Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

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By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 14, 2004

The Bishop of Springfield, MA, resigned last week at the same time accusations of sexual abuse of minors made against him became public. The Diocese's interim administrator, Msgr. Richard Sniezyk, has made a very important admission regarding his brother churchmen's handling of abuse.

The newly-elected leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said yesterday the church must "come clean," admitting that an "old boy network" years ago protected priests suspected of sexual abuse. ...

"I think truly an old boy network existed. We have to admit that no one did anything with it in those days," Sniezyk said, adding that priests are now being held accountable.

At first sight, this seems perfectly in keeping with what we've been hearing continually for the past ten years (and more loudly in the last two). But there are some significant differences: Sniezyk is not a victim, a journalist, or an outside agitator, but himself a priest on the inside and a diocesan administrator. More to the point, he has departed from what has become the nearly-invariable chancery script:

  • The standard line is that occasions of abuse were isolated incidents. Sniezyk claims there was a network -- and a network implies wide knowledge, deliberation, and co-ordination.
  • The standard line is that abuse was committed by a few damaged individuals, the "weak, ineffectual men," of Stephen Rossetti's bestiary. Weak, ineffectual men do not stymie the combined forces of outraged parents and law enforcement officials.
  • The standard line is that the re-assignment of abusers was due to ignorance (e.g., about recidivism) on the part of administrators. Sniezyk's use of the N-word suggests that ignorance had nothing to do with it.
  • The standard line is that earlier mistakes were good-willed mistakes, such as misplaced compassion toward offenders. Only ill-will can allow you to keep felons in business.

Sniezyk claims the next step is "a healing process" and professes to believe that the worst is behind us. He seems only partly aware of the implications of his admission -- which may, in fact, be drowned out by interested parties. The bishops, of course, have long been practicing the lines to be chorused at the release of the John Jay Report: first, "We've got everything under control," and second, "More important than all else, we mustn't indulge in witch-hunting or scapegoating." It may be too late.

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