Wineke: Bishops Haven't Dealt with Real Crisis

By Bill Wineke
Wisconsin State Journal [United States]
March 6, 2004

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the trauma of sexual predator priests is now "history." <

That may be so, at least as it pertains to priests. The church has developed harsh guidelines to deal with problem priests. <

As it turns out, the really bad stuff was conducted by a relative handful - 135 of 3,246 - accused priests who abused scores of little boys. <

I've never been convinced the problem in the Catholic priesthood is qualitatively worse than the problem in Protestant clergy or other professions. <

But the bishops still haven't dealt with the real crisis and that is the crisis in their own ranks. <

While only a small percentage of priests were accused of abuse, a very large percentage of bishops were found to have concealed that abuse. <

These guys knew - they knew! - that priests responsible to them had been accused of committing illegal acts and, instead of acting to protect the innocent, these bishops covered up the crimes, paid hush money to those victims they couldn't intimidate and commiserated with the accused priests. <

The bishops of this country, according to statistics released a week ago, authorized payments of more than a half-billion dollars to victims. <

When these sums were finally publicized, the confession was usually accompanied by disclaimers suggesting the money came from insurance funds or diocesan reserves and not from the contributions of parishioners. <

Oh, expletive! Originally, the money had to come from parishioners. Where else could it have originated? No one who gave that money intended it to be used to protect child molesters. <

The late Bishop Cletus O'Donnell of Madison, a man many of us revered, received applause for his innovation in issuing an annual financial report for the Madison Catholic Diocese. That report, however, never mentioned the $1.9 million the diocese paid to sexual abuse victims. <

In response to all this, the bishops have issued public apologies. <

Of the whole group, one - count them, one - has lost his job for shockingly bad oversight. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston resigned as that city's archbishop. He is, however, still a prince of the church, a member of several Vatican commissions and one of those who will help to choose the next pope. <

Law's lieutenants, as well as other bishops who covered up crimes, remain in positions of honor throughout the country. <

In any organization, this would be shocking. But it poses special problems for the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that its bishops derive their authority from Jesus Christ through the sacrament of Holy Orders. <

By covering up criminal acts - and, indeed, abetting those acts - the offending bishops called into question the very validity of their church, discrediting all bishops, the innocent along with the guilty. <

In the meantime, the church wants to deny Communion, another sacrament, to Rep. David Obey - a man who, in my mind, has upheld Catholic social teachings like few other congressmen of our day - because his unwillingness to condemn abortion brings "scandal" to the faithful. <

Look, I've known each of Madison's bishops. They were and are good and decent men who truly care about their people. But they're part of a brotherhood that still has far to go before it regains the trust of the faithful.


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