The Deacon's Bench

For some handy answers, James Martin, S.J. has pulled together a number of the conclusions drawn from the National Review Board that investigated the scandal in this country.  

It shows how complicated the problem really is — and how it can’t really be boiled down to just one or two causes. 

And he adds to that a few ideas of his own:

1.) Some American bishops, mostly elderly men, were themselves uncomfortable, for a variety of reasons–some personal, some cultural, some familial, some related to their formation–discussing any matters of sexuality, particularly homosexuality, as well as the more frightening topics of pedophilia and ephebophilia, and the terrifying prospect of child sexual abuse. Again, this may be even more pronounced in Ireland and Germany among bishops and clergy.

2.) Some bishops here were hampered by the inability to discuss the possibility that the scandal would lead to dramatic change in the church. If one fears a discussion of difficult church issues (celibacy, clerical culture, episcopal authority) one will naturally be more afraid of an issue that might provoke open up such discussions.

3.) Some bishops were unable to accept personal responsibility or their own sinful (sometimes criminal) actions. From the beginning of the crisis, many of the bishops seemed to confront the crisis in the manner of a C.E.O., rather than as a Christian pastor. Some seemed to have forgotten that an essential part of the traditional “sacrament of reconciliation” (that is, “confession”) in the church is penitence: the need to make amends for one’s sins. It is not simply enough to confess, to admit sinfulness, and to beg for forgiveness from God and the person you have offended. One needs also a “firm purpose of amendment” and the willingness to engage in some form of penance. But public penance, like the resignation of Bishop John Magee in Ireland last week–is too rare.

And of course, like anyone else, clergy are subject to the law of the land, and, if found guilty of crimes, should be be treated like anyone else.

Around the time that the scandals were breaking in the U.S., a Catholic sister I know said that the Christian response was at odds with what she called the “corporate response.” Quoting from the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke, she described what a Christian response from an offending bishop would have sounded like: “I have sinned against God and you, and I no longer deserve to be called your bishop. I will resign and spend the rest of my life praying for victims.” Beyond any criminal penalties to be paid, such an action might have been understood by Catholics. Tragically, some bishops, the “teachers” par excellence in the community often ignored the treasures of their own Christian heritage

4.) When cases of abuse were raised prior to 2002, some bishops viewed the media as adversaries. Prior to the crisis, Cardinal Bernard Law said that he “called down” the power of God against The Boston Globe. Despite some lingering anti-Catholicism in the American media’s coverage of the crisis (for example, their facile conflation of celibacy and pedophilia, the overlooking of abuse in other professions, and their stereotyping of all priests as abusers and all bishops as conspirators), the church needs to be grateful for the role of the media for revealing what the church itself was unwilling to confront. The “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” adopted by the U.S. bishops in their meeting in Dallas in 2002, would not have happened without the Boston Globe.

Read it all. The summary of the Review Board is especially valuable.

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