Faith, Scandal, and Moving Forward: Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church

December 10, 2018
Posted in Fall 2018
December 10, 2018 Katherine Braunstein

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cases Continue to Surface

The Roman Catholic Church has roughly 1.2 billion followers, and therefore serves as the largest Christian group in the world. The Church has gained recent media attention for reports in August of 2018 of victims in Pennsylvania speaking out on decades of church abuse, of which they are now being believed. There have been other large cases that have emerged throughout the years, such as the case in the film “Spotlight” in 2015 (based on allegations from Boston in 2002).

Here in the state of New Jersey, the Archdiocese of Newark is no exception. There were 49 cases between the years 1960 and 2013. These cases did not include abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as the Archbishop of Newark from 1986 to 2000. He then became the Archbishop of Washington D.C. and retired in 2006. In June of 2018, McCarrick was removed from public ministry after an allegation was found by the review board of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York as “credible and substantiated.” During his time in ministry, McCarrick ordained more than 200 young men who were in the seminary discerning priesthood. One of those men lives on the campus of Montclair State University, and works with students at the Newman Catholic Center.

“I looked up to him as a spiritual father. Now I cannot look at my ordination photos without feeling disgusted.”

Jim Chern was in high school when he was discerning priesthood, and entered the seminary after college. He met Theodore McCarrick when he was the Archbishop of Newark, and said of McCarrick: “I looked up to him as a spiritual father.” Fr. Jim was ordained by McCarrick in 1999. Over the years, students at Newman Catholic would see on his Facebook page that he would share pictures of his ordination day on his page as celebration of his ministry as the years have passed. Fr. Jim has since shared “Now I cannot look at my ordination photos without feeling disgusted.”

In early September, thousands of members of the Archdiocese of Newark gathered in the Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark for a service dedicated to the victims and their families. Victims took the podium to share their stories. The perimeter of the church was lined with easels with enlarged cards of quotes from the victims describing in detail what happened to them. Cards also included their name, the year, how old they were when abused, and their abuser’s name. During the service, current Archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Tobin took the podium and said of Theodore McCarrick that “anything of substance that he did will be forgotten.”

At a weekly Newman Catholic general meeting early in September of 2018, the topic of discussion was of clergy abuse. Fr. Jim preached to all students who attended that more than anything, the church has to be transparent, and has to rid itself of all abusers. The evening ended with a Q&A about the cases, and students expressed their concerns about being active members in the church during this difficult time. Fr. Jim also has shared multiple articles with updates on what the Vatican is doing to solve the problem. Fr. Jim has also stated that we as a society need to listen to the victims’ stories, and “give them the space to have those emotions right now.”

In August of 2018, eight of the eight archdioceses in Pennsylvania received subpoenas: Allentown, Eerie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Scranton, Philadelphia, and Altoona-Johnstown. A statewide grand jury released a report in the same month with cover-ups in six of the eight dioceses. It was revealed that since 1947, 301 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 victims. In the state of Pennsylvania, one out of every four residents is Catholic. To date, there has been no other greater number of grand jury investigations of abuses in the church than Pennsylvania.

Other countries have had similar atrocities unfold in their dioceses. In Germany, more than 3,600 were sexually abused between 1946 and 2016 by about 1,670 clergymen. Only 38% of the abusers were prosecuted. Another report from Argentina claimed that 20 children were abused between 1987-2018. Argentina is also the home of current pope, Pope Francis.

An annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November of 2018 discussed the abuse, and what leaders should do ensure the safety of church members. Bishops at the conference were frustrated by the orders given in Rome which were to “postpone their efforts to hold more bishops accountable in the abuse cases.” Catholics all over the world were disappointed in this decision, as many wanted to tackle the situation as soon as possible. One of the people who expressed his disgust was Fr. Jim Chern himself by stating on Facebook in reaction to the article “Going to pause….read…pray before I comment. (Maybe go for another 5 mile run and pray some more.” In addition to other various posts and comments, Fr. Jim turned his frustrations into weekly sermons for the Newman Catholic weekly mass as his way of being transparent with students and the public.

Out of the estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, there have been thousands upon thousands of victims of this abuse, and more than a thousand perpetrators. The church remains at a standstill on how to go about dealing with these cases, and waits for the next U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in February where a decision will be made on which actions to take next.

Kate Braunstein sits down with Father Jim Chern, Chaplain of Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at Montclair State University for his take on the abuse scandal, and how people should go forward.

Data includes clergy abuse cases from 1960-2013 from This organization has worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in search of justice for victims of abuse.

Kate Braunstein

Senior Communication and Media Arts Major

Kate is a senior studying Communications and Media Arts. She is currently Station Manager of 90.3FM WMSC, the radio station at Montclair State. She has worked with the Center for Cooperative Media, and was a roaming reporter on the NJ Decides The 2017 Gubernatorial Election Live TV Broadcast, and anchored  the Election Night 2018 Live TV Broadcast. She has also been involved with Newman Catholic Campus Ministry for the past four years.