Catholic Culture Podcasts
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bishops for sale

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 06, 2007

Bishop William Skylstad's Diocese of Spokane has reached a provisional settlement of sex abuse claims: $48 million, plus. It's the "plus" that's particularly disconcerting:

The Spokane Catholic Diocese has agreed to pay at least $48 million to people molested by priests as a part of a deal to emerge from bankruptcy, a federal mediator announced Thursday. Federal Bankruptcy Judge Gregg W. Zive in Reno, Nevada, said the settlement would provide survivors "with some measure of closure and allow them to move forward and continue the healing process." ...


The settlement requires Spokane Bishop William Skylstad to publicly support eliminating statutes of limitations on child sex crimes and to personally visit each parish where children were abused to urge parishioners to come forward with reports of abuse, according to court documents.

Skylstad must also send letters of apology to victims or their immediate families; publish the names of all known abusers; allow victims to publicly address the parishes where they were sexually abused; and to publish their stories in the diocesan newspaper.

Take a closer look at the provision that obliges Bishop Skylstad to "support eliminating statutes of limitations on child sex crimes." Let's bracket the question of whether eliminating this statute of limitations is a good thing or bad thing. What's going on when a bishop allows himself, qua bishop, to be forced to shill, qua bishop, for a political goal that serves his legal adversary's purposes? Is his episcopal support a good that a bishop has the liberty to barter?

As a thought experiment, take a hypothetical and frivolous example: the future Bishop of Kokomo writes his flock: "Lobbyists in favor of moving the State of Indiana to the Central Time Zone have offered to pay off our diocesan debt if I lend my public support to the time change measure; for the good of the local church I have decided to accept their offer." No Catholic doctrine is at risk. The change may be objectively good. The bishop may be sincerely and antecedently convinced of its rightness. Yet his vending his official support is sordid all the same. Altering the conditions somewhat, suppose it was the Governor's office that wanted the change pushed through, and suppose they could apply legal duress to the bishop: "Support the time change, or we'll prosecute and fine you for employing undocumented workers." If he capitulates, isn't it his ecclesial office, and not just his person, that he's allowing to be blackmailed?

Perhaps this criticism seems abstract and captious. Well, consider the embarrassment of the Archbishop-designate of Warsaw, who has admitted collaboration (while denying hostile complicity) with the Communist secret police. Taken at his own estimate, he's not a blackguard, just another soft churchman who, when the pressure was on, took the easy way out. Even those Catholics inclined to forgive his complicity may be dismayed that he didn't volunteer the confession himself, but reluctantly succumbed to necessity yet again when the facts came out. Now they're looking at the man expected to guide them spiritually in making tough moral decisions for the next eight years: are they meant to feel that his capitulation doesn't matter?

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