The Betrayal: How to Save the Church

BY: Michael Sean Winters
The New Republic


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The second reason for the bishops' inaction is clericalism. In The Irish Times, Father Thomas Doyle, O.P., wrote: "There is a solid principle in political science that says the governing elite of an organisation will eventually think that it is the organisation. That's a mistake that the Catholic bishops have made: thinking that they alone are the church." The U.S. bishops and clergy inherited an awesome role from the immigrant Catholic ghetto. Often the only educated member of the subculture, the priest was also the doctor, the teacher, the lawyer. His advice was often sought and almost always taken. Having Father over for dinner was the social highlight of the year. Bishops were accountable to those above them: the pope and God--and no one else. The role of the people was "to pray, pay, and obey."

In addition to this lack of accountability, the careerist ambitions of some bishops inclined them to sweep scandals under the rug. In normal times, one advances through a complex hierarchy by avoiding controversy, not addressing it. In 1985, for example, while serving at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, Father Doyle drafted a report on the potential for pedophilia cases to bankrupt the Church; for his effort, he was exiled to a chaplaincy in the military. Moreover, the "old boy" network clearly clouded the judgment of those in authority. If Father Paul Shanley and Bishop John McCormack had not been seminary classmates, it is doubtful Shanley would have been kept on board after he gave a speech endorsing "man-boy" love. The normally humane desire to protect one's friends and colleagues, mixed with a desire to avoid controversy, encouraged bishops to ignore the moral enormity in their midst.

In Catholic theology, the bishops are the successors of the apostles. On Good Friday, reading the account of Jesus' trial and death, we Catholics were reminded that on the night before Jesus' death, his apostles all fled from him. If the bishops had utilized those passages to begin their own contrition--indeed, if they had acted with even a semblance of humility over the years--they could today seek cover behind the surely truthful observation "We are all sinners." But they did not, and they cannot.

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