|Our View: for Lent, Giving up Sweeping Generalizations, Blanket Indictments
March 7, 2009
It's not exactly what you'd call a separation of church and Star, but by and large this opinion page steers clear of pronouncements from the pulpit. Preachers do their thing. We do ours.
Sometimes we break with that policy - when a religious leader says something so outrageous we simply cannot resist the temptation to respond, when a statement should not stand without challenge on the chance those who hear it might believe it's true when it's not, when we get dragged into a conversation or conflict we did not start.
Recently Peoria Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky communicated with his parishioners about the "immense societal issue of sexual misconduct with minors," while defending his response to such allegations towards Diocesan priests of the past and reaffirming his belief that "the programs of our Church now provide the safest possible environment in America for your children."
He went on to reassure his flock that "I will work to be a prudent steward of the money you offer for the work of Christ," as he should be. He reminded those in the pews "that the sexual abuse of minors cuts across all socio-economic lines, ethnicities, ministries, and religions," and so, sadly, it does.
But then Bishop Jenky dropped his bombshell: "Amid all the tensions of our nation's culture wars and in the face of the media's intense hatred for our Catholic Faith, I am increasingly concerned that our Church in effect no longer enjoys equal justice under the law."
Wow, talk about your sweeping generalizations, your blanket indictments.
We appreciate that the bishop may be frustrated with a ruling from Illinois' Third District Appellate Court that those who have filed lawsuits against the Diocese alleging they were abused by priests long ago should get their day in court. We understand he may feel hurt by the "choreographed demonstrations or the abuse that is sometimes personally directed against me."
But the entire U.S. judicial system - including the two Peoria County judges who initially ruled in the Diocese's favor, and the one dissenting appellate judge - is out to get the Roman Catholic Church? Every newspaper, magazine, Internet blogger, television and radio station - and all those of the Catholic faith they employ - are, too?
In a bit of a departure from past practice, Bishop Jenky and Diocesan chancellor and attorney Patricia Gibson did respond to e-mailed questions. The comments were primarily directed at "Hollywood movies and the late night comedy and talk shows" and their "almost relentless ridicule" of the church, they clarified. The letter to parishioners "was not intended to depict a 'national media vs. Catholics' or 'court system vs. Catholics' battle." The bishop "was merely highlighting the different treatment received by public and private entities under Illinois law ... It does seem unfair when government exempts themselves from lawsuits of this kind while these same lawsuits can bankrupt their private counterparts."
The bishop "does not believe that the Church is above criticism" or that it "is off limits to the courts outside of constitutional restrictions," but it "has a right to be treated fairly." The press, while it "has a legitimate function," focuses too much on negative news while ignoring "all the good that is done on a daily basis" by the likes of religious and other private hospitals, schools, charities. His missive was only intended for the eyes and ears of Catholics upon whose charity the church relies, though he is "surprised and deeply touched by the outpouring of support" he's received from all over.
Fair enough. We'd say this:
For the record, allow us to assure Bishop Jenky that the Journal Star does not hate, intensely or otherwise, the Catholic Church or its spiritual leader in Peoria. In fact, though Bishop Jenky has been stationed here seven years, we barely know him, especially compared to his predecessors. Why, we've been around long enough to remember the late Bishop Edward O'Rourke, who was known to pick up the phone himself at the Diocesan office, even in the most heated of moments. Arguably, it was the best PR of all.
We'd tell the bishop the same thing we'd tell any leader of any prominent institution: Never assume that someone else will tell your side of the story if you choose not to. Do not mistake disagreement for derision.
Beyond that, Peoria's bishop is a public figure whose words have weight beyond the walls of St. Mary's Cathedral. Certainly the Catholic Church tries to influence public policy, on issues that affect Catholics and non-Catholics alike. As such, public scrutiny comes with the territory. To suggest Catholic priests have been singled out would no doubt come as a surprise to many a Muslim cleric, rabbi, Mormon leader or TV evangelist. The nation's single largest religious denomination does not quite qualify for oppressed minority status. Bishop Jenky, a former University of Notre Dame football chaplain, should appreciate as well as anyone that the Fighting Irish don't land on the nation's sports pages just when they win.
It's Lent, that 40-day Christian tradition of prayer, penitence and self-denial leading up to Easter.
And so we pray for improved relations between our secular and religious institutions, while recognizing that, on occasion, they will part ways - respectfully, we'd hope. That's just the price of playing in America. We confess to not always living up to the standards we profess. Alas, we are unforgivably human.
But even at the risk of denying ourselves the bishop's blessing, one thing we will not give up is doing our jobs, attempting to get the multiple sides of any given story, the positive and, when warranted, the not-so. We'll try to be fair. We'd expect nothing less of the courts, or of Bishop Jenky.
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