In August 2018, nearly one year ago, Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine pledged “accountability and transparency” in his handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has become such a distraction of late among Catholic faithful.
Since that time, many—perhaps most—other U.S. Catholic dioceses have come forward with lists of credibly accused offenders, details of their assignments and dates involved. Some reported disciplinary actions as well. In other reporting, the costs of victims’ settlements and related financial considerations have been uncovered by news organizations, adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars in some jurisdictions and possibly billions nationwide. Some bishops added profound apologies and expressions of remorse for the hierarchy’s record of covering up such matters.
Not here! Bishop Estévez has chosen to release the names and assignments of only two offenders. In the meantime, he has attended two meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called to deal with this matter. The first, in November, ended without action; the second, in June, seemed to leave much to the discretion of the hierarchy itself. Lay involvement was encouraged in the investigation, decision-making and reporting surrounding the scandal, but it was not mandated.
When challenged by certain troubled members of his Catholic laity, our bishop has excused his long delay in keeping his commitment to accountability and transparency by hiding behind the Florida Attorney General’s ongoing statewide investigation. A spokesperson for the AG’s office, however, refuted this; in their response to an inquiry from a Naples television station, the rep stated that bishops “didn’t need permission” to publicly disclose whatever information they thought appropriate. Indeed, many other dioceses across the nation have published Reports To The Faithful despite ongoing investigations by their state’s authorities.
What seems likely is that our diocese’s previous leadership feels it has reason to resist the disclosure of its actions—at least during the lifetimes of any implicated officials. After all, at least one diocese has already removed a former bishop’s name from a school as a result of disclosures of enabling and covering up abuse.
So let’s accept that Bishop Estévez intends to withhold as many details as he can, perhaps until law enforcement wraps its investigation. Let’s focus instead on a domain that doesn’t hinge on any outside agency, an area completely within our bishop’s control: diocesan finances. Given that all our diocese’s wealth and resources were provided in one way or another by and from its laity, we ask that Bishop Estévez simply tell us how much of our money has been expended through the years as a consequence of clergy sexual abuse. Victim settlements, attorneys fees, liability insurance premiums and deductibles, support for the offenders themselves—all of it! After all, the victims of the abuse were mainly the children of the same laypeople who entrusted our donations to the Church without ever imagining they might be used to enable and cover up such crimes!
And in order that we might have some idea whether this matter is behind us—as we’ve been led to believe by past statements—how about breaking it down on an annual basis over the past 30 years, since Bishop John Snyder first appointed his lay advisory council? That way, we can confirm that this abuse has been ended, as we hope and pray that it has.
No names, no sad details, only a straightforward accounting of how Bishops John Snyder, Victor Galeone and Felipe Estévez have spent our money in dealing with a shameful matter in the history of our church and our diocese.
How about it, Bishop?
Lowrey and Shea are members of the Coalition of Concerned Catholics.