Bishop Wars Hit O.C. with Cleric Defying Local Clergy to Talk about Sex Abuse
Talk Is Tonight at Costa Mesa Neighborhood Center

By Vik Jolly
Orange County Register
June 11, 2008

A retired Australian bishop promoting his new book about the clergy sex abuse scandal will speak in Costa Mesa tonight, despite calls by several American bishops, including Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange, asking him to cancel his monthlong tour of the United States.

"The scandal obviously has been tragic," said Steven J. Dzida, chairman of the Orange County affiliate of the Voice of the Faithful, a group of mainstream Catholics working for change in the church structure and policy, which is co-sponsoring the gatherings at which the Most Rev. Geoffrey Robinson is speaking.

Bishop Robinson

"We think Bishop Brown has taken steps to address the problems of the sexual abuse scandal, but we think that Bishop Robinson's ideas on the broader impact of the scandal are very worthy of discussion by the wider church," Dzida said.

When the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Center, which seats about 100, was booked for the event earlier this year, Dzida said he did not anticipate his group would need more room.

Audiences at other locations around the country have ranged from 150 to 500. Dzida said he was surprised by the American bishops' extraordinary step of asking Robinson not to appear but doesn't know if news about that has fueled more of an interest in people turning out.

"Is this the way American bishops respond to Pope Benedict's call to do everything possible to heal the Church?" Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, asks on the group's Web site. "Why is a loyal Catholic bishop prevented from asking honest questions in his search for the truth in the aftermath of the worst scandal in the modern Church?"

In 1994, Robinson was put in charge of a task force to develop guidelines for dealing with clerical sex abuse cases, according to the group.

Robinson had written a courtesy note to American bishops whose diocesan area he was planning to speak at about his book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus."

Bishop Brown has not read the book. His letter urging Robinson not to speak in Orange County was more an action of unity with other bishops who also did the same, including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, a spokesman said.

"I don't think that Bishop Brown's letter is necessarily a comment per se on (Robinson's) message, it's mostly about being in unity with other bishops," said Ryan Lilyengren of the Diocese of Orange. "We do have a copy here, and we're planning on looking at it."

In his letter dated May 16, Brown says, "I am usually quite pleased to welcome a brother bishop to speak in our diocese, but there are serious reasons why I am unable to do so at this time."

Brown cites four reasons, including the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference notice of concern about the book and canon 763, which he says requires the "Diocesan Bishop to safeguard the preaching of God's Word and the teachings of the Church in his own Diocese."

Lilyengren said Robinson has not responded to Brown's note. No Catholic Church canon law prevents Robinson from speaking, Lilyengren said.

"It's really up to Bishop Robinson whether he wants to speak or not. We're not going to do anything. He's not going to be censored for speaking," he said.

Bishop Robinson argues in his book that the sex abuse scandal forces all Catholics to re-examine the fundamental issues that permitted the abuse to take place, including attitudes toward power and sexuality, according to the Voice of the Faithful Web site.

In a May 9 letter to Robinson, Cardinal Mahony writes that he has learned that the book "is being investigated by the Australian Bishops' Conference because of concerns about doctrinal errors and other statements in the book contrary to Church teaching."

Robinson could not be reached for comment.

But on the Voice of the Faithful Web site he notes, "In their statement, the bishops appear to be saying that, in seeking to respond to abuse, we may investigate all other factors contributing to abuse, but we may not ask questions concerning ways in which teachings, laws, and attitudes concerning power and sex within the church may have contributed.

"This imposes impossible restrictions on any serious and objective study, and it is where I have broken from the Bishops' Conference. We must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads," he writes.

The 320-page book, released in April, has sold 4,300 copies of the 6,000 already in print in the states.

"Book sales have gone faster than we expected in two months into publication," said Joseph Riley of publisher Liturgical Press.


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