Dallas Diary
In Town with the Bishops

By Rod Dreher
National Review Online
June 13, 2002

It's hot here. Purgatorial, even. That's strictly a meteorological statement, by the way.

Nobody on the sizzling streets of downtown Dallas could have been sweating as much as the four cardinals (all eight were invited) who sat down yesterday for an emotional afternoon meeting with about two dozen victims of priest sex abuse, and their families.

Cardinals McCarrick (Washington), Bevilacqua (Philadelphia), Mahony (Los Angeles) and Keeler (Baltimore) were joined by the bishops who sit on the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops' ad hoc committee on sex abuse. Among those telling their stories to the bishops were Horace and Janet Patterson, whose son Eric was one of four suicides linked to the same molesting priest, and who spoke of their experiences to NRO last month.

David Clohessy and Peter Isely, two leaders in SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), a national organization for survivors of clergy sex abuse, left the meeting early to brief reporters. They were left confused and mostly unhappy by what was taking place upstairs at the Fairmont Hotel.

"We brought our stories; they brought their lawyer," fumed Isely.

He explained that the group was just told by bishops' lawyer Mark Chopko that they would not be allowed to address the full meeting of bishops after all, even though SNAP withdrew from the lawsuit against the bishops that USCCB president Wilton Gregory cited as reason to disinvite the group. Isely quoted Chopko as saying the withdrawal of the invitation still stands, and has nothing to do with legal matters.

"We've earned our right to speak to the bishops," Clohessy said.

The two men characterized the meeting as one in which the bishops wanted to talk about abusive priests, but the victims wanted to discuss the bishops who enabled and covered up for them. Isely said the victims' groups told the bishops at the meeting that they wanted "accountability," which he explained meant that any bishop or cardinal who has kept an abusive priest on the job should resign.

If the Dallas Morning News is to be believed, that would account for two-thirds of the American bishops. Nevertheless, that radical policy has been endorsed on the Dallas paper's op-ed page by Catholic conservatives William Bennett, and former National Review publisher Wick Allison. Allison went even further, calling on even the innocent bishops to resign — this, as the only way credibility in the Church's leadership can be restored.

"The best way you could live up to your ancient legacy at this moment is to surrender it," Allison wrote. "For the innocent among you, it would be a sacrifice — only the innocent can make a sacrifice — that would resound as much in this generation as the Apostles' sacrifices did in theirs."

When it was pointed out to Isely and Clohessy that only the pope can remove bishops, the men responded that the bishops could remove themselves.

Clohessy said that there were "a few apologies" from bishops at the end of the meeting, which was the first time in nine years of existence that SNAP was allowed to speak to members of the episcopate. He said that, "We stressed to them that the time had long passed when Catholic lay people and victims walk away satisfied with only words."

As if to underline the insufficiency of words absent deeds, SNAP founder Barbara Blaine, at an earlier press conference, read a series of conciliatory statements made by bishops, who denounced sexual abuse by priests, and promised to clean up the mess. When she finished, she revealed the statements had all been made in 1992.

Yet Blaine and other victims and victims' advocates who had been in the closed-door meeting emerged with a more favorable view of the proceedings than Clohessy and Isely (who admitted that things well could have turned around after they left). Blaine thanked the cardinals and the bishops for their "openness," and the possibility that SNAP would be allowed to address the entire bishops' gathering seemed open again.

However, victim Mark Serrano caused visible discomfort for some bishops and cardinals at the post-meeting press conference when he spoke in graphic detail about what had been done to him as a boy. The look on Cardinal Bevilacqua's face when he heard the words "forced masturbation" could have curdled milk.

"I believe there are bishops and cardinals coming to Dallas this week hoping that this will be the end," Serrano told reporters. "This is not the end."

* Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston flew in by private plane yesterday, a charter donated by an unidentified supporter. He was moved through the media scrum surrounded by a phalanx of Dallas police officers. The Fairmont Hotel, site of the conference, is closed to the public and unaccredited media. The media presence here is overwhelming, as intense as a presidential appearance or political convention. Given the USCCB's paranoid level of security, you'd think George W. Bush was inside reading passages from The Satanic Verses as a Southern Baptist fundraiser to buy Bibles to send to Mecca.

* The bishops will actually get down to business today, discussing the draft proposal for a new sex-abuse policy. Word is they're going to toughen it, and toss the widely-criticized "one free pass" provision for past offenders. There is real fear, though, that Rome will reject whatever they send as too rigid. "If the Vatican turns it down, that'll be a catastrophe, a complete disaster," said one worried Church insider.

* While the bishops meet, the USCCB is staging briefings for the media on various aspects of the abuse scandal. One of them will address the psychiatric aspects of sexual abuse. It promises to be an unintentional example of why the bishops do not get it. Why? Here are the panelists:

1. The Rev. Canice Connors, past president of two treatment centers for abusive priests. Fr. Connors, who once ran the St. Luke Institute in Maryland, is known for his 1995 "spiritual assessment" of the notorious pedophile Fr. John Geoghan, in which he wrote, "there are no particular recommendations concerning his spiritual life since he is involved in spiritual direction and seems to have a good prayer life."

2. The Rev. Stephen Rossetti, current president of St. Luke's, who is believed by some psychiatrists associated with the Catholic Medical Association to have been a big part of the problem, owing to the advice he's been giving bishops. Rossetti has most recently been downplaying the role homosexuality plays in the scandal.

3. Dr. Fred Berlin, a Johns Hopkins sex researcher. Berlin, too, has tried to shift the discussion away from the fact that the overwhelming majority of these abuse cases involve priests and teenage males. He has said that there is no more proof that gay men are more of a threat to boys than straight men are to girls.

One wonders why the bishops refused the offer of the Catholic Medical Association, a group whose number includes faithful Catholic psychiatrists who actually believe what the Church teaches, to offer their expertise at this meeting. Actually, given the lavender mafia's power, one does not wonder for long. Here's a recent open letter from one of the CMA's leaders, to the bishops, saying that same-sex attraction in the priesthood is at the heart of this scandal. The bishops don't want to hear it.

And neither do the media. I'm hearing from inside press circles that reporters, editors and producers don't want to look at the gay issue. Michael S. Rose, author of Goodbye, Good Men, is in Dallas. I spoke yesterday to a TV reporter who wants to interview Rose about his findings, but who received word from the top to stay away from him. I can't prove it, but from the anecdotes I'm hearing, the need to avoid the "elephant in the sacristy," in Mary Eberstadt's memorable phrase, is perhaps the only point on which the bishops and the media agree.


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