Sins & Silence
Letters to the Editor
TH series overlooks issue of bishop accountability
Catholics should demand more of the hierarchy

By James Giesen
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 19, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

The recent Telegraph Herald series, "Sins and Silence," was valuable. It brings sexual-abuse problems out into the open and it describes corrective measures taken. However , it leaves a glaring void that I will address later.

I want to reflect on some of my background with the hope of establishing my experience and involvement at a trusted level in the Catholic Church.

In 1950, I was confirmed as a Catholic in Delano, Minn. The presider was Auxiliary Bishop James J. Byrne.

While living in Waterloo in the 1980s, I was elected to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, which was then presided over by Archbishop James Byrne. Through this position and because we had mutual friends, I got to know him better.

As chairman of that group, I had many discussions with Archbishop Daniel Kucera, whom I believe was a significant factor in my wife Judy and I getting positions at Loras College as ministers of peace and justice in campus ministry.

Archbishop Kucera asked me to initiate and chair the archdiocesesan Due Process Board, which addressed administrative problems not under the authority of Canon(church) Law. I was impressed with the just approach taken by the archbishop—even when it impacted some of the members of the archdiocese in a difficult and challenging way.

In 1990, I was hired by Catholic Charities to manage more than 200 units of low-income housing. I had continued contact with Archbishop Kucera and then Archbishop Jerome Hanus. During this time, Archbishop Kucera installed the Sexual Misconduct Policy for all employees in the archdiocese. His leadership and implementation of policies concerning protection of children and others was commendable.

In the late 1980s, I was elected to the Iowa Catholic Conference, an advisory group to all the bishops of Iowa. Through this, I got to work with Bishop Soens, Bishop Bullock and Bishop O'Keefe.

In the late 1980s, I attended a two-day program and had the good fortune to talk with Cardinal Joseph Bernadin and Archbishop Rembert Weakland on issues affecting the laity.

I count Bishop William Franklin of Davenport as a personal friend.

I tell you all of this to demonstrate that I am not a fringe Catholic. Not only has my life been characterized by service to the church, I also have relevant experience working with the hierarchy. My experiences with Bishops Kucera, Hanus and Franklin tells me that they are of the highest character.

My concern is this: While our recent two archbishops have acted positively on sexual abuse of minors, the national and global church has not addressed the issue of accountability of the hierarchy.

It is clear that several bishops were complicit in moving known pedophiles from location to location without any notice to authorities or to parish members. In my mind, this was aiding and abetting a crime. Little or nothing has been admitted regarding this issue.

Only when the priests of Boston signed a letter of "no confidence" in their archbishop did Cardinal Bernard Law leave his position. Other bishops had equally evident records of hiding and moving felons within dioceses and across diocesan borders. This is knowledgeable complicity.

It is wrong for the church to hide these bishops behind their robes. Much greater transparency and openness on the part of the hierarchy is required for me to be convinced that the Gospel vision is more important than power and control.

Until there is more accountability and openness at the national leadership level, I can't be as positive as the March 12 TH editorial that these abuses or similar ones won't happen again.

The series should have been more focused on church hierarchical leadership. We need to challenge the church to accountability.

My heart goes out to the great priests that I know who now suffer the stigma of this problem.

Some of my friends ask me why I remain with the Catholic church since I criticize some of its positions. In response, I reply that it has nourished me, and I have been devoted to it all of my life. Even though it is going through some trials and tribulations, the church is my family, which I can't walk away from. I have to stay with it, express my opinion and hope that it will change.

Yes, I'll stay with the church, if the church lets me stay.

James Giesen

Giesen, who is retired, is a community volunteer as chair of the Dubuque Community Development Advisory Commission.


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