It’s the bishops, stupid!

Print More
D'Antonio book

D'Antonio bookMichael D’Antonio came to Trinity this week to talk about his new book Mortal Sins, the best account yet of the abuse scandal in the American Catholic Church. D’Antonio, who was part of the team at Newsday that won a Pulitzer in 1984 for coverage of the Baby Jane Doe case on Long Island, is a prolific author who likes taking the side of those who take on the system.

In this case, the system is the Catholic hierarchy; those who took it on, an improbable assortment of lawyers, priests, and abuse survivors. D’Antonio shows the latter struggling through their own personal problems to achieve some measure of justice for the victims. At center stage is Jeffrey Anderson, the Minneapolis lawyer whose out-of-control lifestyle was exceeded only by his determination to hold Catholic bishops’ feet to the fire. His personal redemption helps frame the story.

Apologists for the hierarchy’s response to the scandal like to claim three things: that bishops handled accusations no differently than the heads of other organizations; that priests have, if anything, been less guilty of the sexual abuse of children than others entrusted with their care; and that the Church is now doing a better job of protecting children than any other institution.

These claims are all problematic, but leaving the problems aside for now, they avoid the elephant in the living room. When a serious sexual abuse case comes to light at a secular institution like Penn State, the heads that roll include the iconic football coach and the president of the university. When a bishop like Robert Finn of Kansas City is convicted in civil court of failing to report a case of abuse, his bishops conference says not a word, and his superior in Rome does not a thing.

At Trinity, D’Antonio was asked when he thought the Church would be able to put the abuse scandal behind it. Not, he said, until the system demonstrates the capacity to punish bishops who participated in covering it up.

  • April Boone

    It seems, painfully, that the Catholic church has 2 white elephants in the room, and they are related– Sexual abuse by Priests and the rising divorce rate.– Many divorces revolve around the issue of latent wounds of child sexual abuse that become increasingly evident in marital relationships —

    The Bishops may see the damaging correlations in this, but remain burdened by the stigma that exposing this will diminish moral authority, but to the contrary, dealing honestly with the pain of these moral injuries would truly
    contribute to the common good.

    I offer these observations with sorrow as a practicing Catholic.

  • Kay Goodnow

    Thanks for this, Mark, you hit the nail on the head! Whatever their reasoning, the bishops have enabled predators and unless they are stopped by civil authorities, they will continue to blame the victims, their attorneys, their supporters and the press. The notoriety that has arisen as a result of their criminal like behavior is what is driving people out of the church. I am a survivor, and would not return to a “church” like this for any reason. In fact, I believe that my abuse occurred so that I could age to speak out against it. Still alive at 76, I enjoy watching them slide into quicksand of their own making. Children are still being abused because some people believe that priests and nuns are God. Shame on all who abuse the innocent and all who enable them.

  • Mary Huber

    Thank you, Professor Silk, for your excellent piece. And thank you, Kay, for your strong words. I completely agree with everything you said (both of you). My experience mirrors yours, Kay, and, at 70+, I’m catchin’ up to you! We “of a certain age” are speaking up loud and clear–to the discomfort of some who think we should stay home, drink weak tea, and tend to our own knitting, but that’s their problem.

  • Felapton

    It’s not the bishops. It’s the ephebophiles. No bishop ever made an ephebophile priest molest a minor. The bishops did a lot of bad things, but it was the ephebophiles who did the molesting.

    Many elite media operations are intent on diverting attention from the main culprits, because the main culprits belong to a subpopulation that is especially popular in the news/entertainment business.

  • Sorry Felapton. You’re totally off base. The bishops didn’t force anyone to molest and rape but they enabled them…they knew about them and rather than stop them they allowed them to move no to other pastures with more victims. The shame of the Church is not so much the sick clerics who raped and molested but the self absorbed popes and bishops who knew and did nothing

  • John Bijarney

    How does one practice a religion largely run by un-indicted criminals?

  • J. Bob

    So what’s the current sexual abuse rate in the Catholic church, compared say to Protestant Ministers, Rabbi’s, teachers, & social workers, for starters?

    Then who has had the best record of correcting the problem.

    You cast blame on the Bishops, most of who were priests back then & had nothing to do with the few rotten apples.

  • Joe McGee

    Hey J.Bob, you mentioned something about “bad apples”. Ponder this, even the grocer when he finds a bad apple doesn’t move it to a different apple barrel. He tosses it out. The Bishops moved a lot of “bad apples” rather than do the sane & sensible thing.

  • Polybius

    Mark, you are correct, but I respectfully suggest you don’t go far enough. The bishops are, in many cases, devout and theologically sound men. But almost all of them are terrible managers, who just happen to be charged with administration of dioceses that cry out for leadership. The abuse of the innocents is a crime for which they will answer. But they should also answer for failing to use the lay talents available to them to breathe fire into this Church. Fifty years ago, a Church Council called for greater lay participation, but the bishops haven’t done the job they could have in getting the lay faithful to help with the life of the church. If you look at the churches that grow in lay participation, they are exciting, vibrant places where people feel welcome. For some reason, most bishops either can’t find that vision or can’t achieve it.

    It may have something to do with the practice of being called “Your Eminence.”

  • Polybius,
    For what it’s worth, Cardinal Bergoglio has expressed admiration for the Japanese Catholics who managed to keep the faith for a couple of centuries without having any priests.

  • alice

    One doesn’t; one leaves. (If one has a functioning brain.)

  • alice

    Thank you, thank you, Saint Tom (as you are known in our house)!

    And talk about “diverting attention.” LOL

  • There have been some bishops who have been removed. Cardinal Law and the Cardinal in Scotland come to mind.There was also a bishop in Ireland who was replaced after not following the procedure he agreed to with other bishops of informing Rome, informing the local police and informing social services when a priest is accused. He signed that document and did none of it when the situation came up.

    Bishop Finn is a troubling case. I agree, I would be happy to hear he had been replaced. He is a good bishop in many ways but he does not seem to understand that keeping evidence of sexual abuse from the police is something you just cannot do. Hiding behind technical definitions of what constitutes abuse and what constitutes evidence is not a place you want to go.

    Still you can’t condemn the whole church for one case. Traditionally Rome gives local bishops a lot of leeway. That is a good thing.

  • Cardinal Law resigned under pressure and was rewarded with plum accommodations and positions in Rome. Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation was the result of his admission of his own sexual misconduct. The original point was simply that if the leaders of the Church want to put the scandal behind them, they will have to show their readiness to punish bishops for covering up abuse by priests. Thus far they haven’t done so.

  • James Keegan

    Tom Doyle’s second sentence has it exactly. Cardinal Mahony’s blog comments around the time of the recent conclave establish that he at least still doesn’t get this.

  • Jim Jenkins

    When a Franciscan priest, originally from Los Angeles, [speaking at our parish on “Mission Sunday” – looking like the early Californian Franciscan friars from central casting] was missioned more than a decade ago to the Indio people of the very remote central Mexican highlands – who had not been evangelized by any missionary since the 18th century – this priest was astonished to find that these indigenous people had maintained without benefit of trained ministers their Christian faith [albeit one mixed and intertwined with their indigenous culture and beliefs], marrying, baptizing and burying each other for generations, celebrating a vibrant variant Christian spirituality for almost THREE centuries. ALL WITHOUT PRIESTS, for decade upon decade.

    Is this not a miracle of the Spirit?!?! What is the Spirit telling us?

    Being a true Franciscan, this humble priest surrendered himself spiritually and emotionally, and allowed himself to be evangelized by these poor women and men. No longer at home in our culture here in California, this Franciscan has stumbled upon true Paradise.

  • Jim Jenkins

    You’re so right-on. Tom Doyle, as usual, says it best.

    I did think Mahony’s reaction to his rebuke from the current LA archbishop Gomez to be very telling. Mahony was so defensive, so political in pointing out Gomez was just posturing for the public. Obviously, Mahony [who participated in the conclave] wanted to preserve his privileges as a member of the college of cardinals.

    All the cardinals a such politicians – its all they live for. I just laugh-out-loud when we hear them so piously, with such unctuous tones, recount how the Holy Spirit is guiding them in their conclave deliberations.

  • John Marshall Lee

    I happened to visit Uganda in January to help build a playground at an orphanage school in Entebbe, and then visited Kenya where I saw elephants in the wild, herds of them, bulls, females and youngsters. I see more than two such pachyderms in our universal Church but many of these have to do with a better understanding of human sexuality. The third rail in that conversation has to do with the subject of “same sex orientation” about which the Church indicates that such attitude, whether acted upon or not, is an indication of intrinsic disorder. Can this be the disorder (or disease) we see in the Church today?
    After Vatican II when a significant number of clergy and religious believed the Chuch would be moving in a different direction on sexual issues and when large numbers of clergy left to marry, the resulting pool of clergy perhaps contained more “same sex orientated”than before?. They were not necessarily the reason for pedophilia or ephebophilia by predators, but they were breaking the promises or oaths of Holy Orders in the rising up to priestly ministry, when they lived anything other than a chaste celibacy. And when a group of men are presenting in one manner, and living out their actual human sexuality in another manner, it is confusing. There is disorder.
    The sexual and power abuse of youth by clergy produced very few real world consequences from episcopal managers. And managers like Bishop Flynn who have been found guilty in civil courts have likewise been provided with a seeming pass from on high.
    Why is/was this so? Fear of scandal, personal embarassment, the protection of brother priests, avoiding a raid on financial resources, or other excuses may be referenced, but in my opinion perhaps the biggest elephant is the fact that “same sex orientation” whether acted upon or not is likely to be two, three or four times more common in the collared ranks than in the US male population at large. How do you unpack that ‘elephant size’ trunk in front of the people of God and hold on to your power, trappings and treasured beliefs? Truly we glimpse chaos, distress and a body in need of healing. Will the Holy Spirit use us in this time to participate in the prayer, reflection and heavy lifting required? Time will tell.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    As a life-long Philadelphia Catholic, I have been speaking out about these crimes against our children since the release of the first GJR in September 2005. One of the most upsetting elements for this writer is the deafening silence from the prestigious Philadelphia-area Catholic institutions of higher learning (for example, LaSalle and St. Joseph’s University) in response to the destruction of children’s lives, spirits, hearts and souls from the sexual abuse committed by certain clergy. Ironically, we had the Dean of Villanova Law School several years ago travel to Dover, Delaware to testify in front of the State legislature AGAINST the legislative proposals that would extend the statue of limitations on such crimes as well as provide a time period for civil action regardless of the date of the offense. Fortunately, those proposals became law and helped identify certain unidentified perpetrators that victimized young children.

    Most recently, my alma-mater, St. Joseph’s University failed to respond to numerous e-mails sent to university leadership and its Board of Trustees asking that they live up to the Ignatian motto of “man (woman) for others” and speak out in support of the legislative proposals in Harrisburg that would strengthen the protection for our children as well as provide better legal access, civilly and criminally, for those who are and/or will become future victims of childhood sexual abuse. These legislative proposals will affect ALL children, regardless of the environment, public or private, religious or secular, so the new laws would be a win for ALL children in the Commonwealth of PA.

    Interestingly, the new advertising program for St. Joseph’s University focuses on “magis”, i.e, to live greater. Despite my suggestion that the St. Joseph’s administration and student body follow the Ignatian tradition to ensure that our “children live greater” by reaching out to their elected officials in the state capital, there has been no response. Standing up against social injustices was one of the principles I valued from my Jesuit education 40 years ago and it seems that the current Ignatian philosophy, at least at St. Joseph’s University, appears to say that the innocence, spirit, hearts and souls of our youngest citizens and children are of little value and importance.

  • Jesus the poor itinerant preacher in the New Testament said, “Whoever believes in me shall never die but shall have life everlasting” (John 11:26). But the Vatican has hijacked the identity of Jesus and enslaved him beneath the Pope identity saying, “Whoever does not believe in the Pope (no matter what papal sins and papal crimes he has committed like Ratzinger and the Borgias) shall die and burn in the eternal fires of Hell and shall be excommunicated …read more here

  • David Naas

    In reviewing both article and comments, It appears that one crime seems– in the minds of many — to justify another crime. Is all of this expressed hate for the Catholic Church resulting from the crimes of priests? No, but what the priests, and bishops did, sure makes a dandy excuse for spewing crap all over the combox. As if one crime is justified by another? Or, perhaps no excuse is needed, gonna hate anyway? What self-righteous nonsense. (You don’t think “hate” is a crime? Really! Oh, you think that YOUR hate is not a crime, but eminently justified? In a pig’s eye, mes enfants.)

  • Scott in Canada


    I am a catholic in the Canadian Diocese of Hamilton. None of the many priests I know have ever been accused in their long careers, the current bishop and his predecessor are in no way implicated in any of this scandal. The current metropolitan, Cardinal Collins, who came from my diocese, and has not been in implicated in any of this, and he is widely regarded as a saintly man.
    So, this is hardly universal. But what can one say to anti-catholic bigots who like to troll the internet looking for any opportunity to abuse the Church?

  • Carolyn Disco

    How refreshing to see Tom Doyle in print here. “Totally off base” also applies to comments here that excuse episcopal conduct while ridiculing the pursuit of justice.

    It’s ironic that bishops who lobbed against mandatory reporting and SOL reform made sure to keep the secrets long enough to escape accountability. All the while not providing complete sexual histories to treatment centers and not adhering to restrictions the doctors recommended.

    The ignorance of those who equate anti-Catholicism with just condemnation of criminal conduct — either as abusers or enablers — is simply encyclopedic.

  • John K. Walker

    Excuse me, but Law was only transferred to Rome and even said Mass at one of John Paul’s funeral services!!! — exhibit A in the arrogance and moral indifference being discussed here. And at what I believe was his last USCCB meeting before being forced out of office by public opinion and Massachusetts state officials — though not by the Vatican — he even publicly raised objection to the reforms being proposed, many of which have been reportedly been subsequently circumvented by any Bishop who feels that obeying either basic rules of human decency or the civil law is somehow up to his own discretion. (Odd that this was not true of the original Apostles themselves.) I am hoping and fervently praying that Francis “actually gets it,” and see signs that perhaps he does. (For the record, the Vatican’s frequent spokesman Frederico Lombardi certainly does.) And for what its worth, I believe that Benedict came to understand this as well and thus knew he had to resign, not because of his own (relatively) minor and debatable lack of judgement as a Bishop about 30 years ago, but because overcoming this nightmare really will require many years of painful action beyond his probable physiological capacity (ala JP II’s last years), not the least purpose of which is the necessity to restore the Church’s now less-than-zero public moral authority outside of the faithful, and nearly non-existent influence even within parishes.

    The most out-to-lunch commentators are those reactionary blowhards who preposterously blame Vatican II for this tragedy and want to use the scandal to return to the Middle Ages. Of course, this would entail LESS visibility, not mention that the abuses started well before 1962. (I try to ignore them, but they are so disgustingly prevalent in the media.) But thankfully, I happen to be like Scott from Hamilton, Canada above, blessed to live in a diocese (Phoenix AZ) with a wonderful Bishop (although there were pederastic crimes committed under his predecessor, who was forced out of office for another reason). Otherwise I too would have left the Church by now, and sadly this status must remain up in the air for the rest of my life.

    But of course no such sadness at the Church hierarchy’s self-administered wounds can compare to the personal horrors of the victims. I only wish there were something the rest of us could say or do to ease your pain, beyond petition and prayer. At least we all know that Jesus feels your pain.

  • James Keegan

    David – Where’s the hate? Disappointment, frustration, even rage . . . but I’m missing the hate. Perhaps, it’s in the eye of the beholder. To repeat to an extent, when most were stunned by the news of abuse and cover-up, certain hierarchs seemingly exhibited a very different reaction. And, recently, Cardinal Mahony’s statements indicated he still doesn’t understand why I find his reported conduct appalling. Jim

  • John M

    As a survivor of clerical sexual abuse, I believe that only when those bishops who covered up or aided priest predators resign, are removed from office or die can healing in the church start. Remember that it was the victims who brought attention to the abuse, who pushed through personal pain, and who demanded justice.

  • Kay Goodnow

    I concur, John M., but I would also like to see the bishops who enabled serve time in jail. Otherwise, like Law and Finn, to name just two, they will continue to play the game and save face. Also, IMHO, it’s not that they “don’t get it,” it’s more like they believe they are way beyond the laws of the land and they are also beyond God’s laws. Mahoney behaves that way. Removing them from office will merely set them free to go elsewhere and enable again. I don’t “hate” the church, but I hate the behavior of the authority of the church as respects the abuse of children and immature adults. And yes, we fought long and hard to be heard. Feels good, doesn’t it, to watch them squirm over a problem that they themselves originated.

  • Mary Huber

    Well said, Kay; very well said, indeed!

  • John M

    Thank you, Kay, for your input and I agree that jail time for priests, brothers, sisters, bishops, cardinals, and popes should also be included, although I can’t actually see it happening to the latter two groups. So many of us were and, unfortunately, still are paralyzed by fear and deference towards them and the clerical culture they have invented. I just have to remember that Jesus was not a priest and that the Letter to the Hebrews, justifying the priesthood, was not written by St. Paul.

  • Allan

    Many years ago I was expelled from the Fanciscan Novitiate because I rejected the sexual advances of the Master of Novices. A couple of years ago I read online that that man had died as an Archbishop. I have long since cut my ties to the Catholic Church, but I still believe that I am the one with the true vocation.

  • Kay Goodnow

    Allan, it’s true, you really are the one with the true vocation! There are so many, many good people in this world who have not even a whit of religious affiliation, yet they live the words of Christ and set marvelous examples. You can see it in their eyes and (I) actually feel their “vibes.” So be it, and it’s direct intervention by the spirit that things worked out for you the way they did. Good for you! We are the ones with the power to change ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Hanora Brennan

    Give it time – most records are being witheld from the authorities or are being shredded. The RCC has to be held accountable for the sins of the past for it to have any credibility going forward. Your attitude to people with constructive criticism to offer smacks of the mindset of old.

  • Hanora Brennan

    Sins of omission should ring a bell or two?

  • Hanora Brennan

    Yes, Randy and the Primate in Armagh was promoted for covering for a rampant paedophile in Dublin and bullying 2 children less than 12 years of age of excommunication if they told anyone of the abuse in the Dublin Diocese. Look at the salary Law is on in the Vatican and the lifestyle he now leads whilst his victims still struggle through their miserable lives. The RCC has a long long way to go before I’ll utter a good word about them. F! is talking the talk but will he walk the talk?

  • Hanora Brennan

    And James you’ve just proven you’re one of them. I sincerely hope you’re not a husband nor a father – a psychopathic lack of compassion there.

  • Hanora Brennan

    Go to bed David and in your dreams you might find a little humility – pompous oaf!

  • Hanora Brennan

    Up to 12 years of age I listened to the twaddle they pedalled at me in 2 of Ireland’s infamous institutions but it left me fearless of man and beast. I have never felt like a victim though I’ve had vile acts committed to my body and mind in the name of Christ I might add. I’ve been in horrific situtations that when I reflect back on them I am staggered at the fact I am still alive but the RCC will be pursued and punished and its followers will endure to live their religion.

  • Joe Paterno vis-à-vis Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles

    Today is Super Bowl and it is right and just to commemorate – Sports and its secular moral justice – versus the Catholic Church and its perpetual Vatican Injustice and Vatican Deceits.

    Joe Paterno of Penn State University- — His crime: he covered-up one (1) pedophile football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty on 45 of the 48 counts against him and is now serving 60 years in prison for sexually abusing about 8 boys who testified – His punishments- 1) Penn State University removed his statue, see images below- 2) NCAA annulled his winnings (NCAA also punished Penn State with a hefty fine of $60 Million, read story below)

    Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles – His crimes: he covered-up more than 124 pedophile priests and settled a historic $660 million in compensation, the highest in the USA, with more than 500 victims- His punishment: Opus Dei Archbishop Gomez wrote that Mahony will be “relieved of public duties” (but he is already retired so nothing changed really. Read articles in Los Angeles files. Mahony must be jailed as Nazis caught in their old age and retirement