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Five Years after the Scandal, II

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 18, 2007

I won’t disguise a few concerns I have about Bishop Gregory Aymond’s personal reflections after five years of managing the sex abuse scandal.

Though it may not be obvious in my bare summary of his main points (see Five Years after the Scandal, I), much of Bishop Aymond's presentation still struck me as far too “systems oriented”. The reliance of the American bishops on bureaucratic programs instead of personal responsibility for their own dioceses remains a substantial problem that has not by any means been completely cured by the scandals. The primary solution to the abuse scandal, after all, lies in holiness and fidelity. Programs may have some role to play in engendering these qualities, but the personal holiness, commitment, involvement and vigilance of the bishops in the formation and life of their priests is far more important.

This is especially true regarding “boundaries” programs for children. Bishops need to understand that this is not the kids’ problem; it is theirs. Somehow the scandal has been spun at least partially into an opportunity for the hierarchy to take the lead in the task of protecting children from sexual abuse everywhere it may be found. This task is logically possible only by inoculating the children themselves—hence the emphasis on “boundaries” and “safe touch” programs. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see immediately that both the goal is impossible and the methodology is potentially dangerous.

More to the point, this Herculean effort completely misses what the Catholic faithful want and have a right to expect. Nobody is asking that the Church rid the world of sexual abuse. What Catholics want from their bishops is clergy they can trust. There is no need for the bishops to recast themselves as the wise teachers and protectors of Catholic families. Parents will protect their children better than anyone else possibly can if only the bishops will ensure that clergymen are not predators. Yet on the progress made in this area over the past five years (which may well be considerable), Bishop Aymond had nothing to report.

A second source of concern, which was obvious from his extended emotional introduction and his frequent caveats concerning the suffering of the abused, is that Bishop Aymond has not yet been able to move beyond apologizing repeatedly to victims in order to undertake a larger analysis of what this victimhood is now doing to the Church as a whole. At some point, there is a responsibility on the part of the bishops, after punishing the offenders, to insist on moving on, and to remind the victims of their Christian obligation to forgive rather than materially benefit from these sins.

If the Church does still have the Holy Spirit, as Bishop Aymond is surely correct in asserting, then she must not forget to preach the need for forgiveness in place of settlements; nor must she fail to exhibit the courage to resist being fleeced of countless properties and other assets vital to the continuation of her work. In this connection, it is only fair to observe that Bishop Aymond’s position may prevent him from being the one to raise these points. Sooner or later, though, they must be raised.

I do not mean, in citing these concerns, to minimize the spiritual strengths in Bishop Aymond’s reflections. By his emphasis on sin, repentance, prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, he has carried the discussion beyond mere bureaucratic solutions. If the Church is to be successful in dealing with this or any other crisis, the spiritual core of Bishop Aymond’s analysis must continue to gain traction. For this emphasis alone, the head of the USCCB’s Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People deserves our thanks.

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