Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The ongoing struggle...**updated

There have been some depressing - and some more hopeful - stories over the last week or two that illustrate the ongoing struggle of the Church hierarchy to come to grips with the child sex abuse crisis.

The cover up is the crime that counts...

Unfortunately, they mostly seem to illustrate the continuing lack of self-awareness of most of our bishops.

No better illustration of this came this week with the extraordinary response of Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles to his successor's move to oust him from public duties in the diocese.

Cardinal Mahony's position as a public representative of the Church became untenable when correspondence made it clear that he was fully aware of the criminal nature of the offences his priests had committed, and took active steps to protect them from being reported to the police by therapists and others.

When, less than a year into office (most of which, one suspects, must have been spent in deep consultation with Rome!), his successor, Archbishop Gomez agreed to release the unexpurgated versions of the files, he also sensibly distanced the diocese from the actions of his predecessors.

You might have thought Cardinal Mahony would keep quiet in the light of the revelations about his behaviour that have already come out.  Instead he made public a whingeing letter about how his social work degree didn't teach him how to deal with child sex abuse.  Pretty sad stuff.

Unfortunately, his attitude does not seem to be out of line with many others in the  episcopacy who don't seem to understand that while the laity are appalled at the crimes committed by what is mostly a relatively small proportion of priests (save in certain dioceses where nests of vipers infiltrated and seem to have taken de facto control), they are considerably more outraged by the cover-ups perpetrated by the overwhelming majority of bishops.

Are there any innocent bishops?

The problem is that when confronted by a serious crime, few bishops showed much empathy for the victims and their families; fewer still quietly or otherwise removed the man in question from ministry; and none, so far as I know, reported the matter to the police.

Instead, they used networks of mates in the judiciary,  police, legal profession and psychiatrists to protect the culprits.  They played on the desire of the families to avoid scandal and hurt to the Church.  They moved guilty priests around, and tried to 'give them another chance'.  As Rod Dreher has pointed out in a useful piece on why the bishops acted as they did, they forgot that sin has consequences that are independent of the Christian virtue of forgiveness:

"True, everyone can be forgiven if he or she truly repents. But forgiveness doesn’t require pretending that the sin never happened in the first place. A remorseful embezzler who has gone to prison and paid his debt to society is entitled to be forgiven and received into the community as a penitent. But he is not entitled to the expectation that he can resume his job as company treasurer. The nature of his sin, or rather, his crime, means that he has forfeited certain opportunities."

Many bishops have apologised for the sins of the abusers.  That's obviously a good start.

But most still stick to the line that the times were different then; they just didn't understand the implications of it all; and everything has now been fixed.

Yet all too many make clear their lack of understanding of the fundamental issues at stake here by what seem, on the face of it, to be continuing serious misjudgments.  Consider for example:
  • the convicted child molester just appointed as co-director of the archdiocesan office of priestly formation in Newark; and
  • Bishop Finn continuing in office after failing to report a priest for possession of child pornography, for which he has since been convicted.
Signs of hope

There are some signs of hope though:
  • **the news that the reported return of Fr Tom Knowles of Melbourne to ministry occurred without the knowledge of diocesan authorities, and his faculties have since been removed by Archbishop Hart;
  • Archbishop Gomez' of LA's unprecedented condemnation of his predecessor's actions;
  • the clear statements about the mishandling of the 'Fr F' case made by Bishops Kennedy and Fisher in this country; and 
  • the evidence that at least some bishops, such as the late Bishop John D'arcy of the diocese of Fort-Wayne-South-Bend in the US, did in fact at least attempt to fight the good fight on this issue.
Let's hope we see more action against the bishops who made bad things worse, including some follow up from Rome.

For it is a continuing scandal that men such as Cardinals Law and Mahony, Archbishop Rembert Weakland and many others (including not a few Australian bishops) continue to hold the title of 'emeritus' (or worse, remain in office!) and receive support from the dioceses they bankrupted both spiritually and financially.

And in the meantime, let's pray that our own bishops do a little more soul searching so that they move on from the mealy mouthed kind of apologies they mostly put out a few years back, to genuinely confront the problem of a culture that has actively or passively condoned and even encouraged immorality of all kinds among clergy and laity alike.

Preferably before the Royal Commission forces it upon them.

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