NEWS:  March 22, 2005

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

THE PRODIGAL FATHERS  -  On February 18, an independent audit on the Bishops’ policies to prevent sexual abuse of children and teens by members of the clergy was released.The research was commissioned by the Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection. Although the document runs a serious risk of not being impartial – the Bishops judge themselves – the report concludes that despite the good level of compliance by the American Dioceses to the rules of protection, “continued external oversight and evaluation [are] essential” since compliance may “diminish over time” (America, March 7, 2005, p. 4). It is a fair conclusion, in my opinion.

Bishops going toward the abyss

In high speed toward the abyss... It became clear to all that the Bishops completely lack credibility in the pedophile sex abuse scandal - National Catholic Reporter, July 4, 2003

I think that the Bishops need to have the tutelage of a responsible lay commission on this particular topic, otherwise the restorative measures will stop and we could rapidly return to the situation of four years ago. The crisis of pedophilia in the clergy that shook the Catholic Church in the United States from 2000 on has clearly demonstrated that the Bishops only took a stance against sexual abuses when public opinion demanded it. Further, they acted only when the polls revealed their lowest level of popularity and trust in history. I think that three practical conclusions can be drawn from the crisis:
  1. The suspect clergy should be judged and punished by the civil tribunals, since the ecclesiastical courts have proven inept and inefficient;

  2. The measures to heal the Church by the Bishops should be supervised by lay Catholics to prevent the Prelates from returning to their customary complacence regarding the guilty clergy.

  3. Lamentably, no one should expect the Vatican to intervene, unless it is to protect the guilty priests.
Regarding item 2, a similar conclusion was reached by Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Burke, former head of the National Review Board monitoring the Bishops’ response to the sex abuse scandal. At a March 2 lecture delivered in Cleveland, she stated: “The Church needs to be reborn, and it needs the heroic service of the laity in our nation to do it.” Burke also advised the Catholic lay faithful to not give up: “Be vigilant. Be outspoken. And demand transparency. No more passive Catholics” (National Catholic Reporter, March 18, 2005).

What is amazing to me is that the Bishops do not seem to have learned too much in this crisis, created in large part by themselves. They still imagine that everything is the same as it was before the scandal, and that they should be trusted without question. A curious example of this is Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska. Since the beginning of the review process, he has refused the National Review Board to examine his Diocese. Is it because he and the Lincoln clergy are above suspicion and do not require such vigilance? Or are things too corrupt and they prefer to hide it? I hope it would be the former rather than the latter case, but who can be sure today? The question is open to discussion. Too proud? Too holy? Too corrupt? This is just one example of the closed positions many Bishops have taken.

Last year, when the term of the first National Review Board members was ending, many Bishops wanted to get rid of it, alleging that they knew perfectly well how to handle the situation on their own (click here for details). It seems that Their Excellencies were completely mistaken. Every Catholic in the United States is aware of their failure to put order in the house.

It is sad to say, but with the crisis of pedophilia in the clergy, not only the priests have lost credibility, but the Bishops also. Today their role and mission has been enormously diminished in the eyes of the public. They need to be managed by responsible lay people. I am not advocating that the laity take over the authority of the Bishops. But in the present situation, if they are left to themselves, they could not only harm the Catholic flock, but also destroy the small amount of prestige that still remains to them.

Our Lord told us the parable of the prodigal son. What we are witnessing today is the case of prodigal fathers. In such a situation, the children should act to prevent the father from harming the family and destroying its patrimony. Lay vigilance in this matter is for the good of the Bishops themselves. This was, I believe, the intention of ex-governor Frank Keating and Justice Anne Burke in their insistence on a strong and continued lay involvement. They are not members of the movement We Are Church, which wants to establish a revolution in the Church. They wanted to heal the Church. So do I.


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