Our View: Healing Required of New Bishops' Leader
Opinion Page

Duluth News Tribune [United States]
Downloaded November 19, 2004

Perhaps the nation has reached something of a milestone in racial progress when in a single day, two Americans bid adieu to high-profile positions in which they each had been the first black to hold the job. As with Colin Powell, Bishop Wilton Gregory's now-completed three-year tenure as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke of an achievement barely imaginable among blacks a century ago and inspiring to them today.

Yet the two men share far more than race, both having been thrust into positions of leadership but buffeted by events that greeted them there. Like Powell's albatross of Iraq, Gregory suffered from the weight of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that exploded just after he took the job and became the single most important issue for the bishops' group.

Although Gregory and his fellow bishops removed hundreds of priests from service and agreed to millions of dollars in settlements with victims, no bishop was held criminally responsible for shuffling molester clergy from parish to parish despite knowledge of abuse, in many cases, for decades.

Gregory's successor as president, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., should be more than aware of the issue, having declared bankruptcy in his own diocese in the face of lingering lawsuits -- including those involving former priest Patrick O'Donnell Jr., who has admitted molesting 30 boys dating back to the 1970s. Though the two clerics shared a rectory residence then, Skylstad has denied knowledge of O'Donnell's actions.

Whatever Skylstad remembers from 30 years ago, let's hope he can help return the church to its mission of good works and out of the depravity that has secretly haunted it for generations.

As for Gregory, the bishop of Belleville, Ill., returns to full-time diocesan work with an apology for any mistakes he made as leader of the U.S. church. David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests told the News Tribune he accepts those words, but adds, "Apologies don't make kids safer. No one man can fix this."

Indeed, that is a challenge for entire church.


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