The Betrayal: How to Save the Church

Brought to you by The New Republic Online

The crisis in the Catholic Church started as a sex scandal the way Watergate started as a burglary: What followed has become the real scandal. We all know that the sexual abuse of minors is horrific; but somehow the bishops did not react with horror. That is what truly shocks.

Many bishops still do not understand that it is less the actions of pedophile priests than their inaction in the face of them that is now the issue. During Good Friday and Easter services, the bishops repeatedly begged forgiveness for the pedophiles' bad deeds. But none of the three cardinals at the heart of this scandal--Bernard Law in Boston, Edward Egan in New York, and Roger Mahony in Los Angeles--begged forgiveness for their own sins of negligence. To this day, their statements are filled with prevarications. Cardinal Egan wrote in a letter read at Masses last weekend: "If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry." Note the distance between the word "mistakes" and the pronoun "I."


This is not the voice of moral clarity. The average Catholic churchgoer understands that no amount of psychological screening can guarantee that a pedophile won't sneak through and become a priest. What the churchgoer cannot fathom is this: Why, when confronted with such perversion, did the bishops not react with appropriate--that is to say, human--empathy? Page after page of depositions demonstrate that these men of the cloth saw the victims of sexual abuse not as children of God, but as potential liabilities. And why, to this day, do the bishops seem incapable of speaking candidly? Why do they still sound like spinmeisters rather than spiritual guides? The answers are not comforting.

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