Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

straight talk

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 21, 2004

Asked to comment on the revelation that, in 1986, his predecessor as Bishop of Spokane had terrified a male prostitute by choking him while he (the prostitute) was in the process of fellating him (the Bishop of Spokane), William Skylstad famously responded, "Obviously, he had a very serious drinking problem."


Today's Seattle Times provides some follow-up:

The Most Rev. William Skylstad was on retreat in Copenhagen in 1989 when he was called home to Washington. The then-bishop of Yakima soon found himself in a seedy tavern in Spokane. His assignment: to clean up the mess created by Lawrence Welsh, bishop of Spokane. Welsh had been arrested for drunken driving and was being investigated by police for behavior that, for a time, made him a low-level suspect in the Green River killings, according to recent court documents.

Skylstad found his fellow bishop behind a beer at the Wagon Wheel Tavern. He shipped Welsh off to alcohol treatment -- saying publicly that Welsh had "stomach problems." A year later, Skylstad would replace Welsh as bishop of Spokane.

Got that? When your brother-in-ministry consorts with rent-boys, you say it's a drinking problem; when he's sent away for alcohol treatment, you say it's a stomach problem. Were he sick with a peptic ulcer, you'd say ... he's praying his breviary and can't come to the phone. It's a game anyone can play.

It is, however, a game that works both ways. If the ecclesiastical code operates by racheting the language down, we eventually learn to de-code by ratcheting the reality up. The process happens unconsciously, for the most part, and if the code is used frequently enough, even our great aunts will learn to read Our Sunday Visitor through this lens:

"Wanda, dear, it says here that Bishop Roscoe retired at 67 'for reasons of health'."

"That poor man! So sad. I hope his lover wasn't injured too badly. Pass the Sweet-n-Low, please."

Skylstad has just been elected head of the bishops' conference, and we can expect the next three years to provide him ample opportunity for PR counter-measures of the kind that earned him the presidency. Some may be inclined to protest that churchmen are "just being charitable" by euphemising the sins of their brethren. Most of us will respond that truth (or, if the truth can't be told, silence) shows more authentic charity towards all the parties involved.

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