At last: one bishop holds another accountable

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 16, 2013

This is unprecedented—a giant step forward in the Church’s response to the sex-abuse crisis!

For more than a decade we’ve been learning about the failings of Catholic bishops. In some cases the prelates were guilty of personal misconduct; in other case they were only guilty of covering up the misconduct of others. (But a cover-up is a form of misconduct, too; isn’t it?) How many bishops have resigned in disgrace? I’ve lost count.

But until now, I have never heard an incoming bishop say anything critical about the man he replaced. Even when the outgoing prelate’s misconduct was a matter of public record, his newly appointed replacement has typically made a point of saying something kind about his predecessor’s ministry—or, at worst, saying nothing at all. So the polite fiction has been maintained that sexual abuse is something that "just happened," and the bishops who presided over a pastoral catastrophe have escaped accountability.

Now at last, an archbishop-elect in Scotland has frankly acknowledged the truth: that his predecessor’s leadership harmed the Church. Archbishop-elect Leo Cushley did not elaborate on the problems caused by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, which are already well documented. But he did say that the cardinal’s presence in Scotland would not be helpful to the Church. The incoming archbishop recognized that his predecessor was, and is, a problem. Recognizing the nature of the problem is a key step toward a solution.

As I’ve been saying for years, the sexual abuse of children was only one aspect of the crisis that has shaken the Church. The other aspect, equally damaging, was the complicity of bishops. The Catholic hierarchy has often acknowledged the former, but not the latter. Until now.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Sep. 19, 2013 3:42 PM ET USA

    P.L. wrote, "But until now, I have never heard an incoming bishop say anything critical about the man he replaced." ... A couple points: 1. I would say that Abp. Gomez' removal of Card. Mahony from public ministry was pretty critical ... 2. Is one's entire ministry to be viewed ONLY in relation to how one handled abuse cases? I think this is terribly unfair, considering there has been a LOT of one-sided and misleading media coverage regarding the entire abuse affair ... My two cents.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Sep. 17, 2013 9:46 PM ET USA

    Great! Now it would be wonderful if bishops would start to condemn all the priests and nuns whose theolgical depravity has justified the crushing of preborn skulls.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 17, 2013 9:07 PM ET USA

    Hey Phil - A suggestion: I think it would be consistent with your thinking on this subject, and more descriptive of the depth of the problem, to use the term "abuse-and-coverup crisis" instead of merely saying "sex-abuse crisis", right?

  • Posted by: - Sep. 17, 2013 8:52 PM ET USA

    I remember when it came out that while only a small %age of priests over the years were guilty of sexual abuse, more than 60% of the bishops moved predator priests around from parish to parish, exposing more kids to harm. Every Catholic I knew felt the same: bitter disgust, shame, and ANGER. Good on Bp Cushley for telling Keith O'Brien that he ought to stay away from Scotland. Normal decency -- what would be "normal" in an actual father of children -- looks almost heroic in a bishop. Amazing.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 16, 2013 12:29 PM ET USA

    For the good of souls, animated with charity, courageous in speaking the truth. There is no sin in that. The priest must sacrifice; the faithful must know that somehow despite their human weakness their priests are imitators of Christ. No servant is greater than his master. We must "recognize the nature of the problem."