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In an Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe, the current head of the National Review Board, the blue-ribbon, lay-led group that is supposed to keep the bishops following their own policies on child protection, says Catholics have nothing to worry about–all is fine, and the scandal is history.
The hook for Michael Merz’s piece, “No Doubt about Church’s Resolve,” is the movie “Doubt,” which premiers this week. (I’ve seen it, and will have more thoughts another time.) The film takes place in 1963 but effectively addresses questions of clerical sexual abuse of minors that only emerged in recent years. Church leaders are clearly concerned that the movie might prompt more critcism.
But Merz’s article, by dint of his position, is the most pro-active effort by the institutional leadership to “get ahead” of any criticism the movie may renew. Merz rightly points out the enormous efforts the church has made–thanks of course to the victims, their lawyers, the media, lay activists and others who forced the bishops to take steps they would not otherwise have taken–and the openness of the church relative to analagous organizations.
Yet it is puzzling that Merz does not cite any of the failures of recent years and months by some bishops, including top leaders of the conference, and in perhaps his most controversial statement, he rejects the suggestion that any bishops should resign:
Still, many Catholics and others expect more. Their anger, disappointment, and frustration are not surprising given the gravity of the crimes, and the admittedly sorry record of some bishops who moved priests from parish to parish even, tragically, in the face of evidence of abuse. Many Catholics wonder why more bishops haven’t resigned as a sign of contrition and, indeed, penance. Priests, they say, have been removed. I, on the other hand, believe it is better for bishops to take responsibility for fixing the problem. This may not satisfy everyone.
This issue will continue to roil the folks in the pews, at least those who haven’t left or care enough to stay and fight. But what strikes me is that Pope Benedict and the Vatican and top US church leaders have made it clear that they do not believe the bishops did anything wrong–except to follow bad advice from experts who led them down the garden path.
Given that lack of a sense of culpability, as well as ongoing violations of the bishops policies by bishops themselves, I’m not sure Merz’s take is going to prove convincing. Certainly the lay board is playing a far different role than it did in past years.