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
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
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
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
3 Rice, Charles, The Policies Deficiencies Are Becoming
Apparent," The Wanderer, August 1, 2002, pg.1.
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.
8 Johnston, George Sim, "Can the Bishops Heal the
American Church?" Crisis Magazine, June 2002.
of the Catholic Church, 1554.