The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: May 28, 2004
'This in no way diminishes ...'
By EUGENE KENNEDY
Perhaps not since biblical scholars assigned the designation Q to the 235 verses found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark, have Catholics encountered such compelling evidence of a common source for the themes of influential documents. And perhaps not since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls acquainted us with the practices of the Jewish sect, the Essenes, have official papers introduced us to the methods of such a distinguished group as Americas Catholic bishops.
The Essenes abstain from marriage ... speak only in turn. They are completely governed by the officers of the community, wrote the late Jesuit Fr. John L. McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible. They must take solemn oaths to observe the rules of the community and to conceal its secrets.
Opening their packets for their March meeting, many members of the administrative board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of their Ad Hoc Sex Abuse Committee, learn for the first time that they will vote on deferring any discussion of the National Review Boards report and its associated projects until November. Not even Chicagos Cardinal Francis George has been informed that a coup de main is underway against the National Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection and its associated projects. He abstains when the question is finally called.
Although the episcopal letters are filled with boilerplate commitment (We affirm, Mansell avers, our commitment to the Charter for the Protection of Children ... ) their vote effectively quashes the investigative recommendations made that day by the National Advisory Council, the Office of Child and Youth Protection, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse and the National Review Board: to approve an on-site audit by the end of 2004 by the Office of Child and Youth Protection, to approve funding for the National Review Boards request for a proposal to implement the already approved study of the causes and context of the sex abuse problem, and that the conference of the bishops continue to deal with fraternal correction, bishops disciplining bishops who failed to bar priest sex abusers from parish work.
All about us
The gods of irony smile when, trying to hide part of the truth about themselves, men reveal the whole truth instead. Melancholy themes of self-reference, self-pity and condescension are particularly striking in the letters to Justice Anne Burke, interim chair of the National Review Board, after she reacted to the administrative boards action (NCR, May 21). Though subsequent publicity has apparently forced the bishops to reconsider the matter, their wish to be done with the board and its requirements is evident in the language of their letters.
Denvers Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes on April 2 of Burkes questioning this preemption of the committees work: Please note that the June 2004 bishops meeting is a quadrennial retreat. ... This in no way diminishes the continuing importance of the NRB, the Dallas Charter, or issues relating to the sexual misconduct scandal. But neither can we as bishops neglect other vital matters, including calls for a plenary council. ... Our problems with your letter lie elsewhere. The matter of fraternal correction among bishops has canonical implications that go well beyond the NRBs competence. ... It is not the NRBs duty to interpret the Charter. ... Finally, Justice Burke, we were embarrassed by the tone of your letter. ... Your language is designed to offend. ... Whatever its goals, your letter diminishes the credibility of the NRB and invites resistance. The closing line is offered like a ring to kiss, Be assured of our good will and prayers nonetheless ...
Bishop David L. Ricken of Cheyenne, Wyo., provides a coda April 16, I do believe that, after such a storm for two years, the bishops need a bit of a break [emphasis added] to reflect on all that has happened so that we can move ahead, thoughtfully and prayerfully ... And, of course, ... wishing you a happy Easter Season, I remain ...
Then there is the idiosyncratic Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz claiming that bishops cannot share their sacred power with anyone (interview, Catholic World News) while he attacks such review board members as Leon Panetta, who was devoted to promoting and fostering and permitting the heinous practice of abortion. What makes him qualified to be on this board, and to be in this capacity? And psychologist Michael Bland? I dont think ... that he has ever been canonically laicized. ... I dont think Michael Bland is in good standing in regard to the church. And Alice Hayes? When she was at the University of San Diego, she put a known homosexual man in charge of religious studies; she also, as I understand it, had a Gay and Lesbian Club on her campus ...
We can all understand that the bishops have an audience of one, Pope John Paul II, and what they say is designed to please him, not their people. Still, it takes unrelieved self-absorption to involve themselves in the assault on their own charter without making a single mention of the victims of sex abuse. It is People magazine-size self-investment to refer to the church without ever mentioning their own people or acknowledging that these men and women are the church and that they themselves are their servants rather than, as it seems in these letters, their masters. Seldom in relationships that are not official or institutional, most bishops have little experience of having to change themselves to make such relationships flourish or to restore them when they are shattered. As a result, they relate to the people with whom they broke faith in the sex abuse crisis by being pompously official rather than by being simply human. Their poor us self-absorption blinds them to the still suffering victims whom they wound again by dishonoring the Dallas charter that was supposed to make it safe for Catholics to go back to church again.
Do bishops think magically of a plenary council because it would be all about them, publicly reasserting and restoring their authority? They must earn that back for themselves, less as self-preoccupied functionaries and more as self-forgetting pastors to their people. They could begin by keeping their Dallas promise to establish and support an Office for Child and Youth Protection and a National Review Board.
Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago, and author of The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality, published by St. Martins Press.
National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 2004
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