Memo to Bishop Choby: Ditch the Diocesan Denial

By Liz Garrigan
Nashville Scene
February 1, 2006

Congratulations, Father David Choby, on your recent installment as bishop of the Diocese of Nashville. You are now in a unique position to sway the hearts and minds of Middle Tennessee Catholics, not to mention the considerable number of non-Catholics closely watching to see what you'll do—and we should hasten to add that you'd be a fool in a robe not to make this your first task.

As far as we know, and as far as your goodwill-pillaging mouthpiece reports, there are no contemporaneous cases—or even credible allegations—of priest sex abuse reported to the Nashville Diocese. But as you are well aware, amid the global Catholic embarrassment of sex crimes against children and the subsequent and systematic cover-ups by priests, bishops and other trusted clergy, Nashville wasn't spared. Some of your clerical predecessors, if not your most recent one, were contemptible figures in this regard. In the meantime, you personally know some of these local victims, as do we, and even where their rapes, or attempted rapes, happened. Father Ryan High School. Camp Marymount. The Cathedral Rectory.

The Diocese has yet to get right the treatment of these folks. It has employed mafia-like defense mechanisms, high-powered legal maneuvering and Clintonian language splicing to belittle, deflect and minimize the pain of these victims—all the while claiming to offer them help. In the meantime, Catholics across the city, this editor included, have watched in utter disbelief, shaking our heads not only at the arrogance of the Diocese's actions and responses but also at the chronic and stupefying mishandling of your public relations efforts.

Most recently, if not most importantly, the Diocese refused victim Mike Coode access to Father Ryan High School yearbooks he'd sought so that he could obtain a picture of himself from the time of his abuse and possibly help identify and locate others who may be suffering in silence ("Father Ryan's Yearbook Access," Jan. 12). Your PR goon told the Scene Coode had been rude, when in fact Father Ryan staff say quite the opposite. You say the "privacy policy"—which, by the way, the Scene quickly learned is selective—is in place to protect students. It's a few decades too late for Coode on that count. Letting him look at an old annual really should be the least of your concerns.

The Diocese has a long history in Nashville. Your schools and parishes have produced many of the city's civic leaders, volunteers and philanthropists. The city is better, kinder and more tolerant because of the people enriched by your teachings—judges, priests, journalists, teachers and firefighters. And while many of them may not say it to your face, a good number of them are appalled and embarrassed, they think the Diocese is in denial, and they're looking for a redeemer.

Take or leave the advice of a scrappy alternative weekly that has more than once gone to battle with your suits on 21st Avenue, who have consistently challenged and tried to obstruct our information gathering. But for you, a guy who could use a Hail Mary, here it is anyway: strive for honesty and transparency, which is both the first step toward redemption and totally counterintuitive to the insular, patrician culture of the Diocese. Sell your predecessors down the river, break ranks with their memory and what they stand for. And for God's sake listen to the people you've produced.


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