Action Alert!

Taking the Fifth

By Diogenes (articles) | Aug 03, 2004

Kim LAWTON: Some groups fear the bishops' energy and commitment may fade.

Archbishop Timothy DOLAN: Can't happen. Can't happen. We never, never, Kim, want to go through what we've had to do. We just can't do it. We can't do it personally. I think we bishops will collapse if we ever have to go through this again. And we can't, we just can't, in justice, put our people through that again. So, I don't think there's danger of us forgetting. [PBS interview, November 2003]

Shaken by public contempt consequent on their mishandling of sex abusers, the bishops -- while the cameras were rolling -- have collectively and severally pledged to "restore trust." Yet two of their number, Anthony O'Connell and Thomas Dupre, are currently refusing to respond to questions about allegations of their own sexual abuse of minors, invoking their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

No one faults the bishops' attorneys for advising their clients to make use of this entirely proper tactic; they're simply doing their job. But the good of the Church is larger than her legal standing, larger even than the solvency of her dioceses and the liberty of her bishops. It seems clear that shielding bishops from punishment and restoring trust are mutually exclusive alternatives: either you try to convince people you're interested in the truth, or you allow your brethren to keep mum in order to beat the diddling rap. You can't do both.

Is there a canonical mechanism by which bishops can force an unwilling brother to act contrary to his lawyer's sound advice and his own clear interest? Nope. But if they were serious about justice they could do it anyway. You send five bishops to put the case to Dupre or O'Connell in a room with no back door. If five fail to convince him, send ten. If ten don't work, try twenty. If he won't listen to twenty, bring fifty. The concerted moral pressure of his peers can make an ordinary man do extraordinary things -- such as remain at his post in battle when only flight could save his life. Were it impassioned and sincere, such moral force couldn't fail to make a bishop risk telling the truth about himself, even knowing that he would suffer as a consequence.

Help me out here. Bishops Dupre and O'Connell refuse to reply to questions whose true answers they can't help but know, indisputably eroding the stature of the episcopacy and conceivably prolonging an objective injustice. Their brother bishops respond by ... doing nothing. Whose good is served?

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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