A decade later, have Catholic bishops seen the light on sex abuse?
Another post from the world’s worst blogger. This one about the faith column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Religion writer David Gibson takes on American bishops 10 years after their historic Dallas meeting, acknowledging the “critical steps” taken with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, but pointing out how bishops protected themselves.
But throughout it all, the bishops exempted themselves from accountability—even though records showed that feckless inaction by many bishops, or even deliberate malfeasance by some, had allowed abusers to claim so many victims.
The best answer the bishops had to this in Dallas was a behind-the-scenes “fraternal correction” policy, by which a bishop would quietly pass along any concerns about another bishop to that bishop. Church tradition was invoked to preclude any external oversight by laypeople or other prelates. As always, each bishop would answer only to the pope, who alone had the authority to remove the head of a diocese.
Now, as the bishops gather next week in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting, they will hear an update on the Dallas charter but are unlikely to address this enormous loophole—despite events that make it all the more urgent.
It’s an excellent and timely column. And it stirred up some memories from my early days on the religion beat. I cannot believe it’s been a decade since the bishops crafted their charter — and that I was there covering it for the Austin American-Statesman. I was brand new on the beat and had a lot to learn about how the church operated as an institution (even though I was raised Catholic, I didn’t really understand the inner workings of the hierarchy). More importantly, I had much to learn about the impact of sexual abuse. The victims who showed up in droves to the Dallas meeting seemed so angry and demanding. Just raw emotion that, in all honesty, rather frightened me. I couldn’t relate to them.
I still can’t fully appreciate how damaging it is to be abused in this way, especially by a person who represents God. But after interviews with many victims over the years, I do have a much better understanding of their desperate need to be heard. For many of them, it had been decades of silence and shame, and those few days in Dallas marked the first time they were acknowledged. And even then, the response from the bishops was disappointing.
The problem, I think, still remains: The bishops by and large did not feel that raw pain. They did not treat the sex abuse scandal — which came to light despite their efforts to conceal it and only because a dogged team of reporters from the Boston Globe did not give up — as the real crisis that it was …. and is. What happened to so many children and adolescents — what was ALLOWED to happen, what was, in effect, facilitated by the hierarchy — is the epitome of evil. Lives were ruined. In the face of that, concern over money and power and influence and protocol is ludicrous. Plain and simple.
Forget the institution. If you mean to follow Jesus and take care of your flock, you have to be willing to burn the institution down.
From what I can tell, the bishops aren’t willing to do that.