Do the Right Thing

National Catholic Reporter
July 24, 2003

(Editor's Note: Following is the lead editorial from in the Aug. 1 print edition of the National Catholic Reporter.)

Bishops John McCormack, Manchester, N.H.; Thomas Daily, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Robert Banks, Green Bay, Wis.; William Murphy, Rockville Centre, N.Y.; and Archbishop Alfred Hughes, New Orleans, should resign.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly's 76-page report on the Boston archdiocese's handling of priestly sexual abuse places blame for the crisis in the Boston church squarely where it belongs: with the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law, his predecessors, and the auxiliary bishops responsible for day to day management of the archdiocese.

"The mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable," says Reilly's report. "For decades cardinals, bishops and others in positions of authority within the archdiocese chose to protect the image and reputation of their institution rather than the safety and well-being of children."

No one will go to jail as a result of Reilly's 16-month investigation, though his report is scathing. The laws on the books at the time make it impossible to seek indictments, Reilly said.

The aforementioned bishops auxiliaries under Law, whose careers benefited from his patronage stand accused of stymieing criminal investigations, shuffling known predators to child-rich environments, demonstrating undue respect for the rights of molesters over the kids they abused, failing to inform parishes of the predators in their midst, transferring abusers out of Boston, and accepting non-Boston abusive priests into the archdiocese.

Somehow, it never occurred to these men that child rape is a crime that should be reported to the police, whether or not members of the clergy were "mandatory reporters" under the law. That loophole became a noose for the 1,000-plus children abused by Boston priests.

Any other institution in this society government, business, nonprofit would rightly show these men the door. Enron was a catastrophe, but Ken Lay is now unemployed; Howell Raines no longer edits The New York Times. It's called accountability.

At their June 2002 meeting in Dallas, and their subsequent Washington gathering in November of that year, the U.S. bishops took a number of positive and necessary steps. A national board to investigate the causes of the crisis was established, programs were put into place to protect children, and procedures were promulgated to remove known abusers from the priesthood.

But incomprehensibly the bishops, both individually and collectively, remain loath to take responsibility for their own managerial and pastoral malpractice. Instead, they maintain to the utter disbelief of Catholics throughout the nation, that blame lies solely with the "small percentage" of priests who abused children. And to the degree culpability goes up the chain of command, they tell us, bishops made mistakes of the heart, attending generously to the needs and hurts of their brother priests.


The attorney general's report puts the lie to this weak defense: "Any claim by the cardinal or the archdiocese's senior managers that they did not know about the abuse suffered by, or the continuing threat to, children in the archdiocese is simply not credible."

To regain credibility, leaders of the church must accept responsibility for their actions. As the good sisters in grade school taught us: Actions have consequences. Or at least they should.

In the spirit of "fraternal correction," their brother bishops should call upon McCormack, Daily, Banks, Murphy and Hughes to retire. And each bishop in the country should examine his own conscience to determine whether he is similarly culpable and, if so, should take appropriate steps.

Only by taking personal accountability for their egregious failures will the bishops, individually and collectively, begin to restore their lost credibility and become worthy pastoral leaders.


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