Catholic Church Update

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly [Boston MA]
September 12, 2003

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: A major development in Boston, where the Roman Catholic archdiocese agreed to settle the lawsuits brought by victims of sexual abuse by priests. Eighty-five million dollars will be divided among 552 plaintiffs and their families according to the degree of damage done. The awards will run from $80,000 to $300,000. The settlement comes just six weeks after the installation of Sean O'Malley as Archbishop of Boston.

We want to look at the implications of the Boston settlement with David Gibson, a long-time religion writer and author of the new book, THE COMING CATHOLIC CHURCH. David, welcome. What does the settlement in Boston mean for other Catholic dioceses around the country?

DAVID GIBSON (Author, THE COMING CATHOLIC CHURCH): Well, it's critical for the entire Catholic Church in the United States. There is basically no turning the corner on this scandal until there is a settlement in Boston. Boston was the epicenter of the scandal. It remains the focus. Church leaders have said, in fact, this is the turning point for them. Bishop Wilton Gregory, who is head of the U.S. hierarchy, told a group of us religion writers in Seattle just last week that he saw this essentially as key to healing -- that we have to heal the victims first and then go on to heal the credibility of the Church. And I think that's right. But it's also a legal landmark. It really sets the precedent that other dioceses will follow around the country. In fact, in Seattle last week, there was a settlement just a few days after the announcement in Boston.

ABERNETHY: There was also a development this week regarding the issue of celibacy for priests. A group of priests in Milwaukee had urged that celibacy be made optional. But now, 600 conservative priests have reaffirmed their support of celibacy. What's the significance of all that?

Mr. GIBSON: Well, I think those 600 priests are in the minority. And the polls reflect that. Basically, the polls show well over half -- up to even 70 percent of the 45,000 priests in the United States -- wish that celibacy would be an option, and they believe that it's coming. They believe that the shortage of vocations, among other things, is really driving a need to change this thousand-year-old tradition of celibacy in the Church.

ABERNETHY: The shortage of priests?

Mr. GIBSON: The shortage of priests, basically. There just aren't enough priests to go around, and they see this as a way to increase the number of priests out there. And, again, those numbers are also going upwards -- they are about 10 points higher than they were just a decade ago.

ABERNETHY: The Vatican stands so strongly for celibacy. Very briefly, what is the essential reason for it?

Mr. GIBSON: The essential reason is the image of Jesus. Jesus was celibate -- all scholars agree now. And that example is supposed to be the highest Christian example. There are also a lot of simple reasons, as far as not having children and wives to support. But basically, it's a long-standing tradition that has a great countercultural example in today's society. I think most say that we don't want to do away with celibacy in any way -- but we want to have both celibacy and the option to have married priests.

ABERNETHY: And what do you think? Is that going to come?

Mr. GIBSON: I do believe that's going to come. And making predictions in the Catholic Church is always a dangerous thing, but again, if you look at the polls among priests themselves, they believe that within the next 20 years or so, optional celibacy will be out there.

ABERNETHY: Many thanks to David Gibson, author of THE COMING CATHOLIC CHURCH.


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