Cardinal: Change Will Restore Church
Public Ties Need to Rekindle Lost Faith

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer [Cincinnati OH]
October 11, 2003

One of the most influential Catholics in the world says he sees opportunities for change within the church in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal in the United States.

But there are limits, he says, to how much change the church can endure.

In an interview Friday in Cincinnati, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga said lay Catholics must get more involved and church leaders must get closer to their communities.

He said strengthening ties among priests, bishops and the people they serve is crucial to restoring the trust that was lost during a year and a half of revelations about abusive priests in America.

"We are one church. We are not separate," said Rodriguez, a Honduran bishop who is mentioned as a possible successor to the pope. "I'm not up high. I'm in the middle of my people.

"My role is not to be a prince on a throne."

While he supported giving lay Catholics more control over their own parishes, Rodriguez said he is wary of those who seek more dramatic changes to Catholic tradition and doctrine.

He said he favors the celibacy requirement for priests and does not support allowing women into the priesthood. Such changes, he said, would not have prevented the abuse crisis in America.

"I don't think that is the future path," Rodriguez said when asked about women in the priesthood. "There are things in the church that can be changed, that should be changed, but this is not one of them."

Rodriguez discussed his views on the abuse scandal and the future of the Catholic Church during an interview and press conference at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati.

The cardinal then delivered the keynote address Friday afternoon for the 175th anniversary celebration of the Athenaeum, one of the oldest seminaries in the United States.

Rodriguez said any discussion about the church's recovery from the abuse scandal must begin with priests ministering to the victims and with bishops making sure abusers are removed.

"We have to beg pardon for our past mistakes," he said. "The bishop is a shepherd. When he knows there are abuses, he has to proceed immediately. There is no place in Catholic ministry for these kinds of people."

Rodriguez said most American bishops have done a good job throughout the abuse crisis. Although bishops must bear the ultimate responsibility, he said, some have been blamed for problems beyond their control.

He said bishops cannot monitor every priest in their dioceses or every person to whom they have delegated authority.

"To be a leader is difficult," he said. "Many times ... the responsibility and blame goes to the bishop. I believe this is not fair."

Rodriguez drew criticism last year for comparing media coverage of the abuse crisis to a "witch hunt" and saying it was similar to the persecution of Catholics under Stalin and Hitler.

He said Friday that his quotes were taken out of context, and that he only meant that the church had survived tribulations in the past and would do so again.

He said he understands America's media attention on the priest abuse issue.

But he fears the uproar over the crisis has detracted from other problems, including poverty and social injustice in the Third World and greed and materialism in industrial nations.

"We live in a world where faith is irrelevant and material things have become the new god," Rodriguez said. "We have to be missionaries in a pagan world."

To do so, he said, the church must embrace modern ideas and technologies that it once abhorred. He said the Internet and the electronic media are crucial to getting out the church's message.

And he said a better understanding of sociology and psychology will help church leaders find better, more mature priests. Already, he said, the lessons of psychology have led to more scrutiny of seminarians and have lowered the risk of potential abusers slipping through the system.

Despite all the changes in the world and the church, Rodriguez said, one thing has remained the same through the centuries: Priests must live their lives as examples to others.

"We have to be like stained glass," Rodriguez said. "We don't have our own light. We have to reflect the light of God."


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