The Betrayal: How to Save the Church

Continued from page 5

In fact, it was the bishops' refusal to see pedophilia from the child's point of view--their tendency to see it as merely a sin of the flesh rather than a radical betrayal of trust--that lies at the heart of the current scandal. And that refusal has deep roots. The relevant canons (Church laws) lump pedophilia together with other sexual acts and make no consideration of the victim at all. Most people are, rightly, forgiving of sins of the flesh. But when one uses a position of authority to coerce sexual relations from a minor, or even from a young person of majority age who is nonetheless a parishioner or an underling, this is a sin of the spirit, a betrayal of all that the Church says sexual love should express--the free gift of self in equality and freedom.

The most obvious scapegoat is, of course, Cardinal Law. The Los Angeles Times has reported that several bishops want him to resign. But most of them want him to resign for the wrong reason. They may correctly believe Law mishandled the situation, but mostly they just want the scandal to go away and think that once the press has had its pound of hierarchic flesh the Church can return to normal. If they are right, then I hope Law stays.

If, on the other hand, Law were removed because he was not accountable to his flock, then his resignation would be the first of many. After all, the situation in New York appears to be even worse than in Boston. In March The Hartford Courant reported that while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Cardinal Egan had also shuffled child molesters from parish to parish. After a week of silence, Egan claimed to have operated only under the advice of "prominent psychological institutions." Unfortunately, the next day the Courant published another damning story in which the director of the psychological institute that Egan consulted directly contradicted the cardinal's claims. "In some cases, necessary and pertinent information related to prior sexual misconduct has been withheld from us," Dr. Harold I. Schwartz of the Institute of Living told the newspaper. "In some cases, it would appear that our evaluations have been misconstrued in order to return priests to ministry."

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In Los Angeles the publication of memos between Cardinal Mahony and his staff show him to be an ecclesiastical apparatchik of the first order, worried only about the public image of the Church. As Steve Lopez editorialized in the Los Angeles Times: "If the [Los Angeles] archdiocese had been half as aggressive in making sure sex offenders were removed from the ministry as they were in rushing attorneys into court to hide unflattering secrets, it might not be in the middle of this mess." If the pope were not so ill, perhaps he would demand the resignation of all three cardinals. Only something unprecedented like that would acknowledge the scale of the horror.

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