Action Alert!

eyes that see not

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 01, 2005

USA Today has an article on the upcoming Apostolic Visitation of seminaries:

A Vatican evaluation of American seminaries planned three years ago in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis is expected to move forward under new Pope Benedict XVI and will likely tackle the polarizing issue of whether gays should become priests. The appraisal will focus on conditions in the seminaries, including how instructors present church teaching on sexuality and celibacy, to look for anything that contributed to the scandal.

... The Vatican agency overseeing the project --the Congregation for Catholic Education -- has already been given a list of recommended bishops and priests to visit the seminaries. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the U.S. Military Archdiocese has been appointed to coordinate the review.

I wish I had more confidence that O'Brien's the man for the job. There's no doubt that he knows the seminary scene -- he was rector of New York's Dunwoodie seminary in the years 1985-1989 and again in 1994-1997, and rector of Rome's North American College in the years 1990-1994 -- the question is whether this counts for or against his ability to confront unpalatable truths. Remember the following story from the Kansas City Star's series on priests with AIDS?:

[New Jersey psychiatrist Joseph] Barone directed an AIDS ministry from 1983 to 1993 for students at North American College in Rome. While there, he set up an underground AIDS testing program. Over seven years, he tested dozens of seminarians. Barone gave them false names, drove them to their tests in an unmarked car and paid for the tests himself.

"I didn't know who they were; they didn't know who I was," Barone said. Of those he worked with, he said, 1 in 12 tested HIV-positive. By the time Barone left Rome, he had treated about 80 priests with AIDS. Most of them were gay, he said, and contracted the disease through sexual activity.

I don't know whether Barone is on the level or not, but after a bombshell of this magnitude we'd expect some pretty decisive action one way or the other. If the claim was true, there should have been a rending of garments, followed by lots of heads rolling at the NAC. If false, there should have been a rending of garments, a loud cry of "calumny!" and a prompt but thorough rebuttal. If the claim was of uncertain merit, there should have been a rending of garments, followed by a room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, hard disk to blood test investigation -- then a rebuttal or a firing squad, as appropriate. What did we get? Head-scratching instead of garment-rending. Hence that eerie feeling that no allegation, no matter how scandalous, is capable of provoking proportionately serious action -- whether vindicative, corrective, or investigative -- in response.

No one wants to come across as Chicken Little, panicking at every shadow and crying that the skies are falling. But bad things do happen -- in Russell Shaw's words, "prophets of doom are sometimes right" -- and if the skies have yet to fall on the U.S. Church, nearly a billion dollars worth of the ground has disappeared from beneath its feet as a consequence of insouciant inertness, not to speak of the damage to the moral authority of its ministers. Catastrophe doesn't come any clearer. So what do our bishops want the faithful to make of a claim like Barone's? That it's false, and no big deal? That it's true, and no big deal? Or that it's no big deal whether it's a big deal or not? Most bishops (not all), in most crisis situations (not all), have acted as if the last were the case.

Your Uncle Diogenes has already voiced his skepticism about the Visitation. Doubtless it will be carried out with punctilious attention to form. The problem is that men can conduct a minute examination and still fail to find what they wish very much not to find (one thinks of Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen, deliberately putting his telescope to his blind eye and saying, "Signal? I see no signal"). If the Team did find and report corruption at Seminary X, that might well lead to an ugly conflict with the responsible bishop. And that in turn could result in sacking the bishop in question -- together, perhaps, with some shonky members of the Team as well. Folks, if the record of the past thirty years is any guide, it won't happen. They'll take the course that's easier (in the short run) for all concerned. "Blackmail? I see no blackmail."

I sincerely want to be wrong here. I hope the coup de Krenn was not a fluke. I hope next year at this time I'll be posting a blog apologizing to the Team and eating my words. If I am wrong, the proof will be unmistakable: miterless heads and headless miters. It won't take long to find out.

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