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.
The third cause of the bishops' inaction--both the most complicated and the most important--is the culture of silence and denial about human sexuality within the Catholic Church. Two years ago a well-known priest and seminary rector in Cleveland, Father Donald Cozzens, wrote a book about the priesthood in which he dealt candidly with sexual issues, discussing "taboo" subjects like the ratio of heterosexual and homosexual clergy. Cozzens did not question the Church's teachings on sexual ethics, but he did say that the Church must begin to talk about the sexual inclinations and behaviors of the clergy. The word went out that his career was over. Cleveland has been a "bishop factory" throughout the twentieth century; and under John Paul II, seminary rectors often have been tapped as new bishops. But Cozzens was not made a bishop, nor was he even given a second term as rector of the seminary. Similarly, in 1987 Father Charles Curran was stripped of his tenured professorship at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for his liberal views on divorce, masturbation, and other questions of sexual ethics. It is one of the ironies of John Paul II's pontificate that while the Church has opened dialogues with Protestants, Jews, and Muslims to a degree unthinkable 50 years ago, discussion within the Church has been quashed. This elimination of discussion, in the name of stifling dissent, is an affront to a cornerstone of the Church: veracity. "In the beginning was the Word," opens the Gospel of John--not the half-truth, nor the evasion, nor the knowing wink. Watching the bishops squirm in front of the cameras over the past few months, we are reminded that sexuality is best discussed in more intimate and personal settings than a press conference. But if sexuality is not discussed at all, the things that eventually emerge from the dark are exactly those that land one in front of cameras or on the witness stand. An aversion to discussion inevitably leads to a fetish for secrecy that is spiritually and morally corrupting.