Opinion | James Martin

The church needs to open its files

Adobe/Globe staff photo illustration

Be opened. One of the first steps the church must take is the opening of the abuse files for the dioceses and religious orders across the country. If we use the model, familiar to Catholics, of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), it’s clear that one doesn’t confess one’s sins only under duress — that is, under the threat of a grand jury. No, one confesses voluntarily. Today, however, the church awaits the next district attorney or attorney general to convene a grand jury to compel the opening of such files.

But the church should not have to wait for civic authorities to force us to do the right thing. A full accounting of what the church did and didn’t do needs to occur before any true healing can happen. It will probably be a long, arduous, and complicated process. For example, every file on every priest or brother or sister need not be released, only those against whom credible accusations were lodged (including, of course, those whose crimes led to settlements). To determine which files should be released, I would suggest a board of lay experts. The alternative to this process is the prospect of months, if not years, of steady revelations from all over the country, city by city, state by state.


The Gospel of Matthew tells us the story of a man who is both deaf and mute, and whose friends bring him to Jesus for healing. And the Gospel — unusually — records the very word, in Aramaic, that Jesus uses to make the man speak and hear: “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”) The church, which in decades past was deaf to the cries of victims and mute in confessing its own sins, needs to be brought before Jesus. For he is banging on the doors of our church, saying, “Be opened!”

The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, consultant to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, and author of “Building a Bridge.”