One Bishop Doing What Church Should

By Steve Gushee
Palm Beach Post [United States]
February 17, 2006

Money was never going to buy redemption for the Roman Catholic Church in its sex scandal. Money doesn't heal.

When the church takes responsibility for abusive priests, acknowledges attempts to cover up crimes, embraces victims with compassion and begins to work for prevention, healing begins. To his great credit, one bishop has done that. More may follow.

Bishop William Skylstad of the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., recently announced a settlement with 75 people who claimed priests sexually abused them.

The diocese paid them $46 million. Money is a way to keep score in our society and is an inevitable part of many settlements, but it will not mend relationships, restore trust or plant seeds of hope.

The church forgot that in its frightened attempt to deny culpability, shelter abusive priests and discredit victims. Church leaders reluctantly and with hard hearts paid millions of dollars to victims. Three dioceses have declared bankruptcy due in part to the scandal. They are Skylstad's diocese, the dioceses of Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz.

The church forgot its fundamental theology of forgiveness. Genuine repentance, contrition, humility and an intention to amend precede forgiveness and new life. Instead, the church fought sexual abuse charges with the tools of the world — legal maneuvers, denial, delay and payoffs — and lost the respect of thousands of the faithful and much of the world.

Bishop Skylstad, who is also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has begun to correct that. Mostly, it's a matter of attitude just as the church's confessional theology says it is.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described it clearly in a recent New York Times article.

Skylstad will lobby lawmakers to abolish statues of limitations on child sex crimes. He will go to every parish in his diocese where abuse occurred to admit that abusive priests ministered there and encourage parishioners to report any suspicions of abuse.

His diocesan newspaper will print the stories of abused victims and dedicate a full page of each edition to the subject for the next three years.

None of these actions are particularly remarkable except that the church would not do them until now.

Thanks to Bishop Skylstad, the church is learning its own lessons.


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