Do the U.S. Bishops get it?

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Jason Berry

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Jason Berry

Jason Berry

Jason Berry

It’s been 30 years since Jason Berry broke the Catholic sex abuse story by courageously reporting on the case of serial abuser Fr. Gilbert Gauthe in Louisiana. When national publications refused to touch the story, Berry published his investigation in the Times of Acadiana, and that little paper proved to be the mouse that roared. The National Catholic Reporter immediately took the plunge and before long the mainstream media lost its fear of reporting how bishops systematically put the protection of their clergy and their church’s reputation ahead of the protection of minors.

NCR marked the anniversary last month with a tough editorial, which has drawn an appropriately non-confrontational response from Bishop Edward J.  Burns of Juneau, Alaska, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. To his credit, Burns acknowledges that the church’s considerable effort to establish a safe environment for children should not be taken as “a sign that we have somehow put this scandal behind us, nor is it an occasion for self-congratulation…Rather, our shepherds, myself included, need to face and repent of the betrayal of trust. Authentic and heartfelt repentance by the shepherds of our church is not a distraction from our mission: It is the mission at this moment in the life of the church and her leaders.”

So what’s wrong with this?

What’s wrong is that, after 30 years, we are well past the “facing up and repenting” phase of the scandal — and (finally) into the “consequences for misbehaving bishops” phase. Burns makes no reference to Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul, both of whom were clearly forced by the Vatican to resign this year for their handling of abuse cases. Nor does he note the tribunal that has been established by Pope Francis to deal with bishops charged with covering up and/or failing to report admitted or suspected abusers.

Here’s how Burns should have continued his letter:

“Yet there can be no ironclad guarantee that a bishop now or in the future will not abuse his trust in this regard. For that reason, it is essential that any bishop who does so will be removed from office. This year, the Vatican accepted the resignations of two bishops identified by the civil authorities as having failed to discharge their legal obligations with respect to subordinates suspected of abuse. More importantly, Pope Francis has announced the creation of a tribunal to adjudicate such cases. The U.S. bishops embrace this judicial mechanism as a necessary means of assuring our accountability.”

Only by endorsing a statement of this sort will the U.S. bishops make it clear to the world that they get it.

  • Arneson

    I am still on the rolls in my parish in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, although I consider myself a thoroughly lapsed Catholic. The scandal in my parish was the centerpiece of the reporting from Minnesota Public Radio that eventually led to the demise of Archbishop John Nienstedt. I was glad to see him go, but it in no way makes up for the manner in which he ‘led’ his flock.

    I like Pope Francis, but he is about three decades too late. Bishops became archbishops and cardinals specifically because of their zeal to cover the abuse and protect church assets from the victims. Sending these two sorry individuals down the road is start, albeit a small one.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    Do the US Bishops get it? Mark, the answer is quite obvious to any reasonable, mature adult, regardless of religious affiliation, who has been following this trail of deceit, hubris, duplicity, denial, arrogance and fecklessness by the leadership in the USA RCC ever since the abuse scandal hit the national headlines in 2002.

    They REFUSE “to get it”. They could do so, are able to do so, but individually and collectively have REFUSED to face and admit to the horrific, life-destroying and criminal conduct of certain clergy as well as certain members of their leadership.

    Any questions, Mark? Gotta run, and put on those “rose-colored” glasses, don’t you know. The Pope is coming to this wonderful City of Brotherly Love and Chaput is all aglow. It is the World Meeting of Families, too. Please don’t be distracted by the firing of a long-term religion educator at a Catholic school near Philadelphia because of her lesbian marriage. Chaput said he had nothing to do with…

  • Bernardo

    Why we all need to “get it”:

    FEAR, SHAME and GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP, a standard response across the board with the “walking with god clerics” now forever walking with the common man–

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy “I did not have s-ex with that girl” Clinton, John “Marilyn Monroe” Kennedy”.

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger “I am so sorry for getting caught” Woods.

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan or football coach since pe-dophilia is present in all walks of life.

    Some hyphenation used to defeat an obvious word filter.

    Continued below:

  • Bernardo

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of “neithers” they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pe-dophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women, football coaches), divorce for ad-ultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Paterno et al Clinton, Cardinal Law) or child endangerment (Paterno in abstentia, Sandusky et al, Lynn) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder (“Kings David and Henry VIII).

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  • Betty Clermont

    Finn was dumped after it was reported that Chileans rioted over Pope Francis’ appointment of Bishop Barros. Nienstedt was dumped after reports about the findings of the Australian Royal Commission about Cardinal Pell, Francis’ financial “tsar”, in Ballarat. Not one single reporter noted that no tribunal was needed for Nienstedt’s “resignation.” Barros and Pell stay. I never thought I’d be defending the US bishops in the area of clerical sex abuse, but their level of hypocrisy has been far exceeded by this pope.

  • “Bernard Law”

    Why isn’t anyone looking for me even when I return to the good ol’ USA?

  • drwho13

    The very dregs of the ecclesiastical princes, are you saying Bernie is back in the States?