National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 28, 2004

'This in no way diminishes ...'


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 America’s 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 Board’s report and its associated projects until November. Not even Chicago’s 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 Board’s 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 board’s 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.

Denver’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes on April 2 of Burke’s questioning this preemption of the committee’s 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 NRB’s competence. ... It is not the NRB’s 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 don’t think ... that he has ever been canonically laicized. ... I don’t 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 ... ”

What’s missing?

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. Martin’s Press.


To Ensure the Accountability of Our Procedures

ARTICLE 8. To assist in the consistent application of these principles and to provide a vehicle of accountability and assistance to dioceses/eparchies in this matter, we authorize the establishment of an Office for Child and Youth Protection ... producing an annual public report on the progress made in implementing the standards in this Charter. This public report shall include the names of those dioceses/eparchies which ... are not in compliance with the provisions and expectations of this Charter.

ARTICLE 9. The work of this Office for Child and Youth Protection will be assisted and monitored by the Review Board. … The Board will approve the annual report of the implementation of the Charter in each of our dioceses/eparchies, as well, as any recommendations that emerge from this review, before the report is submitted to the President of the Conference

-- From the Charter adopted by the Catholic Bishops of the United States

Letters to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

February 2, 2004

... At the semi-annual meeting of the bishops and diocesan administrators of the State of New York ... the matter of extending the efforts of those who have been conducting the national audit regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy was discussed. ... the undersigned bishops and diocesan administrators are not in favor of extending these efforts until after the matter has been discussed by all of the bishops ... at their general meeting in November. [and] ... would further request that this letter be made known to the Administrative Board of the USCCB at its next meeting.

With kind regards,
I am Sincerely in Christ,
Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York

February 12, 2004

The undersigned Bishops and Diocesan Administrators of Region III ... are opposed to any extension of the National Audit regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy until all the Bishops of the United States Catholic Conference have an opportunity to discuss this matter in executive session ... in November 2004. ... The undersigned respectfully suggest that this letter be brought to the attention of the March meeting of the Administrative Committee of Bishops.

With fraternal best wishes,
we are Sincerely yours in Christ,
Justin Card. Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia

The bishops of our province are opposed to any extension of the National Audit regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy until all the Bishops ... have an opportunity to discuss this matter in executive session at our general meeting in November, 2004. ... We ask you to bring our letter to the attention of the March meeting of the Administrative Committee of Bishops.

Sincerely yours in Our Lord,
Elden Curtiss
Archbishop of Omaha

The Bishops of the Province of Hartford ... express our concern over disturbing trends in the development of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People and the National Review Board. ... We are troubled, therefore, when we see the word “independent” being used indiscriminately in reference to both entities. They appear to be expanding their competence, responsibilities, activities, and studies in a dynamic of autonomy. ...

Sincerely in Christ,
Henry J. Mansell
Archbishop of Hartford

National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 2004

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