Church’s future. But as also a human being, I am mostly focused on ensuring justice is upheld for the sake of the victims. After reading parts of the report, I quickly learned to my horror that Cardinal Wuerl, the current Archbishop of Washington and our own university Chancellor was included in the instances of covering up abuse. In the 200+ mentions of Cardinal Wuerl in the report, it is clear that he failed to protect a number of children from abusive priests while Bishop of Pittsburgh, at times even moving abusive priests around to protect their public image, which allowed them to abuse again (Washington Post). Due to this, Wuerl has been righteously called upon to resign in disgrace by tens of thousands of people, including myself.
I became personally involved soon after reading over the data presented. I sent a message to our university president, reached out to other Catholic University students, and spoke with concerned Catholics both here at school and in my native Seattle. I even started a student-only petition against Cardinal Wuerl and the deafening silence from many Church and school leaders. While the petition won’t have the direct power to remove the Cardinal, it has served effectively to show that members of the CUA are outraged by the current scandal and demand that more be done, including investigations and increased clarity from officials in both clerical and legal institutions. While there have been critics even at this school who believe students have no say in this matter, I believe the vast majority of students at this university understand the need for young people to be involved in striving for justice.
The youth represent the future of the Church and we are the ones who need to help steady the ship. This is not done by ignoring the situation or hiding in fear behind the imposing piles of negative news reports. Instead, we need to be courageously on the front lines fighting for accountability, which will help bring closure to the victims and prevent a continuation of abuse. Ignoring the problem is simply not an option anymore, especially considering that we are all members of the Bishop’s university here in the United States. We have an obligation to be aware and angry. It sickens me to know that there are even students at this school who know little to nothing about this scandal. If we as young people are to lead the Church into the future, we need to do it with courage. And that courage starts with recognizing just how important justice is in this situation.
If we truly want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we must speak out against abuse and call out the orchestrators of coverups. You don’t necessarily have to start a petition like I did, or write a letter to the Vatican, but what you can do is show other Catholics, as well as the world, that you are paying attention to this urgent matter. It may be easy to feel afraid during the current crisis, but if we as young Catholics can unite under the guidance of Jesus for the purpose of justice, we will be known to the world as the true defenders of the faith. In closing, I cite a very relevant line from the Prayer of Saint Francis: “where there is error, let me sow truth.”