Bishops Playing Defense. (Letters)

National Catholic Reporter, August 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Bishops Playing Defense. (Letters)


* The continuing struggle of the U.S. hierarchy to deal with the continuing sex abuse crisis was correctly observed by Joe Feuerherd as defensive (NCR, July 4). It is surely true that the bishops now understand how vital the sex abuse scandal, at least in its pedophilia aspects, can be. It's also true that many are striving to come to grips with the problem. Cardinal George is right: It is "outrageous and totally unjust" to suggest the bishops have "done nothing."

What is problematic is that they haven't done enough. Self-serving statements such as Archbishop Harry Flynn's comment on their monumental efforts does not help--more modest statements about how much more they need to learn and do, as Eugene Kennedy suggests in the same issue of NCR, would be more appropriate.

At a minimum, three (interrelated) areas need to be broached:

* Defining the problem. Some have said they don't know what sex abuse means, though they could easily ascertain that by referring to the penal laws of their state. It's not just the abuse of children, horrendous as that is, but every innocent victim, be they child, adolescent or adult, male or female, lay or religious.

* Recognizing fully that sex abuse is a crime. It confounded me that when the bishops met in Dallas, they did not bring a single criminal justice expert (say, from the National Institute of Corrections) to address them. It disturbs me when I read about continuing failures of bishops to cooperate with local prosecutorial agencies. I am amazed that any church leader would not cooperate with the excellent professionals at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

* Providing accountability. On one hand, bishops feel they must only be accountable to Rome; it is clear that their governance or lack of it in this area demands more collaboration and transparency with the local church.

Tying all these issues together is the perceived need to maintain power and control and to limit damage. As paradoxical as it may seem to some, it is only by giving up that need for power and to limit damage that power will be kept and damage ended. …

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