Beliefs Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

American Catholic Exceptionalism

“Will it never end?” Michael Sean Winters asked last week in contemplating the indictment handed up by a Philadelphia grand jury for sexual abuse against three priests, a lay teacher, and–most importantly–the high archdiocesan official who managed the cover-up. The answer I’d give is no, not as long as the Catholic church in America is what it is.

You can say that Philly was one of the toughest nuts for critics to crack. You can hope, for his sake, that Tim Dolan of New York didn’t squirrel away tens of millions of dollars to avoid settling abuse suits when he ran the show in Milwaukee. You can enjoy the irony of outgoing Roger Mahony of L.A., he of many sins, summarily dismissing his Vicar for Clergy for assigning a parish to a priest who had abused a teenage girl in the 1960s.

Then consider the latest news from Ireland:

The Pope will be officially told the Irish Catholic Church is “on the
edge” of national collapse and has only five to 10 years to make a
radical recovery by giving laymen and women a greater say in
decision-making.

That’s according to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who’s got the job of reporting to the Vatican on the state of the Irish church. But if O’Malley tried to deliver the same message regarding the American church, his fellow bishops would laugh him out of town. In Ireland, they understand that clericalism is the problem. Here, they think it’s the solution.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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