Editor's Desk: Rock the Boat

By Michael F. Flach
Arlington Catholic Herald [United States]
Downloaded March 10, 2004

The National Review Boardís "Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church" was released on the same day as the John Jay Study. The report provides an honest, in-depth analysis of the sexual abuse crisis that has scandalized the Church in the U.S. since it first surfaced in Boston in January 2002. In varying degrees, bishops, priests, diocesan lawyers, therapists, psychiatrists and the Vatican all are held accountable in the eyes of the board.

The report makes for interesting reading and undoubtedly will be examined and discussed in detail for years to come. (The entire text can be found at But the section on the "Selection and Assignment of Bishops" contains some especially bold, and perhaps unpopular, recommendations.

"Many have expressed concern that the pool of available bishops has been limited too narrowly to those priests who have held positions at the Vatican, in seminaries and within the diocesan hierarchy," the report says. "The process needs greater lay involvement, both in putting forth the names of priests who might be considered for the episcopacy and in vetting those who have been put forward, to ensure that a wide net is cast when selecting bishops."

The report says that some bishops had little experience as parish pastors and therefore may have lacked the ability to understand and relate to the problems and concerns of the laity. Others relied on a management mind-set rather than a pastoral mind-set and thus allowed the administrative demands of their dioceses to pre-empt the human demands of their parishioners.

The movement of bishops from one diocese to another hindered the institutional memory within a diocese, especially with respect to individual priests, the report says. "A new bishop often received little or no information from the prior bishop or his staff about problem priests. Individuals who would have known the identity of these priests (for example, the vicar general) frequently had moved on to new positions."

The report is especially critical of what it calls the "donít-rock-the-boat" attitude among the bishops. "Outspoken priests rarely were selected to be bishops, and the outspoken bishops rarely were selected as archbishops and cardinals. The predictable result was that priests and bishops did not speak out when that is exactly what the situation demanded. Many witnesses believe that the crisis had made manifest a need to open up the type of priests who are chosen as bishops by the Holy See and to reduce the movement of bishops from diocese to diocese to ensure that the bishops develop and maintains strong ties to the local clergy and laity."

The priests and laity interviewed by the board believe that greater lay consultation in the selection of bishops and others aspects of Church governance is required to avoid these problems in the future. "Greater involvement of the laity in Church governance might well have lessened both the extent of the current crisis and the magnitude of the laityís negative response to it," the report says. "In addition, greater involvement by the laity in the selection of bishops could help to ensure that future bishops are pastors, prophets and men of honor and not mere management functionaries."

The report carries no binding authority. As most Church observers can attest, the Vaticanís traditional method of selecting episcopal candidates will be slow to change, if it changes at all. But at least the subject has received a lay perspective with the hope that history will not repeat itself.ó M.F.F.


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