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Issue Date:  November 18, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

The courage to talk plainly

One of the hallmarks of the sex abuse crisis was silence.

It went hand in hand with the secrecy of the culture of hierarchy.

Everyone in the club knew there were reasons for not saying anything. It was just a few bad apples. It would damage the church. It would cause scandal. It would harm the reputations of all the good priests. And on and on.

So it was refreshing to read of Fr. Robert McLaughlin, pastor of St. Basil the Great in Kimberton, Pa., part of the Philadelphia archdiocese, who was as angry and betrayed by the scandal as are most priests, especially when it hits home.

When the devastating report of the Philadelphia Grand Jury came out (NCR, Oct. 7), he was one of those -- and we understand there were at least a few others -- who, this time, refused to buy the line from the chancery office.

According to a CBS (Channel 3 in Philadelphia) report by Pat Ciarrocchi, McLaughlin said in an interview, “It is an awful feeling to give 60 years of your life to a group that doesn’t tell you the whole story.”

In talking to his congregation, he ditched the official statement. “If I had read that five-page thing the spin doctors wrote, I would have had 30 people in church the next week. That’s how enraged our people are.”

“So he talked plainly about a cover-up and mismanagement,” the report continued.

“[Victims] don’t want lawsuits, they want somebody who believes they were hurt and somebody to tell them the it wasn’t their fault,” he told the reporter.

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What McLaughlin said may seem no great shakes to someone on the outside who views the 20-year history of the sex abuse crisis and concludes that the sentiments he spoke were the least one might do.

But all the evidence suggests that it takes enormous courage to do what McLaughlin did. His career is entirely in the hands of those he criticized and he and everyone else knows how severely the institution can deal with those who dare to question or criticize.

McLaughlin broke the unspoken rules of the culture when he spoke his outrage. He is, as Voice of the Faithful would put it, a priest of integrity.

I admire and applaud McLaughlin’s example. For more information on his parish and to see the full clip of that TV report go to the church’s Web site at

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You’ll remember Barbara Fraser and Paul Jeffrey as the team of reporters who wrote the 10-part series on Latin America in 2004. That series won several awards, including Catholic Relief Service’s Eileen Egan Award. The award included a trip to Cambodia, during which the pair teamed up again for an extensive look at the rebuilding efforts that are ongoing. Fraser wrote the story. The photos are by Jeffrey. (See story)

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One of the many events that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of the four churchwomen in El Salvador will be a production of “Missionaries,” a choral drama about the lives, work and murders of Maryknoll Srs. Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel and laywoman Jean Donovan. The drama will take place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. The show, produced by NCR theater writer Retta Blaney, will be performed Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Blaney originally wrote about the drama in the Nov. 17, 2000, issue. Information about the event can be obtained by calling the Cathedral’s Visitor Services Center at (212) 316-7540.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 18, 2005

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