We believe redemption is important, but that an individual who savages a child commits a mortal sin and violates the most serious laws of the United States. Such a person should not be doing what they were doing to put them into the position of hurting others. We think whatever is good for parish priests and the local bishop is good for those who teach and work with the young in religious orders. We think it's better to have one standard and one shoe to fit all feet. And we thought, well, a third of the priests out there are members of religious orders.
It's especially troubling when you consider that many states are changing their statutes of limitation and waiving statutes of limitation for sexual felonies against the young until that person is of age plus one year. So you have the potential of having an indicted felon under the civil law actively engaging in ministry and sanctioned to do so by the canon law. I can't imagine that the church law would be less onerous than the civil law when applied to monstrous crimes like sexual abuse. That was our reasoning and we just truthfully followed the bishops' lead.
But some of the dioceses are saying that they can't comply with the Charter [for the Protection of Children and Young People] unless the Vatican tells them to.
My understanding is that the Charter is not on appeal or on review, but the norms are. So the issue of how far back you can go may well be reviewed and revised by the Vatican. But until the time comes, and it hopefully will not come, it is the view of the bishops and the cardinals that we should err on the side of firmness, and if we're reversed [by the Vatican] we're reversed. And I think the religious superiors should take a similar position. You know, it's not a harsh position. We're not saying you're not a priest. We're saying that because of the monstrosity of your act we're not going to continue to permit you to peddle your wares on earth. And I don't think that's harsh considering--I mean, to listen to the victims, it is stunning to me. I think we need to do that to really appreciate the horror. We heard a mother and father talk about the suicide of their child. That's astonishing. The best thing in the face of all this evil is to err on the side of toughness and not on the side of forgiveness.
Why did you choose to become a Catholic, and stay with it?
My life as a Catholic has been a warm and wonderful experience. I've gone to elementary school, middle school, and college at Catholic schools. Some of the best friends I made were Augustinians and Jesuits. I come from a place that has very tiny population of Catholics, but the people were decent, hard-working and industrious exemplars. This horror is something that is beyond comprehension to me. As I said to Bishop Gregory when he called on me, "The Devil has gotten in the door. Who let him in? How did this happen?" It's an astonishing embarrassment.
You say this is as gripping a tragedy as the Protestant Reformation. It feels that way here in the United States, but do you think it is actually that tragic worldwide?
I was in Ireland recently, and I met with the two chairs of the Irish review board, and in the course of that conversation, the chairs said to me, "We have lost a generation of young Catholics because of this." The cynicism and the suspicion and the contempt that has come down on the church as a result of this scandal is unfathomable, and that's why none of us on the commission has a desire to be prelates or priests, but we are lay Catholics who say we cannot tolerate this abuse. And the bishops have asked us to implement their policies, and we're happy to do so because we care so much about the faith.
Why did this scandal happen?
I don't know. You know, sin is an act of unmitigated selfishness and I think so many of these men, unfortunately in the hundreds, have become so self-absorbed and so contemptuous of moral values that they have, in effect, written their own moral code. Some of these prelates who would pass abusers from child to child behaved abominably. And we're examining, and we're going to have witnesses, and we're going to have studies of how this happened. Because that's what the bishops want to know. What brought us to this point? But I can't predict what that will unearth because I don't know.
Well, I don't want to go into specifics, but I'll say this much: We are soon to publish a list of those dioceses and bishops who have taken a rather lazy attitude toward this mandate. There are some dioceses that apparently have not even established review boards, much less independent review boards. Those individuals we intend to identify, and if they continue to be recalcitrant and contemptuous of high moral values and standards, I think our language could get aggressive.
How many haven't complied?
We're trying to confirm it, but it could be as many as 10%.
How long will it be until you publish the names?
I'm hoping in a matter of weeks.
How has the summer settled out since the bishops met in Dallas? There was a firestorm that culminated there. What is the emotion in the church today?
The pastor of our church here, which is a largely African-American parish near the Governor's residence, is no longer there. He has left for a sabbatical because somebody in a public setting, when he was in his Roman collar, spat at him, and completely stunned and upset this guy to the point where he needs to sit out a while. My Protestant friends have taken a very compassionate view. There's no lip-licking like, "Oh, now we'll get some converts." I think the attitude of parents is one of anger and outrage. They want this fixed. Just clean it up. That's where the review board is, and that's where the public is. They want action now, and that's exactly what we intend to provide.
How long could you be at this?
All of us have committed to however long is necessary. We'll just continue to serve until we make sure the war is over. It could certainly be two years. It's worth every minute.
I've read that you said Catholics should withhold donations and boycott masses if their churches don't comply with the charter. Do you still think that?
Oh, absolutely. Our board feels that way as a unit. If a Catholic lay person feels that his bishop is a continuing criminal enterprise--I mean, why would you, if you were living in Milwaukee, write a check to [now-retired] Bishop Weakland? So your money would go to pay off his boyfriend? (Read news story.) This is just outrageous. So I would suggest people go to Mass in another diocese or a different parish and vote with your pocketbook and give your money to Catholic charities that are controlled by people who are upstanding. That's the only power we as laypeople have. We want to make sure the good work of the church continues. As Bishop Gregory said to me, "We would not have to have you and this board if we had done our jobs." And it's true.
How does this crisis compare to the Oklahoma City bombing, which you led your state and the nation through?
I don't think they're comparable. Oklahoma City was a temporary horror that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a much more long-term horror, and I'm not sure I see the light at the end of the tunnel because I, we, those in charge on the lay side, really don't control the outcome. So in some ways it's a more difficult challenge.
I'm surprised you would say that.
In the case of Oklahoma City, we knew the nature of our horror-what we needed to do to raise money to help put people's lives right, to care for the survivors and bury the dead, to rebuild. We could see the nature of our challenge, even though we could not change what happened. In this case, we can't change what happened either, but we don't know yet how horrific this whole universe is, and it's an awfully big thing to put our arms around. Both of them are evils, but this is obviously that's going to take more time to put the pieces back together.
And I guess this is more faith-shaking.
A lot of people have left the church as a result. The victims we talk to--virtually none are practicing Catholics anymore. And one person yesterday said he hated Catholicism as a result of what happened. Well, the faith of the church, the presence of Christ on earth, the story of the Incarnation, redemption and the cross--these have nothing to do with this behavior. These represent the failures of individual men who have performed abominably and in violation of their oaths and their vows, so it should not impact how people view the church, but I could see how it does.
What will you do if the Vatican says, in effect, "You Americans are making too much of this, and we're not going to go along with zero tolerance and too bad, but we're in charge"?
I really think the transparency and criminal referral policies, and the prospective zero tolerance policy (norm #9) will be intact and in need of the leadership of the lay community under the conference's direction. Whether we go back 10 years or 20 years is a technicality that we will struggle with and we'll accept because we are loyal to the authority of the Pope, but we hope that does not happen, and we will attempt like fine lawyers to see how we can deal with it within the context of America's criminal justice system. We would be in an incredible position to have a Catholic priest returned to active ministry who was promptly indicted by the civil authorities. Can you imagine the church being lighter on the sin than the state? But that could happen.
What should be done with the one-strike priests, those guys who did one wrong act a long, long time ago?
That is very difficult. The universal policy adopted makes good sense. I mean, one embezzlement will get you out of banking. But we'll just have to struggle with it if they decide they want to go back to take another look at very old cases. I've always said the first thing to do is ask the victim what they think. If the victim says, "I agree, I don't have a problem at all, this person is totally redeemed and reformed," then I might--as any forgiving person might--think otherwise. But I haven't seen too much of that. The victims are just twisted in knots and still are.