Professional Code Hinders Discipline
The Catholic Church Is Not Fully

By Steve Gushee
Tri-Valley Herald [West Palm Beach FL]
Downloaded March 6, 2003

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In religion as in politics, the coverup exposes the real culprits more than the crime itself.

Recent reports hold church leadership responsible for perpetuating and denying a pervasive climate that enabled priests to abuse children for years in the Roman Catholic Church.

They call for "consequences" for those leaders who either fostered or failed to stop the abuse.

Both human nature and theological nuance make that highly unlikely.

To its credit, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed a committee to investigate sexual abuse in the church.

The conference humbly received two reports last week cataloging 50 years of abuse involving more than 4,000 clergymen.

Great majority serve church well

That's a relatively small minority, about 4 percent, of the clergy. The great majority serve the church honorably. They have not been well served by at least some of its leaders.

Many of them did little to recognize the crisis, stop offenders or embrace victims. Bishops and seminary officials ignored the problem, transferred abusing priests, stonewalled victims and denied the obvious.

Now that the scandal is public, hundreds of priests have been removed from ministry. One bishop was forced to resign his office for inept leadership.

Remarkably, he still maintains great influence in the church.

The former Archbishop of Boston left office in December 2002 over the way he handled the scandal, but Bernard Law remains a cardinal, has a voice in Vatican circles and can vote for the next pope.

Bishops routinely circle the wagons

Disciplining colleagues is difficult. Every organization affords professional courtesy to its members. Doctors protect doctors. Teachers protect teachers. Lawyers protect lawyers. Bishops have been doing that for centuries and routinely circle the wagons around their close-knit, all-male group.

Church leaders have another advantage. The church can do no wrong. Priests can err, bishops can sin and even popes can make a mistake.

The Church, however, is theologically the Body of Christ and without sin, confusion or error. That's a theological nicety important to Christian theology but hard for many to understand.

Faulting a bishop without finding fault in the body for which he is responsible is tricky. The usual result is that no one is held accountable. The welcome and responsible report on sexual abuse in the church calls for consequences for irresponsible leaders.

History suggests that will not happen.


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