Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

the healing arts

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 31, 2005

U.S. Catholic bishops are responding in markedly different ways to their three-year-old pledge to promote healing and reconciliation with victims of clerical sexual abuse, a promise they made in a document issuing new policies to address the church's child abuse crisis.

An article by Carlyle Murphy in the Washington Post treats of the sundry reactions to the bishops' sundry maneuvers in their Pledge to Heal campaign. We get the usual roster of consultant-approved programmatic solutions (therapy, public official apologies, personal official apologies, more therapy, healing liturgies, oatmeal-raisin cookies, hotlines) and the usual head-scratching at their failure to restore trust. The following paragraph puts the problem in a nutshell:

In the Arlington diocese, which covers Northern Virginia, Bishop Paul S. Loverde has celebrated six of the 10 healing Masses organized by the diocese in the past year, said its victim assistance coordinator, Patricia Mudd. The Masses drew a total of about 700 people, and trained counselors were available at receptions afterward, she said.

Trained counselors were available at receptions afterward. Why? Because the wound that remains to be healed subsists in the faithful: we got the fever, they got the cure.

Wrong. Victim-directed measures are necessary in themselves, but for job-cosseting bishops to offer them only compounds the fraud. The failure that permitted the sex-abuse scandal was primarily the bishops' failure -- individually, in the case of those who reassigned known abusers and lied to the faithful; collectively, in their refusal to hold fellow bishops accountable for their crimes. The plea-bargain deals cut by Bishops O'Brien, McCormack, and Pilarczyk spared them punishment in the civil sphere, but their crimes were first and foremost crimes against the faithful they were anointed to protect. They call for some ecclesial acknowledgment of what they are -- gross abuses of office -- in default of which we have no reason to believe the bishops as a body regard such abuses as blameworthy.

It's accidental, after all, that these bishops underwent such humiliation as they did. Were it not for the fortuitous circumstance that their wrongdoing was prosecutable in the civil sphere, they would have gotten off scot free -- there being no visible evidence that harm to souls disqualifies a bishop from continuing his ministry. Moving beyond the reach of criminal prosecution, Weakland's hush-money, Lynch's bump and run, Dupre and O'Connell's Fifth Amendment dodges attracted censure in the secular media, but no corresponding rebuke from their brethren. None. And keep in mind that, not only have the U.S. bishops failed to address the consequences of their own abuse, they've failed to acknowledge that there's any abuse to address. They don't have the problem, you see, they have the answers.

Might it be the case that there's a lot of tough talk going on at the USCCB behind the scenes, while we outsiders get served the happy PR? In one sense, that's almost certainly true. But were the tough talk tough enough that a bishop's career was threatened, you can bet we'd know the stakes of the game had changed. The whole way of doing business would be different. But it isn't different. The youngest U.S. bishop could pull a Pilarczyk tomorrow and his critics would be told, "Relax. Only 28 years and he'll turn 75 and the problem will solve itself. Why add to the distress of the faithful?"

Why indeed. If you re-read Murphy's article you'll notice that all the "healing initiatives" have this in common: they are centrifugal. They take the focus of change off the bishops and beam it strictly on the victims and the collaterally-damaged laity. "It's you that needs to change, you that have the attitude problem. Find it hard to trust me? Talk to the counselor." It's a shrewd way of proceeding, and will almost certainly guarantee that every sitting bishop coasts safely to retirement with all pennants flying. And isn't that what Our Lord wants for those who have served Him so well?

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