Review Board Must Take on Cardinals

By Andrew Greeley
Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]
May 21, 2004

Occasionally, just occasionally, I agree with the suspicion of American Catholic bishops that they don't get fair media coverage. Thus His Lordship of Colorado Springs announces that those who vote for a candidate who supports abortion may not receive the sacraments, and it's big news. But when two cardinals and an archbishop (Mahoney, McCarrick, Pilarczyk) say or imply that they do not believe the eucharist should be used in political campaigns, the media hardly notice.

I don't know whom the Catholics in Colorado Springs are supposed to vote for. The Republican platform in the last presidential election also supported abortion in some circumstances. However, it would be interesting to know how many votes will be affected by the bishop's "excommunication." Catholics in the United States have a long history of rejecting clerical intervention in politics.

Nonetheless, the fringe of the hierarchy has been misbehaving. The bishop of Camden informs the governor of New Jersey that, should he show up at the bishop's installation, the bishop will deny him the eucharist. Only problem is that there had been no indication the governor would show up. The bishop of Brooklyn tells state legislators that same-sex marriage would be like marrying an animal pet. The archbishop of the military sacks without due process the Rev. Tom Doyle, who was one of the first to warn of the pedophile problem. The archbishop of Boston engages in a Holy Thursday diatribe about baby boomers, instead of offering to wash their feet.

Where did these guys come from? Never in my wildest moments could I come up with these high jinks for one of my stories. They're not typical, I hasten to add, but they're out there just the same, making the church look terrible.

More seriously, the stylus curiae -- which means the style of the curia but also in a classic pun means the dagger of the curia -- tried to do in the National Review Board, which is supposed to verify the hierarchy's compliance with the protocols for the protection of children. Cardinals Egan and Rigali -- who spent most of their priestly lives in the curia -- stuck the dagger into the board by preventing its second-year review of compliance. The review wasn't exactly canceled; it was "delayed" long enough so it wouldn't be done -- a characteristic curial trick. Moreover, the death blow was delivered before the board even knew it was under attack. It was a slick job, not untypical of the curia. The two cardinals proved themselves successful conspirators, apparently unconcerned that their plot would re-create all the doubts about how serious the hierarchy is about protecting children.

Why do it? To reassert their authority. Apparently, like the high- jinks hierarchs, they think the way to recapture their credibility in the wake of the sex abuse scandal is to act like tough, nasty authoritarians. Instead of humility and openness and transparency (of which ex-curialists are incapable), they pretend that they are renaissance princes.

Fed up with the endless hassle -- and the mean, nasty letters they routinely receive from the fringe -- four of the members of the National Review Board are resigning in July. If the compliance review is not somehow salvaged, others will probably quit, too. The curialists will be delighted. Then they can appoint a new board that will do their bidding, like good Catholic laity should. Credibility? Who needs credibility when you have a red hat Such an outcome would be intolerable. I have seen evidence that abusive priests are still in rectories. Many bishops have done their best -- most, perhaps -- but others have not. If the review board mechanism fails, there will be no guarantee that children will be safe in Catholic environments. The last two years' efforts at credibility will have been wasted. I demand that those who have resigned -- Anne Burke, Robert Bennett, Leon Panetta and William Burleigh -- withdraw their resignations and take on the red hats in public. The issue -- responsible Catholic leadership -- is too important to be sidetracked by ingenious little plots cooked up, if not exactly in the Vatican Gardens, in some similar place in the United States.