Duplicity over Accountability
Catholic Church's Structure Encourages Arrogant Response to Its Scandals

By Joseph D'Hippolito
Orange County Register [California]
February 18, 2004

In the wake of the Roman Catholic Church's sex-abuse crisis, Bishop Tod Brown nailed his "Covenant With The Faithful" to the door of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange last month. But who makes sure Brown keeps that covenant?

In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony raises duplicity to artistic heights. In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in disgrace after losing all credibility by failing to stop the secret transfers of clerical predators and confront the ensuing public anger forthrightly.

Law, Mahony and Brown illustrate a fundamental problem in the church: a governing structure that contains no effective mechanisms to hold bishops accountable.

It discourages transparency, isolates bishops and encourages institutional arrogance.

Corona del Mar's Joelle Casteix knows firsthand. Casteix, who is suing the diocese over sexual abuse she allegedly suffered while attending Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, belonged to a diocesan oversight committee that handles abuse complaints.

But after serving for six months, Casteix resigned in December 2002.

"There was open discussion about how to make sure documents did not get into the hands of [the District Attorney's Office] and plaintiff's lawyers," Casteix told The New York Times last year. "There was active discussion about the statute of limitations because they did not want any more victims coming forward and suing."

Casteix resigned after the Orange diocese, through the Diocese of San Bernardino, asked her to write that she had forgiven the church in a letter to the San Bernardino diocese's newspaper. When Casteix refused, she said, an official from the Orange diocese said he would write the letter for her.

"I hadn't forgiven the church," Casteix told OC Weekly. "They just wanted to use me as a public-relations beard to cover up what was actually going on."

Ironically, the Orange diocese received praise for its reforms from a national audit initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and released in January.

But the independent agency conducting the audit interviewed only three abuse victims - none from Orange County.

Moreover, those reforms - the committee, a victims' advocate and a toll-free telephone number for victims to report abuse - were mandated by civil court as part of a $5.2 million settlement to Ryan DiMaria, who alleged that he was abused by a former Mater Dei principal, Monsignor Michael Harris.

The lack of episcopal accountability even reaches Rome, as authors Jason Berry and Gerald Renner discuss in "Vows Of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II," to be published in March.

Berry and Renner maintain that the founder of a religious order called the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, receives protection from the Vatican's highest echelons despite being accused of molesting seminarians.

Stephen Brady agrees.

Founder of the conservative lay group Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), Brady forced Bishop Daniel Ryan of Springfield, Ill., to resign in 1999 when faced with charges of molesting boys and soliciting male prostitutes.

Brady succeeded despite the fact that Vatican officials - including the former diplomatic representative to Washington - refused to act when presented with RCF's evidence.

"In my opinion, to not publicly protest and denounce the current Vatican leadership is unacceptable and immoral," Brady writes in the most recent RCF magazine.

"They have left known rapists in power to save embarrassment, thereby enabling them to continue to rape and destroy, all in the name of respect for higher office."

In the 13th century, English barons forced an imperious King John to sign the Magna Carta.

In the 18th century, former American colonists established a Constitution and a Bill of Rights after successfully rebelling against a distant, arrogant monarchy.

When will Catholics around the world demand to join the 13th century, let alone the 18th?