The pope and the bishops

In_humility "Four years ago, the National Review Board of laity, established by the American church to investigate the scandal, declared that “there must be consequences” for the bishops, not just for the more than 700 pedophile priests hurriedly dismissed after the scandal broke in the secular press. Some board members called for dismissal for prelates who instead of protecting children protected the abusers, denying the crimes and moving the abusers on to another parish. There has been no diocesan resolve to lay bare the hierarchy’s guilt.

The review board also found the Vatican’s response ineffective, which underlines Benedict’s opportunity to confront his bishops. There is a lot on the papal agenda, from immigration to world poverty. But the American church remains deeply wounded. By the church’s accounting, more than 4,000 priests, or 4 percent, across two generations, were reported to have committed abuse. Five dioceses have gone bankrupt as payouts to victims total $2.4 billion and counting. "  NY Times


It is surprising that the New York Times should have something this interesting to say about religion.   

I find it difficult to summon up much enthusiam for the pope’s visit to the US in the context of the unfinished business of the clerical abuse of children.  It does not seem that "the Church" yet comprehends how badly renegade priests wounded the "Body of Christ" in this country.  In that context It is not edifying to witness the spectacle of an army of bishops processing in vestments so splendid that they can only be a reinforcement for the vanity of men who should be humbled.  This is a group of men who have failed in their duty, and the pope refers to them as his "brother bishops?"

As an example of their failure, the Catholic Church’s system of parish schools has been a mighty force for good in the United States.  The poor and the ignorant have found food for the mind and the soul in those schools.  Now the Church is forced to close schools across the country because of a shortage of funds.  Money is a fungible commodity.  There is only so much of it available for the various functions of the Church.  Money paid out in settlements for the crimes of churchmen is not available to be used for other things, like parish schools.

The bishops collectively are responsible for a failure in this pastoral responsibility and in so many others.  The bishops of the Catholic Church are quite autonomous in their territorial "rights."  They are also a kind of self-perpetuating "club," rather like generals and admirals.  They will do nothing to discipline each other.  It is the pope’s responsibility to do that.

Benedict the Sixteenth likes to think about liturgical details and the symbolism of the renewed use of old forms of vesting?  Maybe he ought to think about the opinion of all those people out there, the "people in the pews," or the people who used to be in the pews.  It is heart warming to hear Spanish used in his homily today, but the trend in the English speaking majority of Catholics in this country is to vote with their feet against the Catholic Church.

Maybe he ought to think about whether or not the hierarchy here is really going to do anything about that.  pl

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25 Responses to The pope and the bishops

  1. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    Thank you for the post. I watched part of the service in the Crypt Church at the Basilica and had some of the same thoughts while observing the bishops.
    I spent a lot time working with abused children and the idea that accountability had to be forced on the church by the legal system still grates.
    Even though you have done it unto the least of these . . .

  2. b says:

    Did you really expect better from this misbred German Shepherd?

  3. arbogast says:

    A celibate priesthood, whose origin was the rejection of sexuality in the Middle Ages, is as much a false relic as the bones of the saints found in Catholic Churches throughout Europe.
    On the other hand, the priesthood is filled with many, many, many fine, supremely intelligent and humane men.
    Celibacy is a cruel irony that a great Church should put behind it.
    If the Pope was not infallible before 1869, then priests may marry after 2008. It could be that simple.

  4. An as yet untold story is how the Catholic Church helped obstruct justice by keeping abusers from the criminal justice system until the mid-1980’s. One of the first indictments occurred in Arlington, VA in the 1980’s. The rest is history. Except history has not ended. Look at the raid on the polygamist center in Texas. What did they know and when did they know it? Great question for the heirarchy of various religious groups. Interesting, no IRS interest in the EXEMPT ORGS group on criminal activity by Exempt Orgs. Why not?

  5. Dave of Maryland says:

    Luther’s plea for married clergy was declined. As is often the case with the Church, the reason was not ecclesiastic, as claimed, but mundane. Let a bishop openly declare his (illegitimate) daughters & next thing he’ll do is marry them into another bishop’s family, thereby creating multi-generational ties.
    The Church didn’t need anyone to tell it that this kind of behavior, when carried out by kings & princes, had resulted in fractured kingdoms & endless petty wars. The Church did not want to suffer the same fate.
    This practically happened in Strasbourg, where several generations of Rohans passed the bishopric to their “nephews”, thus establishing a local power base. (Pity I never studied other cities as closely.)
    The basis of Luther’s complaint, of priests & nuns living in sin, was in fact an ideal solution so far as the Church itself was concerned. Illegitimate offspring were passed off to the local “orphanage”, there to be raised, in an extended family, by their very own mothers & fathers as well as the fathers & mothers (priests & nuns) of all the various other bastards. When they came of age, they were inducted into the Church as priests & nuns. Thereby supplying the Church with most, if not all, of its manpower needs. For better or worse, this is what Luther wrecked. The Church has not been the same since.
    The question now arises, if the Church could forgo sexual purity in favor of married priests – and nuns – without structural damage to itself. The examples of married Danish priests, married Lutheran clergy, as well as married Anglican vicars, can be cited, though I do not know if their organizational structures are compatible with the Church’s, or if the Church could adapt itself to one of them.
    Because the shortage of qualified priests is entirely a self-inflicted problem. The Holy Roman Catholic & Apostolic Church in America is, at this very moment, overrun with eager males seeking to become monks in one of the many expanding monasteries that now dot the land. For the most part, these men actually are celibate. Many would eagerly accept priestly duties. What is the problem? Almost to a man, they used to be married. Used to be married!!
    It really is hard finding sympathy for these bozos.

  6. DeLudendwarf says:

    “Celibacy is a cruel irony that a great Church should put behind it.”
    Any church. Priests, pastors, etc., are merely human and fallible.
    But preying upon males and females under the age of consent, is despicable, and should be punished, by the full force of the civil authorities’ criminal and civil law.
    Maybe all churches should admit all sorts of priests- preachers-Married, straight, gay, or whatever.
    And tell them not to prey on forbidden or vulnerable fruit. And to keep it all out of their church work.
    My thoughts.

  7. Matthew says:

    Let me give you another reason this practical Catholic is disappointed in Benedict. When Bush invaded Iraq, the Church opposed it. Now Vatican Diplomats claimm that the American presence is a “peace keeping mission,” and the Church no longer oppose the American presence.
    Sadly, this says alot about mixing religion and politics. You get politics.

  8. Montag says:

    I suppose it would seem impolitic for the Holy Father to take up a suggestion from that heathen Voltaire, who explained in Candide why the British executed Admiral Byng: “…but in this country it is a good thing to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.”
    I would go even farther and suggest the resurrection of that fine old Roman remedy for cowardly soldiers, “The Decimation.” At the very least it would allow for a great infusion of younger blood into Middle Management, which would no doubt work wonders to rejuvenate The Church.

  9. jlcg says:

    Yes, the money spent in making a church ceremony beautiful could be better spent on helping the poor. Do I recall someone remonstrating Jesus because a jar of expensive ointment had been poured on His hair? What was the name of that sensitive lover of the poor?

  10. Bobo says:

    I found it encouraging that the Pope would speak so directly to his flock regarding this issue, not once but many times. He seems to understand that there is still need for penance on this issue and that it will take generations for this scourge to pass.
    Comparing his speach last night to Petraeus & Crockers congressional appearance leaves Benedict more forthright.
    Yes, there still needs a further purging of Bishops but I believe the Parishoners, as always, will overcome this scar to make their church one where true reverence for its chosen Supreme Being will prevail.

  11. frank durkee says:

    Some historical observations on the handling of the abuse crisis by the RC’s. First the way it was dealt with, by shipping people around and keeping it under wraps and ‘within the fold’ was the common practice for sexual issues, both gay and hetero, by most denominations until the late’80’s more or less. In the episcoopal church it was a million dollar setttlement in about 1980 combined with the reaction of our church insurance agency that changed the game and altered the pattern of reaction by our hirearchy; not to speak of the tyoes of responses to offenders. The RC’s delayed doing that even as the news began to spill out. Second the failure of accountability is essentially universal with in the western christian community, noting schools for natives in canada, Australia, and other colonies, by Anglicans and others. the response was protective of the elite, the organization, and its reputation and less, if at all, for the victims. Third, sexuality, as it relates to clergy in all of its iterations is a very touch subject for all groups and failures just rais the ante more. so it all gets shoved under the rug, untill someone has the courage to expose it, take the heat, and keep going. Fourth, when accountability is to the top and not to the bottom, the system moves to protect the top and try and maintain control. Fifth, the attempt to ‘cure’ priests and then redeploy them, based on genuine pastoral concern had a mixed record to say the least. Last any organization such s the ‘churc’ in all its manifestations will have some “bodies buried out there some where”. Piety, PR, and desire not toincrease the ‘harm’ to the victims will tend to hold the organization hostage from a more courageous course. this is not an RC dilemna it is a dilemna for all churches.

  12. arbogast says:

    I recently visited the Abbey at Fontrevaud in France where, incidentally, Richard the Lionhearted and his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine are buried.
    The Abbey was for nuns primarily and was huge in the nineteenth century before it was seized and eventually turned into a prison after the Revolution.
    In one of the buildings there is a list of the chief Abbesses. It is a long list with nearly a hundred names. All the chief Abbesses were members of the nobility. All of them.
    It is no wonder that the Revolution attacked the Church. And it is no wonder that the Church retains its “Let them eat bread,” spirit to this day. Because, after all, that is what the Church typically said to victims of abuse before the courts brought the truth to light.
    Just like the Bush Administration, the hierarchy of the Church Administration is determined by who can lie the best.
    Dishonesty is King.

  13. I’m staying out of the abuse scandal stuff. I am from a mixed Melchite Catholic/American Protestant marriage and I was raised Protestant verging on secular so I don’t feel it’s my place to pass judgment on the Church. Let us only remember that clergy of other denominations have committed the same sin.
    Re: celibacy and the priesthood – in my father’s church, often termed the Melchite (Eastern Rite) Catholic church, priests can marry. They changed the rules in recent decades, under pressure from Pope John Paul II I heard, making it impossible for someone already a priest to marry. In that church, a married priest did not move up the ladder and become a bishop – he stayed a village priest. But what I see happening is that men who have been married for some time then become ordained priests, often in middle age.
    A childhood friend and neighbor from my father’s village was recently ordained a priest; he is in his 40s. The Melchite priest based in Southern California is also married, and was ordained later in life.
    I have not researched all the ins and outs of this but it seems like the Melchites have figured out how to have married priests without the world falling apart.
    The Melchite church is “associated” with Rome; it has its own patriarch and they consider him to be the equal of the Pope – a kind of brother bishop. But the Pope’s wishes and pressure hold ever greater sway. However the Melchites still go their own way; they are permitted by their own hierarchy to use birth control, for instance.
    Why the Church in Rome can’t take up some of the practices of its eastern, older sister church I do not know. The Melchites have been “test-driving” married priests for some time now, so the results can be examined.
    If I get any of the details wrong on this subject, I welcome correction. My beloved father was my source for info on these issues and I miss him sorely. (d. 2006)

  14. There have been defenders of the poor in the Church. I am thinking of the priests who followed Liberation Theology, for instance. I do not understand why they were so brutally suppressed.
    I also lived down the street from Dorothy Day house in New York for a couple of years in college, and my building was full of Catholic Workers who volunteered there, plus a Sister of Loreto. One time the sister held a party in her studio and brought leftovers from Dorothy Day House — all food donated to the poor by swanky caterers. We were eating leftover leftovers. Made me think of the story of the leprechaun who was forced to serve the servant of the servant’s servant to release his magic spell.
    The quiche was still really good.

  15. Adam Stilson says:

    What concerns me about the Church’s reaction to the abuse scandals is this: they were busted coving things up in America. They did the usual corporate half-assed apology coupled with promises to clean things up.
    But now that they know where is a problem, I have not seen them makes any serious effort to look under the rocks in OTHER PLACES (Europe, Africa, etc..) in order to show that they are really commited to fixing things.
    Maybe America is an especially perverted place. More likely, the will of the real Lord of the Earth – the Bell Curve – holds sway and the exact same things were happing all over the world. And they don’t care.
    Matthew 23:25
    25: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
    26: Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
    27: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
    28: Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
    How do those Bishops on display today reckon themselves to passages like these? We all have parts of Pharisee in us. BUT COME ON.

  16. jonst says:

    Dave of Maryland,
    What in the world does “Luther’s plea for married clergy was declined” have to do with adults who abuse children? And other adults who , at best, cover up and excuse, such abuse. Or, at worst, aid and abet, and in some cases, participate in, such abuse?

  17. I think I jumped in to the married priests debate too quickly, without contemplating the sequence of argument.
    I agree with jonst that preventing priests from marrying probably does not cause pedophilia. Many, many instances of child sex abuse occur by men who are married and fathers of their own children.
    Also, harassing homosexual men does not prevent pedophilia. See married pedophiles above.

  18. kao-hsien-chih says:

    One point that was noted in America magazine some years ago was that, due to varied technicalities–Eastern Rite Catholics allowing married priests (including a large number in Western Ukraine, not too far from John Paul’s own native Wadowice), exceptions for other denominations’ married clergy converting to Catholicism, etc–the number of married Catholic priests is a lot larger than ppl think–although it’s not quite that many in absolute terms. Perhaps it might be worthwhile to think that the whole celibacy thing is man-made and not God-made rule.

  19. Publius says:

    Sexual contact on the part of an adult male with a 13-14 year-old-male is not pedophilia. It is homosexual behavior. Consult any psychology text.
    The point regarding priests and marriage is well taken. There is a large body of literature addressing the sexual orientation of those attracted to the priesthood.
    Notwithstanding this, Col Lang is correct in his observation that American Catholics are voting with their feet WRT the Church. The Church has no defense in its handling of these scandals; many bishops should be in prison. Americans are smart enough to realize this and are therefore shunning the Church. Pity the Pope and his Church aren’t smart enough to grasp this.
    But then, what would one expect from an archaic institution run by and for the benefit of misogynistic old men? The Catholic Church is dying in the Western democracies.

  20. Dumassbros says:

    A close reading of Pope benedict XVI’s speech to the bishops shows that in many respects he deviated from some of the elements that are considered to make up part of a “good apology” His Holiness the Pope may not have meant some of it this way, but a) he is very precise in what he says and uses words very carefully, and, b) it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for a victim of clergy abuse to take pause at some of his language, for example:
    1. “… in America and elsewhere…” => this is something (regrettable) which happens everywhere (repeated further, see below)
    2. “… as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was “sometimes very badly handled”…” => the Pope did not say that clergy sexual abuse of minors had been handled badly, as reported by most news outlets. He said that he had been told that by the President of the Episcopal Conference…
    3. “… Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood…” => could be taken as minimizing or excusing the U.S. Catholic Church hierarchy’s slowness to acknowledge the problem and to act more forthrightly to prevent further occurrences…
    4. “… the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work…” => completely true, but again could be construed as the “few bad apples” defense (a la Abu Ghraib) .
    5. “… need to be placed in a wider context…” => having ‘apologized’ in the next breath the Pope appears to tie the abuse to the wider societal context, not so much as a ‘we also have this problem outside the clergy and need to do something there too’ argument, but more in the nature of ‘this wicked society is somewhat to blame.’ This suggested link is strengthened by further words, e.g. “… What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, & and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores….”
    6. “… you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society…” => repeat of the ‘this is something regrettable which happens everywhere’ meme (see first bullet above)
    Individually each of these could be put down to nit-picking. However in aggregate we have an ‘apology’ that a) distances the Pope from the issue – by saying “you”, “your”, etc. rather than “we”, “our”, etc. his words put the onus for this on the U.S. bishops, though they are all inseparable parts of the body of Christ, and b) seems to seek to minimize this in many regards (this happens everywhere, it’s a few bad apples, society is wicked, you need to do something). It’s great that the Pope has gone this far, but there still a way to go!

  21. jonst says:

    Just out of curiosity, Publius, why would I consult a
    “psychology text” to ascertain what is criminal act/conspiracy? My point, (and I may be failing to address your point, if so, sorry up front)is what does being married, or not being married have to do with a tendency towards criminal behavior? And in the end, is that not what we are speaking about here? Criminal behavior?

  22. michael palmer says:

    There will be no justice until every non-disclosure agreement is rendered null and void, and everything which was concealed is laid bare for all to see. The use of these agreements in exchange for therapy and settlements is unconscionable.

  23. Publius says:

    Jonst, I think maybe you did miss my point a little. “Pedophilia” is a specific legal/clinical term that doesn’t apply in the case of adults having carnal knowledge with children above a certain age. When it happens with teenagers, it may be unlawful carnal knowledge, but it isn’t pedophilia.
    In this context, one should think of the instances of male and female teachers having sexual contact with teenage students. These have been treated as criminal acts—with legal penalties coming into play—but not as “pedophilia.”
    The reason I think it’s important to differentiate is that pedophilia, e.g., sexual molestation of a three-year-old, carries a certain connotation as an unnatural and adhorrent act, whereas instances of adults having sex with teenagers, who’ve gained reasoning powers, is often driven by physical and emotional attachment.
    In other words, lust takes on different forms. I’m not excusing the priests by any means—I’ve supported all of the serious sanctions and wish that more had gone to jail rather than getting away with letting parishioners foot the bill—I’m just pointing out that there are differences in sexual offenses. In other words, the priests were probably just a bunch of horny dudes rather than being clinically sick.

  24. michael palmer says:

    I’m a clinician who has treated sexual abusers. Pedophilia refers to an attraction to pre-pubertal minors only. The appropriate diagnostic term for persons with sexual attraction to minors who are adolescent is ephebophilia.
    Many of the priests who abused youth were a part of an antiquated seminary system that put pubescent minors into the care of persons who had themselves begun religious life prior to completing puberty. Many of the celibate religious I’ve treated had quite stunted psychosexual development, resulting in “blind spots” that prevented their ability to fathom the potential impact their positions of power and authority might have on their victims.
    For what it is worth – whether pedo-or ephebophile – both are considered forms of sexual abuse and are illegal in all 50 states.

  25. dano says:

    I was bemused early this week when the mainstream media fell all over itself to publicize the pope’s arrival in the US to (ostensibly) meet with the president, and then to… what? Is it damage control around and about the child abuse scandals?
    This pope is more adept at spin control and media management than his predecessor ever was. (Perhaps this has something to do with the predecessor having some sort of charismatic hold over the media.) As Dumassbros points out, the messaging was highly nuanced, and subtleties in many phrases can be interpreted as deflecting responsibility from the Church and its hierarchy, i.e. a non-denial denial in which those responsible for continually enabling the abusers and covering up for them and attempting to cover up the scandal when it finally burst are somehow cleared from responsibility.
    But I don’t see the RC church as every coming to terms with its culpability. (Ironic comparisons to the sacrament of penance notwithstanding.)
    The first abuse case that became widely known was from the Boston area, where Bishop Law enabled the abusers and covered up the crimes. When Law’s bishopric became untenable, he was promoted and moved to Rome by the previous pope, JP2. When that pope was replaced by the current pope, this one promoted him again. Law is still very active in executive management of the RC church, but from Vatican City where is he out of reach of American law. The second most notorious case is that of the Los Angeles archdiocese, where then bishop (and eventually archbishop and now Cardinal) Mahoney went so far is his efforts to cover up the criminals among his colleagues and subordinates that he actually hid one of them in his own house for two years while the LA Sheriff and District Attorney attempted to serve a subpoena on the man. Eventually Mahoney was able to persuade LA County to back off – the close association of high ranking LA officials and high ranking RC church officials is a long-standing Los Angeles tradition, as much present now as it ever was. The abusers of the Los Angeles area have gotten away without criminal indictment and Mahoney is still in charge. Despite paying out nearly $700M in civil settlements, Mahoney and his cabal of lawyers got non-disclosure agreements from the hundreds of plaintiffs so we will never know the full extent of the crimes and abuse. Most members of the archdiocese blame the victims, and claim that these people – along with their lawyers – got millions of dollars to which they were not entitled and are “forcing” the church to sell off valuable real estate and close parochial schools. (I suspect this turned into an opportunity to convert real estate and close non-performing schools.)
    Nobody within the church seems to be blaming the cardinal for actively enabling and hiding the abusers. (Mahoney, like Law, shuffled the abusers around to different parishes while these guys continued preying on young people.) Neither Mahoney nor Law seem to be at any risk of losing their jobs or enduring any sort of censure from the Holy See. (Law was even promoted into the pope’s previous job when the pope was promoted into the top job.) And let’s not forget that in church doctrine the pope is infallible, so apparently his decision to let these guys continue doing what they’re doing is acceptable in the eyes of the pope and in the eyes of their god.
    Full disclosure: I served as an altar boy for three years under the worst of the Mahoney-protected abusers. While I was not a victim, friends were.

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