National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  July 16, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

Clouds in golden summer days

I am writing this on one of those clear, golden summer days made even better for the lack of humidity, a summer rarity in this part of the country. It is blissful, a feeling that was heightened when I began reading through the material that was headed for the pages of this week’s issue. At a time when tensions of war and factions in the church can seem debilitating, the shoots of life keep poking through. There is a generosity of spirit and a fullness of vision, for instance, in Claire Schaeffer-Duffy’s story of Trappist Fr. Kevin Hunt’s installation earlier this year as a Zen teacher, overseen by Jesuit Fr. Robert Kennedy, a Zen roshi, or master.

Retta Blaney’s piece on an Off-Broadway production of “Children’s Letters to God” fit the mood of the day. And even in the grim reality of Paul Jeffrey’s report on Haiti and Jeffrey’s and Barbara Fraser’s continuing series on Latin America, comes the hope of determination alive in people who, by any reasonable measure, have been unfairly tested. Any attempt to explain the inspiration one can gather from such stories is a cliché waiting to happen. Their own words are best, and they’re all over our pages.

Jeannette Cooperman, who can tease the most intriguing questions from what she might encounter in a walk across her living room, doesn’t disappoint us. OK, here’s a hint: Her takeoff points are fitness and Amelia Bedelia. Where do you think she’s going with that?

~ ~ ~

But then, like a cloud across the sun, came, late in our publication cycle, the story from Portland, Ore.

Archdioceses are not supposed to go bankrupt. It is probably safe to say, too, that Archbishop John Vlazny, appointed to Portland in 1997, inherited a mess. It is not unusual, in recent years, for bishops to inherit the legal entanglements of a previous bishop. For instance, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton Gregory, inherited the mess left behind in Belleville, Ill., by James Kelleher, who, hardly called to account, was named archbishop of Kansas City, Kan.

So what’s the inheritor to do?

In Gregory’s case, he was applauded in 1995 by SNAP, the national victims’ advocacy group, “for removing priests publicly, holding question-and-answer sessions with parishioners, providing therapy for victims, cooperating with the media and not countersuing victims.”

Nearly 10 years later, the landscape has changed, with the most dramatic change occurring, of course, after the revelations in Boston in 2002. What happened in Boston was new only by degree. The Boston Globe was able to spring loose documents that had been sealed for years, and it was the language of the hierarchy in those documents that demonstrated more than all the hundreds of stories that had preceded how deeply the hierarchy was involved in protecting abusive priests, covering up their acts and paying for victims’ silence.

In the 20-year trajectory of the scandal, does Portland represent a logical conclusion?

Though it is too early to speculate, I can imagine two ways in which that might be the case. First, the real issue of money. Without being able to judge the merits of cases or the motivations of either side, big settlements have got to pose enormous problems for the church. Second, the documents. I can imagine, if the Portland documents are anything like those in the Boston archives, that the church would go to great lengths to keep them from becoming public.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 2004

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