In aftermath of Bill Clinton's August 1998 televised admission of his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, Joseph Sobran made some judicious remarks on Clinton's tactics of obfuscation:
It wasn't a confession; it was a concession -- a tactical retreat in his war on Starr. He was counting on the public to read contrition into his nebulous formulations. But he admitted only what had become undeniable, then immediately tried to turn it to his advantage by using the buzzwords that work in the polls -- "the pursuit of personal destruction," "prying into private lives," "nobody's business but ours." ...
His strategy comes down to this: he wants his character to be defined as his "private life." That way he can mount a weird reverse character defense in which he hides his crimes behind his shabby little sins.
Hiding his crimes behind his sins. Perfect. And precisely the strategy adopted by many bishops in the sex-abuse wars. Admit only what's known already. Keep the language fuzzy and feeling-centered. Intimidate your critics by deploring their criticism as prurient curiosity about the sins of the offenders, when their bafflement and outrage is focused on your own misdeeds as bishops, as responsible men who ordained, promoted, shifted, and covered for deeply disturbed clergymen. Consider the following from yesterday's (Norwich CT) Journal Inquirer:
When Richard's name was revealed, diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard told the Portland Press Herald that no disciplinary action would be taken against him since he had been "internally disciplined" in 2000. "We are talking about someone's personal sin being made public," Bernard told the newspaper.
Fr. Norman Richard is one of the Portland Diocese crew that used the Saint Sebastian's Angels site to vent their hatred of the Church and titter about their success in using the priesthood as a vehicle for gay sex. When the topic of penance came in for some camp humor, Richard wrote his chums:
As I begin reading the emails on Confession and the need to confess after one has been intimate with a man -- big deal right? This reminds me of an incident years ago. I had gone to confession to a neighboring priest. Of course, I felt comfortable confessing to him because he had made a pass at me. While in confession he asked me who was that guy because he would like to have sex with him. I thought this was interesting at the time.
So what do the obstreperous faithful want to know from the diocese -- the details of Fr. Richard's sex life? Nonsense. They want to know the crimes behind the sins. They want to know why -- fourteen years after he confessed to a sexual liaison with a deacon, and five years after the gay confessional daisy chain was made public -- Richard is still pastor of Holy Family in Old Town. They want to know the reason for the diocese's admission that it "had not suspended [Richard] from his ministry and had not required him to undergo treatment" after the St. Sebastian's sacrilege. They want to know whether Bishop Michael Cote, resident in Richard's rectory before becoming Bishop of Norwich, knew about his antics and connived at his shockingly lenient treatment. They want to know what steps have been taken to identify members of the Ring -- to whom they may well be obliged to resort for the sacraments -- and whether it has been broken up.
Contra the Portland spokeswoman, the folks asking questions are not the guilty party here. This is emphatically not about "someone's personal sin being made public." It's about incomprehensible inaction in the face of sins already known -- sins that point to crimes, to a network of corruption, to a church all but paralyzed by blackmail. If indeed it's none of our business whether the guy on the other side of the confessional grille is trustworthy, that's tantamount to saying sacramental faith shouldn't matter to us.
The bishop's job, on the other hand, would become a lot simpler if the faith did cease to matter. There are no confessionals at Disney World.
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Posted by: Chestertonian -
Mar. 05, 2005 11:42 AM ET USA
It remains that, while the duty of the clergy is to bring the sacraments to the people, it is the duty of the faithful to evangelize the world. We must remember and remain undaunted in the fact that the world includes our own clergy. We know the truth, and must remain steadfast in presenting it to all, those in positions of leadership and influence in particular. Remember the canon law about withholding sacraments from those who have brought scandal to the Church . . .keep the pressure up!
Posted by: -
Mar. 05, 2005 1:06 AM ET USA
I've seen bishops use this strategy...make it seem as if you're judgemental and unforgiving if you want an issue addressed. Or concede there was a problem, a mistake that has been addressed and now we have to move on (though the problem may have just been moved and after all there wasn't a minor involved). Do they go to workshops or get strategy briefs; it seems they do it so well. And we sit and take it...after all what do we laymen, sorry lay sisters and brothers know. Write Rome. Help!
Posted by: -
Mar. 04, 2005 11:31 PM ET USA
The bishop won't do anything. Neither will the Pope. Secular prosecutions are exceedingly rare and, even if it is but a fraction of what could be had, there is still money rolling in placed at these clerics' disposal. I suppose we can all pray about it and read Diogenes but, in the end, we're waiting for people to die off. Hardly gives one great confidence in the Holy Spirit, does it? I know, someone is going say He works in His own way and time--but we're still left waiting...