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At last an American prelate addresses the real problem in the sex-abuse scandal

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 01, 2013

Electrifying? Yes. Exhilarating? That too. But above all encouraging.

Finally!” I shouted to myself when I heard the news from Los Angeles.

For more than a decade, since the explosion of the sex-abuse crisis, American Catholic bishops have been issuing apologies, promising changes, instituting procedures—but never directly acknowledging the damage done to their credibility by their own negligence and malfeasance.

The Church was badly damaged by revelations that priests had molested young men, but far more seriously damaged by the revelations that bishops had protected the molesters. The bishops had apologized repeatedly for the former, but not the latter. The American hierarchy had implemented policy after policy to address the problems created by predatory priests, but never taken a step to address the wider problems caused by negligent bishops. Until now.

Now at last—a decade overdue, but better late than never—we have the first clear public example of fraternal correction. One prelate has held another to account.

This is the Year of Faith, and the Holy Father has emphasized the need for preaching the essentials of Christian doctrine. But preaching and evangelization require credible witnesses. A Church leader who has dissembled, who has sheltered criminals, who has abided with iniquity, can never be accepted as a credible witness or respected as a moral guide.

Archbishop Gomez has not suspended Cardinal Mahony, nor banned him from ministry. (He does not have the authority to do so.) But he has indicated that with the latest revelations about his handling of sex-abuse complaints, the cardinal’s standing is so badly damaged that he can no longer function as a public representative of the Los Angeles archdiocese.

The archbishop’s decisive statement is encouraging in itself, but there is another reason to see it as a sign of more good things to come. It is difficult to imagine that Archbishop Gomez could have taken such a dramatic step without first consulting with Rome. So we can safely infer that Pope Benedict—who has taken a tough line on sexual abuse since the beginning of his pontificate—supported the action. We might even hope to see other bishops making similar announcements.

Finally, a much-needed reform is underway.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: JN567kassianienm3047 - Feb. 05, 2013 9:30 PM ET USA

    I attend Mass in parishes of the LA Archdiocese. I'm puzzled that Archbishop Gomez can say that Cardinal Mahony is "relieved" of all "administrative and public duties" on one day and the next day declare both the Cardinal and Bishop Curry bishops "in good standing" and able to freely celebrate all the Sacraments of the Church! For whom?! When the Constitution was being formed, the Catholic Church asked to have its own tribunal for clerics. The Founding Fathers pronounced a resounding "NO!"

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 01, 2013 10:27 PM ET USA

    For the good of souls and for the good of Holy Mother Church, thanks be to God. Unfortunately, the credibility problem will persist long after all of us are dead. God's love can heal, but exhilaration will never be part of the equation in this sordid story. We must get back to the essentials and open our hearts, and once anchored anew in Christ's charity, hold on for dear life. Please pray for priests and prelates moving forward that they might persevere in a selfless charity for souls.

  • Posted by: Defender - Feb. 01, 2013 6:24 PM ET USA

    Finally is right. How about Boston next? For that matter, serious consideration should be given to revising Canon Law so our wayward "catholic" (lower case on purpose) politicians can be dealt with, too. If we, in fact, are going to encounter rough times ahead, then the Church must be able to effectively deal with them, as well.

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