In the Vineyard ::November 24, 2010 :: Volume 9, Issue 22

Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (continued)
Part VI in a series that looks at Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church from 1984-2010.
By Tom Doyle J.C.D., C.A.D.C

The nationwide uproar forced the bishops into a corner. Their general meeting in Dallas in June was the first concrete result. It was entirely devoted to the sex abuse issue. The dynamics of the assembled hierarchy revealed their underlying feelings and their motivation as they responded in a variety of ways to the “problem.” First, the reaction of the bishops to the survivors present at the meeting and to the overall pressure placed on them revealed an arrogant disdain for victims. It also revealed the inability of the bishops to think and operate clearly when under pressure from forces they could not control or dismiss. Second, the bishops focused their action proposals on the priest/deacon perpetrators culminating in their “Zero Tolerance” posture. They completely ignored the more serious issue of the responsibility of the hierarchy for the cover-up. They also ignored the fact that among the perpetrators several were bishops. Nothing was said about them with the exception of some paltry mumbo-jumbo about fraternal correction. Third, the Vatican forced the bishops to soften their approach in the “Essential Norms” which told us that justice for the victims was a far second to protection of the clerical caste.

Since 1985 the bishops had been urged to establish effective policies to respond to reports of abuse. Their token efforts were nothing more than ineffective public relations moves. After the Dallas Charter and the Essential Norms, proposed in June 2002, the bishops’ conference established a “National Review Board” and an Office for Child and Youth Protection. The individual dioceses were mandated to set up similar structures. To their credit the Church authorities throughout the U.S. established a variety of programs and procedures aimed at child and youth protection. These structures were the basis for the bishops’ claim that the Catholic Church had done more than any other public or private institution to protect children and young people. What they left out of their self-congratulatory rhetoric is the fact that every step taken by the bishops including boards, procedures, policies and purges of suspected clerics, was the result of direct, powerful pressure from the media, the courts, the outraged public and most important, the survivors. Had there been no Boston revelations, no civil suits or no embarrassing media coverage the bishops, regardless of the mound of undisputed information staring them in the face, would have done nothing. The plight of sex abuse victims in 2010 would differ little from their plight in 1960.

The bishops’ commitment to healing and the safety of children sounds convincing on paper and in their articulate and well-crafted rhetoric. It is however, hollow and hypocritical. Their individual and collective actions rob their words of any credibility. The depth of concern for victims’ welfare is proclaimed more by the destructive and frustrating tactics employed in civil suits than in their empty promises. Their pledge that children will be safe today and in the future is trampled under by their ruthless and costly efforts to defeat any State legislation that would protect children. The celebrated National Review Board, composed of prominent Catholics from various professions, was little more than a front created by the bishops to satisfy public anger. The board’s illusion of credibility was soon shattered when the first chairman, former Governor Frank Keating, resigned out of frustration with the bishops’ non-cooperation with their own creation. Gov. Keating was succeeded by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke who also resigned for similar reasons. Both Keating and Burke did not leave quietly but spoke publicly in criticism of the bishops’ contradictory actions. Since its inception the National Review Board has done nothing effective to promote the cause of victims. Rather it has served as a source of validation for the bishops’ continuing recalcitrance. The hierarchy’s contradictory actions and the obvious underlying anger reflect fear. More than anything else the clergy abuse phenomenon has threatened the security of the bishops’ ecclesiastical-clerical world and what is more, the source of this threat cannot be controlled.

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