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No. 11- 5:30 PM 6/17 MP
Bishops agree to remove sex offenders from ministry

No. 10- 8:00 PM 6/16 TF/TR
Bishops urged, in a most unusual morning, to press for reforms beyond sex abuse policy

No. 9- 11:00 AM 6/14 TR
Bishops urged, in a most unusual morning, to press for reforms beyond sex abuse policy

No. 8- 9:15 AM 6/14 MP
Bishops issue ‘profound apology,’ hear victims’ stories, strong calls for reform

No. 7- 9:00 PM 6/14 TF
NCR Editor Tom Roberts assesses Dallas meeting on “News Hour”

No. 5- 10:00 AM 6/13 TR
Serious questions for wider church loom after Dallas meeting

No. 4- 9:45 AM 6/13 TR
For victim leader Clohessy, years of work lead to 15 minutes before the bishops

No. 3- 4:30 PM 6/12 TF
Arriving in Dallas, bishops greeted with more bad news

No. 2- 11:00 AM 6/12 TF
U.S. bishops, facing church division, lack authority to set U.S. course

No. 1- 4:35 PM 6/11 TF
Cardinal lashes out against U.S. media as it prepares for Dallas

Posted 1:45 P.M. CST Thursday, June 13, 2002
Number 6

Bishops caught in the middle as meeting opens

NCR Publisher

Entering the two-day Dallas meeting, pressure is mounting on the bishops to face an issue they have wanted to avoid at all costs - their own culpability in enabling the clergy abuse to continue for the past two decades.

The pressure started to build immediately after the release of the conference draft statement 10 days ago by the ad hoc bishops’ committee on sex abuse. Victim groups along with other Catholic reform groups immediately pounced on the missing element.

“It is astonishing they could issue the draft and not touch on their own culpability,” said Frances Kissling, President of Catholics for a Free Choice. “It shows how isolated they are from public opinion that they thought they could get away from it.”

At least some of the bishops, whether they can do anything or not, appear to understand that the Dallas gathering will become another public relations fiasco -- like the meeting of U.S. cardinals with the pope in April -- unless somehow they tackle the “bishops’ culpability” issue.

This growing pressure was evident in remarks made Wednesday night by Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops’ conference. Gregory said the bishops would take up the issue. He did not elaborate. Many reformers here are skeptical.

None of the lobbyists for reform I have spoken to here consider his remarks to represent more than a bone being tossed to public opinion. “If he takes it up, he won’t find support among the (bishops’) conference. No I don’t expect that to go anywhere,” said Kissling.

Thus, the bishops find themselves in a hard place. Public opinion is forcing them reluctantly onto a dreaded terrain. There are no roadmaps. Meanwhile, there is no evidence whatsoever among the bishops, especially from published reports quoting Roman prelates, that even minimal change is anywhere on the bishops’ collective radar screens.

“The bishops must be accountable! They are like the rest of us. Just like doctors, lawyers, teachers, anyone,” said Tary Harms, a member of FOSIL (Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity). “And what about the pope? Let’s face it. The church is set up on a military model. The bishops are officers and the pope is the general. When is he going to be called to accountability? All orders come from the top down.”

Discussions get heated here.

At least for now, reform lobbyists here seem to be rallying around three immediate demands:

1. Zero tolerance for clergy abuse going forward and extending back.

2. Substantive episcopal accountability, including substantial resignations of bishops who have enabled clergy abuse.

3. Lay financial oversight of church operations.

“Anything less will not work,” said Anthony Padovano, a board member of the Corps of Reserve Priests United for Service, often called CORPUS, an organization that has lobbied for a more inclusive clergy.

Padovano and other reform advocates here are skeptical that substantive change can or will occur, not in Dallas, not during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. “He will go to his grave resisting all change,” said Padovano.

Reformers here generally recognize the bishops are in a difficult spot. Their temperaments and positions don’t deal with change well. Some reformers note the bishops no longer have the authority to set their own course and can only recommend to Rome.

No bishop to this date has publicly called for the kind of change being envisioned by reform advocates here.

Only hours into this historic meeting, the U.S. bishops have conceded to a demand of victims, the demand to be heard in a public session. The victims spoke this morning in deeply moving testimony. Their talks represent a major new moment in the two decade-long clergy abuse scandal. It has the potential to represent a turning point in modern church history as well, a movement toward a humbler church, a humbler episcopacy. These public addresses would have been considered unthinkable six months ago.

At the same time, a dark cloud seems to be gathering on the horizon. The victims’ talks will only likely stir greater demands for substantive change, for real reform in the way the church is run.

Simply listening to victims, without responding to their collective demands for episcopal accountability, it seems, will not be enough, for the victims, other advocates of reform, or for the appeasement of public opinion.

Dallas, for now, shows the strength of the faith of simple people, victims, and the complexities of bringing substantive change to the church.

It is said that change occurs slowly in the 2,000-year-old Catholic church. This is generally said as a positive thing, that this keeps Catholicism from being swept up in quickly shifting currents of history. Perhaps. However, at this time and at this place, the idea of slow change, coming when the bishops have lost credibility and victims are bringing their stories to the world on live television, sounds fatal indeed.