Catholic Church Must Work Hard to Regain Credibility
Re: "leader of U.S. Bishops Pledges to Stop to Sex Abuse by Clerics," Feb.28

Sarasota Herald-Tribune [Sarasota FL]
Downloaded March 14, 2004

Solomonic indeed, in your Associated Press dispatch, is the quotation attributed to the top U.S. Catholic Bishop, Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., after the release of the unprecedented study of sexual abuse in the church: "We have nothing to fear from the truth or from the past if we learn from the past."

Somehow, though, the early warnings, Cassandra-like, went unheeded or were distorted. In the early 1980s, Father Thomas P. Doyle, a canonist (church lawyer) in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, was disturbed by accumulating evidence of such abuse and sought to involve the nation's bishops. As with other whistleblowers, he came to find himself an outsider, reduced to serving today as a U.S. Air Force chaplain and aiding groups of victims of church abuse to receive assistance.

In the 1980s even the Vatican failed to comprehend the enormity of the problem, for its concentration was on the ugly specter of dissent. Thus, in 1986, Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen was ousted from his Seattle see for his alleged liberalism. In that year, too, Father Charles E. Curran was being drummed out of his teaching position at the Catholic University in Washington for having raised questions about some sexual issues.

This, though, is a new millennium when the voice of the laity is beginning to be heard. Now, after Boston and Dallas, there have been the National Review Board, the John Jay Report, some awareness of leadership's accountability, a new listening, acknowledgment of mistakes -- and the need to learn from the past. Amazed, journalist Jason Berry, who pioneered in this study 20 years ago, finds it almost unbelievable: "Lay Catholics have been charged with conducting an investigation into the sex abuse scandal." Perhaps, ironically, nothing less than the incredible is now needed to restore lost credibility.

E. Leo McMannus



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