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Nolo contendere

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 11, 2009

In a recent speech Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto addressed the moral responsibilities of bishops who learn about sexual misconduct by their priests or their episcopal colleagues:

As for improper behaviour by those already ordained, I and all of us who exercise authority in the Church have a solemn obligation to God and to the people we serve, especially to the most vulnerable, to act clearly and effectively if a problem is discovered, although also with great care that injustice not be done to an innocent person, whose name and life can be destroyed be a false accusation.

Exactly. Now how have our spiritual leaders lived up to that solemn obligation? They haven’t. In the tens of thousands of internal documents that have been pried loose from chancery files in the course of the past decade, it’s rare to find a case in which a bishop chose to “act clearly and effectively” to curb a predator-priest. The typical response was a complete abdication of moral authority. As for misconduct by bishops-- keep in mind that Archbishop Collins was speaking shortly after a brother-bishop was arrested for child pornography-- we are still waiting for the first case in which an erring bishop is pressured by his colleagues to resign before the scandal hits the headlines.

What do you do when you realize that you have failed to meet a solemn obligation? When you realize that you have been guilty of this failing repeatedly? When you belong to an organization whose members routinely fail in the same way? You confess your sin, presumably. Then what? It’s not enough merely to do now what you should have done long ago, or to say that you will try to meet your obligations in the future. You have failed in your duty and proven yourself unworthy of your position; you must do something to repair the damage--to amend your life.

So you have a choice. You can change the way you behave, and insist on changes within your organization, to ensure that you are all accountable for your duties. Or you can acknowledge that you don’t have the strength to do what is required, and resign, so that you won’t be guilty of such failures again.

One or the other. We’re waiting.

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