'This in No Way Diminishes ...'

By Kennedy, Eugene | National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

'This in No Way Diminishes ...'


Kennedy, Eugene, National Catholic Reporter


Perhaps not since biblical scholars assigned the designation Q to the 235 verses found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark, have Catholics encountered such compelling evidence of a common source for the themes of influential documents. And perhaps not since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls acquainted us with the practices of the Jewish sect, the Essenes, have official papers introduced us to the methods of such a distinguished group as America's Catholic bishops.

The Essenes "abstain from marriage ... speak only in turn. They are completely governed by the officers of the community," wrote the late Jesuit Fr. John L. McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible. "They must take solemn oaths to observe the rules of the community and to conceal its secrets."

Opening their packets for their March meeting, many members of the administrative board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of their Ad Hoc Sex Abuse Committee, learn for the first time that they will vote on deferring any discussion of the National Review Board's report and its associated projects until November. Not even Chicago's Cardinal Francis George has been informed that a coup de main is underway against the National Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection and its associated projects. He abstains when the question is finally called.

Although the episcopal letters are filled with boilerplate commitment ("We affirm," Mansell avers, "our commitment to the Charter for the Protection of Children ...") their vote effectively quashes the investigative recommendations made that day by the National Advisory Council, the Office of Child and Youth Protection, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse and the National Review Board: to approve an on-site audit by the end of 2004 by the Office of Child and Youth Protection, to approve funding for the National Review Board's request for a proposal to implement the already approved study of the causes and context of the sex abuse problem, and that the conference of the bishops continue to deal with "fraternal correction," bishops disciplining bishops who failed to bar priest sex abusers from parish work.

All about us

The gods of irony smile when, trying to hide part of the truth about themselves, men reveal the whole truth instead. Melancholy themes of self-reference, self-pity and condescension are particularly striking in the letters to Justice Anne Burke, interim chair of the National Review Board, after she reacted to the administrative board's action (NCR, May 21). Though subsequent publicity has apparently forced the bishops to reconsider the matter, their wish to be done with the board and its requirements is evident in the language of their letters.

Denver's Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes on April 2 of Burke's questioning this preemption of the committee's work: "Please note that the June 2004 bishops' meeting is a quadrennial retreat.... This in no way diminishes the continuing importance of the NRB, the Dallas Charter, or issues relating to the sexual misconduct scandal. But neither can we as bishops neglect other vital matters, including calls for a plenary council.... Our problems with your letter lie elsewhere. The matter of 'fraternal correction' among bishops has canonical implications that go well beyond the NRB's competence .... It is not the NRB's duty to interpret the Charter.... Finally, Justice Burke, we were embarrassed by the tone of your letter.... Your language is designed to offend.... Whatever its goals, your letter diminishes the credibility of the NRB and invites resistance." The closing line is offered like a ring to kiss, "Be assured of our good will and prayers nonetheless ..."

Bishop David L. Ricken of Cheyenne, Wyo., provides a coda April 16, " I do believe that, after such a storm for two years, the bishops need a bit of a break [emphasis added] to reflect on all that has happened so that we can move ahead, thoughtfully and prayerfully . …

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