My local newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, rightly leads this morning's newspaper with the banner headline "EX-PRIEST ADMITS ABUSING BOYS." The article describes a situation that is all too familiar to newspaper reporters covering local Catholic communities. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the former priest Harry Monroe are defendants in 13 lawsuits that make charges of sexual abuse from 1974 to 1984. The plaintiffs charge that local church leaders were aware of allegations that Monroe was abusing young boys, but did nothing to stop him and even moved him around to other parishes in Indiana.
Despite admitting to the crimes, the church's lawyers are arguing that the statute of limitations has passed.
The heart of the story is Monroe's deposition, which reads like a true confession. This is the kind of situation in which journalists simply have to quote what is said and skip the commentary:
In June, Monroe, who spent seven hours under oath answering questions about his past, said he was broke, in poor health and living with his domestic partner in Nashville, Tenn. He said he can no longer afford an attorney. Now 59, Monroe said there was much in his life that he regrets, particularly his behavior with young boys, and that he had "nothing else to lose" by answering the questions.
"I'm trying to be as honest with you as I know how to be," Monroe said during the deposition. "I just want to get this past me."
He blamed much of his behavior on his use of alcohol, marijuana and powerful drugs such as Valium that led him to behave erratically, including riding a motorcycle naked on Southern Indiana roads. He said it also factored into his actions with boys.
He said he remembered playing games with two boys from St. Catherine's in Indianapolis, including "running around naked, putting shaving cream on people's privates and stuff like that." He said they later blackmailed him, asking for money to keep the abuse quiet, an allegation the plaintiffs' attorney denies. The payoff Monroe said the two boys demanded: less than $50.
In the last part of the story, there are some theological issues -- if you read between the lines.
In his "confession" Monroe seems to claim that he would change his behavior if he could. Is this a claim about science, or sin, or both? That's a news feature story waiting to happen.
Asked during his deposition whether he ever recognized how destructive it might be for the adolescent boys to be having sexual contact with an adult male, Monroe said he did. But at the time, he said, he didn't recognize it as taking advantage of them.
"If I could take my life and turn it around," he said, "I would do it in a heartbeat."
I wonder what kind of response the reporter would get if he could ask the church if it would change the way they dealt with priests like Monroe. It's an old story and a tragic one. Even the center in charge of counseling and treatment is controversial. This is a story that cannot be avoided. The key for the reporters is not becoming too cynical and/or depressed about the tragic facts they must report.