Accountability and Another Catholic Scandal

Article excerpt

The abrupt resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus as head of the Warsaw archdiocese in the wake of disclosures about his collaboration with security forces during the communist era will probably be lumped in the popular imagination under the heading "another Catholic scandal."

There would be more than a little justification for doing so. For the common theme running through the sex abuse scandal, recent tales of financial shenanigans and now the revelations of communist-era collaboration can be reduced to one word: accountability.

It is time for the church to think seriously of establishing truth commissions made up of respected experts to compile the facts and present a narrative to the community about what happened in each of these arenas.

No one should suggest that any of the story lines is a simple matter. Sexual abuse of children is a society-wide malady, its causes mysterious and often residing deep in the human psyche and an individual's experience.

The theft of millions from parish and diocesan funds--a recent study showed that 85 percent of U.S. dioceses report embezzlement of funds--may be easier to understand. Greed is common, and even the best can succumb to temptation.

And who knows what any of us would have done if we had lived in Poland during the communist era? We'd all love to think ourselves heroes, but it is easy to imagine converting to moral relativism in the face of danger. It appears Wielgus violated church norms regarding contact with Polish security forces during that time. But neither church nor society will know the truth until the full record is read.

The day after Wielgus resigned, the rector of Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, Fr. Janusz Bielanski, resigned after charges that he, too, had collaborated with the communists.

By all accounts, church leaders knew more than a little about the extent of collaboration, and they've known it for some time. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, before his election as Pope John Paul II, apparently made conscious decisions to keep a lid on the information.

Anyone who thinks the record of church collaboration during the communist era in Poland will remain secret is dealing in fantasy. "I think the question facing the Polish church now," said NCR senior correspondent John L. Allen Jr. during a recent interview on the "Lehrer News Hour," "is whether [disclosure] will happen on its timetable, in a responsible fashion, or whether you will simply continue to follow this cycle of one bomb going off after another, which ultimately could have enormously negative consequences for the credibility and for the internal life of the church in Poland."

The same could certainly be said of the situation in the United States. Church authorities in Poland need only look at the leadership of the U.S. church and its role in the sex abuse scandal to understand that covering up can lead to disastrous consequences.

Catholics understand sin. They understand how to forgive it and how to reconcile with sinners and welcome them back fully into the fold. We do it regularly in our sacramental and communal life. We are taught from childhood to understand that we are all sinners and that, reflecting the activity of God, we are called to confess and forgive. …