Les Femmes

After Dallas

Twice a year, June and November, the bishops of the United States convene to discuss, debate, and vote on issues of concern to the Church in America. The November meeting is always in Washington, D.C.; the June meeting moves around the country. This June, with the spotlight shining on clergy sex abuse scandals, the bishops headed to Dallas. It was ironically appropriate. Five years ago in July, 1997 a Dallas jury rendered a record 120 million dollar judgement against ex-priest Rudy Kos for his sexual abuse of eleven altar boys and against the Diocese of Dallas for gross negligence, conspiracy, and fraud. What more appropriate place for the bishops to: 1) develop strategies to prevent any future cases of clergy sex abuse; and 2) examine their own complicity, publicly repent, and hold themselves accountable for what's happened. Unhappily, it was business as usual.

Anyone with a grain of orthodox sense could see from the beginning something was wrong. The bishops' agenda included an address by women's ordination apologist, Margaret Steinfels, editor of Commonweal Magazine, a leftist publication that often undermines Church teaching. A media briefing on the psychiatric aspects of sexual abuse featured three panelists. Two of them, Reverends Canice Connors and Stephen Rossetti, had past and current connections respectively to the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, MD, a notorious treatment center for priests founded by a gay priest who died of AIDS. Connors may be best known for giving egregious abuser, John Geoghan, a positive "spiritual assessment" in 1995. Rossetti, the current director of St. Luke's, and the final panelist, Dr. Fred Berlin, a sex researcher from Johns Hopkins, both downplayed the role of homosexuality in the scandals despite the overwhelming majority of victims (estimated at 98%) being adolescent boys. National Review Online columnist Rod Dreher called the panel "an unintentional example" showing "the bishops don't get it."1

Other more orthodox resources were available to the conference. The Catholic Medical Association [CMA], an impressive group of Catholic doctors committed to promoting Catholic ethics in medicine, offered their expertise. They were refused. CMA has since released an "Open Letter to the Bishops" which states, "it has become increasingly clear that almost all the victims are adolescent males, not prepubescent boys. The problem of priests with same-sex attractions (SSA) molesting adolescents or children must be addressed if future scandals are to be avoided." 2 Their document also advises the bishops to use only mental health professionals and seminary faculty who "support the teaching of the Church on sexuality, particularly on homosexuality." They clearly state the link between dissent and the sex abuse scandals. "Many faculty members of seminaries and religious houses do not adhere to the truth on matters of sexual morality and faith. For decades moral relativism, proportionalism and situational ethics have been taught in these centers of formation....The purification of the seminaries is essential to the protection of the Church and her children."

CMA isn't the only voice calling for review. One of the bishops' own, Most Rev. Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska proposed that the bishops commission a study to evaluate the impact, if any, of theological dissent and clerical homosexuality on the scandals. His brothers voted thumbs down. They preferred to focus on the minority of priest perpetrators rather than address their own bad stewardship or deal with the broader problem of dissent to Church teaching, particularly in the area of sexual ethics.

Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report, summarized the situation well during a panel discussion sponsored by the Dallas chapter of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) convened to evaluate the bishops' meeting. Participants included Lawler; Mike Rose, author of Goodbye! Good Men, who exposed the effort to keep orthodox men out of many seminaries; Helen Hull Hitchcock of Women for Faith and Family who edits the Adoremus Bulletin; Bishop Bruskewitz, and several others. Lawler pointed out that of 45,000 priests in the United States around 200 have been involved in sexual abuse (approximately 4%). On the other hand, two thirds of the bishops (approximately 66%) moved the abusers from parish to parish and/or engaged in cover-ups. Is it any wonder the bishops deep-sixed Bruskewitz's motion? They keyed in on the activity of the minority, but refused to examine the actions of the majority in their own ranks. This is a devastating indictment of the men called to lead the Church in the United States.

The bishops' meeting bore all the marks of a "media event." From Bishop Wilton Gregory's dramatic address, to lay liberals Margaret Steinfels' and Scott Appleby's chiding, to the gut wrenching stories shared by victims, to the so-called "zero tolerance" policy adopted on the last day. Establishment of a high-profile national review board headed by Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma only confirmed the suspicion. While the board drew media kudos as "impressive," (troubling in itself coming from that bastion of anti-Catholicism) savvy Catholics shook their heads over the naming of Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, and Robert Bennett, Clinton's lawyer. Their connection to the lascivious and predatory former president makes their involvement as guardians against sexual abuse almost laughable, not to mention their support for the most pro-abortion team ever to occupy the White House. And can any Catholic seriously believe that establishing another bureaucracy, The Office of Child and Youth Protection, will help? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has consistently shown it is part of the problem rather than the solution. The office will likely be one more black hole siphoning money from the pockets of people in the pew. Expect diocesan clones to pop up around the country as the bishops scramble to demonstrate their zeal to protect our children. Since the bishops' policy calls for diocesan review boards can chancery "child protection" offices be far behind?

What about the policy itself, described by the media as "zero tolerance" or "one strike and your out?" Catholic lawyer Charles Rice, Avery Cardinal Dulles, and Our Sunday Visitor reporter, Russell Shaw, among others are waving red flags. Rice points out that the two documents adopted at Dallas, Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms, for Diocesan/ Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priest, Deacons, or Other Church Personnel are overly broad, go beyond Canon law, and essentially give individual bishops the power to interpret and dismiss a priest on supposedly "credible" evidence, even if an alleged offense happened decades ago outside the statute of limitations outlined in Church law. Rice says the bishops have "painted a bull's-eye on the backs of their good priests...now subjected to a life of exposure to permanent removal from ministry pursuant to vague and arbitrary criteria."3 The policy, in fact, defines terms so broadly that sexual abuse need not even involve physical contact with the victim or any discernible harmful outcome. Cardinal Dulles also expressed concern about the policy, describing it as "awfully harsh." It establishes an "adversarial relationship" between the bishop and his priest who can "no longer go to the bishop as a father in confidence" for fear of being thrown out of ministry and even having his confidential files turned over to the district attorney.

One would like to presume the bishops' good will in developing the policy, but Rice points out they amended the first draft deleting the broad term "cleric" which would have included bishops. Instead the document addresses only the crimes of underlings: priests, deacons, and lay employees. Since they are well aware of the abuse in their own ranks, the bishops displayed not only rank hypocrisy by this action, but an elitism in direct conflict with their call to be servants. Rice rightly calls them to account. "Why did not the bishops themselves, in Dallas, oblige each and every one of them who has knowingly reassigned, recommended, or otherwise facilitated the continued ministry of a priest guilty of sexual abuse, immediately to submit his resignation to the Pope with public disclosure of that submission....The bishops caused this crisis. Let them volunteer to get out of the way. Why should the bishops, some of whom are perhaps criminal enablers of this atrocity, be allowed to skate free of any personal consequences of their conduct?" 4 Good questions. Rice goes on to point out a serious danger from the documents, the likelihood of "increased exposure of...good priests to potential intimidation, blackmail, and civil liability." In view of past history in dioceses where dissent has been rampant, the scenario of an orthodox priest dismissed on vague charges is all too feasible.

Russell Shaw wrote in Our Sunday Visitor that the policy departs from one formulated in April at a meeting Pope John Paul II convened with the U.S. cardinals, representatives from the USCCB including its president Bishop Wilton Gregory, and top Vatican officials. The outcome "envisaged a two-track sex-abuse policy. A priest guilty of ‘serial predatory sexual abuse of minors' would be dismissed from the priesthood. Less serious offenders would be punished, but less harshly, it was implied... Abandoning the two-track approach outlined only two months earlier in Rome, the Dallas policy requires that all offenders be punished alike with dismissal from ministry and, very likely, from the priesthood. The only exceptions are elderly and infirm clerics who may be permitted to spend the rest of their days doing penance in religious institutions, without saying Mass publicly or presenting themselves as priests."5

Will the Vatican accept the new policy? Immediately following the Dallas meeting several bishops including USCCB president, Wilton Gregory, flew to Rome to market it. Spokesmen for the bishops predicted hasty approval, wishful-thinking on their part. An August 14th article from Catholic World News (CWN) cited unnamed Vatican sources saying the Dallas plan "will require substantial changes" due to "serious questions about the fairness of the policy and the ‘due process' rights of priests who are accused of misconduct."6 Three Vatican bureaus: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts will review the policies which appear to conflict with Canon Law. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things called the bishops' action the result of "panic...and panic results in recklessness."7

No matter what the outcome of the current debate on the Dallas policies, it will not solve the problems of the Church in the United States. Why? Because the bishops themselves are the problem. George Sim Johnston summed up the situation in the June issue of Crisis Magazine. "For decades, our episcopate has been in the hands of mildly ‘pastoral' men who (with honorable exceptions) chose not to see what was happening on their watch. This is true even of some visibly orthodox bishops. It is good and honorable to uphold Catholic doctrine in the public arena, but it is much more difficult to confront diocesan officials who dissent from Catholic teaching. Even in so-called orthodox dioceses there can be found legions of heterodox administrators who have ruined seminaries and made a hash of CCD and Pre-Cana programs. This is where the courage of many bishops fails: they would rather get on with their administrators — some of whom may be openly contemptuous of the magisterium — than be a sign of contradiction. They simply let things happen."8

True, but Johnston falls short of the mark. More than a few bishops are wolves in sheep's clothing whose inexcusable actions include promoting explicit sex ed programs (e.g. Growing in Love) that teach children the nitty gritty of sodomy, advancing the homosexual agenda through speakers and "support groups," and sponsoring dissent at every opportunity. Many bishops have actively persecuted the orthodox who want nothing more than reverent Masses and solid teaching. The same men who enabled the homosexual rape of teenage boys force the laity to stand through the Eucharistic prayer and Communion, ban kneeling to receive, discourage taking Communion on the tongue, deny the Pope's explicit request to be generous in allowing the Tridentine rite, and suppress Eucharistic Adoration often under the guise of fostering unity. It is telling to recall that the pastor of All Saints Church in Manassas, VA who committed adultery and subsequently "married" a parishioner suppressed kneeling to receive Communion at Seton School and went on to forbid even genuflection. He was never overruled.

Where do we go from here? Eight bishops have called for a "plenary council" to address the root problems of the Church in the United States. They are asking their brother bishops to vote for such a council at their November meeting in Washington, D.C. It would be the first since the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 which led to the Baltimore Catechism and the promulgation of Catholic schools. According to the letter the council's aims would include solemn acceptance of the authentic teachings of Vatican II, fostering virtue, especially celibate sexuality, and strengthening priests to teach the Gospel, especially with regard to sexual morality, and to aid the laity in fulfilling their call to holiness. The council would include not only diocesan bishops, but coadjutors and auxiliaries, who would exercise a deliberative vote. Others participating as consultors would include vicars general and episcopal vicars, Catholic university rectors and deans of faculties of theology and canon law, a number of representatives of religious orders and seminary rectors, and other invited religious and lay Catholics.

One is tempted to shrug. Can this "haplass" group of bishops, so in need of reform themselves, possibly lead a spiritual renewal in the United States? It seems unlikely, but history records other unlikely events. When the Monophysite Empress, Theodora, intrigued to place Vigilius on the papal throne in the 6th century she expected him to advance her heretical views. He did not, thereby illustrating the doctrine of papal infallibility. The Holy Spirit will protect the Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

The particular question, however, is whether the Church will survive in the United States; or will she atrophy like the once-vibrant Church in England. Will we, like they, succumb to de facto protestantism, even if we continue to call ourselves Catholics. The answer rests with the laity. We must in charity and love demand our right to the authentic faith. We must pray, fast, and courageously exhort our shepherds to return to the faith of our fathers. Few of us will suffer the bloody death of the martyrs. We will, however, suffer ridicule and condemnation, a sort of crucifixion by thumbtack. Despite ill treatment, we must respond in love and challenge without rancor always honoring the office even when dishonored by its incumbent. As the great Church Father, St. Ignatius of Antioch, said: "Let everyone revere the... bishop as the image of [God] the Father, and the presbyters as the senate and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church."9 Let us begin now to pray and fast that the bishops' meeting in November will bear fruit that heralds a new springtime for the Church in America.

1 Dreher, Rod, "Dallas Diary," National Review Online, June 13, 2002, www.nationalreview.com.

2 CMA Task Force, "An Open Letter to the Bishops," revised July 23, 2002, pg.1. See CMA website: www.cathmed.org.

3 Rice, Charles, The Policies Deficiencies Are Becoming Apparent," The Wanderer, August 1, 2002, pg.1.

4 Ibid.

5 Shaw, Russell, "Will Bishops' New Norms Pass Vatican Scrutiny?" Our Sunday Visitor, July 21, 2002, online at www.osvpublishing.com/periodicals/show-article.asp?pid=705.

6 "Vatican Likely to Reject US Bishops' Dallas Plan", Catholic World News, August 14, 2002, www.cwnews.com/news/viewrec.cfm?RefNum=18742.

7 Ibid.

8 Johnston, George Sim, "Can the Bishops Heal the American Church?" Crisis Magazine, June 2002.

9 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1554.

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