There Must Be Consequences
March 5, 2004
The Catholic bishops' painful report on the sexual abuse of children was a chilling tally of thousands of victims and thousands of predators. But the report lacked an equal measure of candor about holding accountable not just abusive priests but also the bishops and cardinals who covered up their crimes. It was distressing to hear the suggestion by Bishop Wilton Gregory, the prelate charged with directing the inquiry, that the "terrible history" is just that - history.
This is not the case for many of the faithful, and Bishop Wilton did not have to go far to hear it. The layman who led the inquiry, Robert Bennett, called for the resignation of the prelates who sheltered predatory priests. "There are bishops who have totally failed as pastors and as shepherds of their flock," said Mr. Bennett, a former prosecutor who led the review board appointed by the bishops.
The board itself said there "must be consequences" for bishops who led the cover-up. These views can hardly be dismissed, considering the board's conscientious work in delving into the scandal on behalf of innocent children as well as demoralized churchmen. Perhaps the most telling statistic in the catalog of abuses is that in just the past two years, more than 700 priests had to be dismissed. That speaks volumes about the huge cover-up carried out by church leaders before the scandal fully burst into public view.
One suggested remedy - "fraternal correction," in which the independently powerful bishops would somehow track one another's accountability - seems an ecclesiastical placebo, considering how fiercely some church leaders worked to hide the scandal by buying off and intimidating victims. A few ranking leaders were singled out for criticism by the review board, including Cardinals Edward Egan of New York and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who have defended their past management of rogue priests.
The board pointed to various causative factors, from the tolerance of immature and sexually dysfunctional candidates for the priesthood to the Vatican's delay in facing the problem. Critics are understandably demanding a listing of predatory priests. At a minimum, a central clearinghouse is needed to track promised reforms and suspect priests. It is not up to church leaders alone to decide how far beyond this "terrible history" they must travel. The bishops, emphasizing atonement, have taken an important step. But the review board, emphasizing vigilance, has posed the right question:If zero tolerance is the policy for wayward priests, why not for failed bishops?
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.