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In mid August, a grand jury released a statement reporting that more than 300 priests had sexually abused children all across Pennsylvania. Spanning seven decades, nearly all of these cases were protected by church leaders and were consequently covered up over the years.

The investigation was one of the broadest attempts to uncover Catholic sex abuse in U.S. history and subsequently reignited the public’s interest in these crimes, as well as calling into question the authority of the Catholic Church.

Although everyone, myself included, realized that deep down nothing was going to be done within the church to fix this horrid problem. Most likely due to the Catholic hierarchy being infamously bureaucratic and stubbornly resistant to change.

If church leaders won’t do anything, it’s up to us, the citizenry, to finally reign in these deplorable monsters and treat these so called “God-fearing” men exactly as what they are: criminals.

First and foremost, we need to recognize that the self-policing of the Catholic church has not worked, regardless of who’s Pope. Leaders of countries with large Catholic populations, such as Ireland, the U.S. and Latin America, need to tell church leaders that laws will be in place to protect the followers of the Catholic faith.

If the Vatican State wishes to be treated as a country, then the Vatican must adhere to international law regarding their so called “representatives.” The Vatican must extradite priests with histories of both abuse and cover-ups within the dioceses they’re appointed to. They also must face the full letter of the law within the countries they were appointed to.

Other ways of combating some of these abuses in the U.S. are by extending the statute of limitations nationwide, and treating the cover-ups as conspiracy cases.

The statute of limitations varies from state to state, but in general, if we wish to hold these abusers accountable, then we must propose the statute be limited to children and young adults under the age of 21, while giving a total 25 year grace period to those who do not wish to recount their traumatic experiences. Not only will this help victims, but it will leave church abusers and hierarchies in panic mode while they deal with federal law enforcement treating them as a conspirators to cover up evidence.

All of these ideas may sound promising, but where the crucial change needs to happen is with the faithful themselves.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that a lot can be said when a large group of people loudly and proudly gather together to protest certain policies and events. With the #MeToo movement still gathering steam, those who’ve been victimized must exercise their right to peacefully assemble and proudly proclaim enough is enough.

Catholics need to take a long look in the mirror and ask the hard questions that, unfortunately, question their faith entirely. Catholics themselves have the most to lose in this debacle and should demand action from our criminal justice system to start holding these heretics accountable for their actions.

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