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Dallas Notes


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. 6- 1:45 PM 6/13 TF
Bishops caught in the middle as meeting opens

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 10:00 A.M. CST Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Number 12

Bishops sink me to new low

NCR Editor-at-large

I can speak only for myself, not the half a dozen other Catholics in the room. But the American bishops have lately succeeded in inflicting something on me I have not previously experienced. They made me feel ashamed of being a Catholic.

It was a horrible experience.

I’ve always been a very public Catholic. Quite pious for a so-called liberal. Rosary, so many holy pictures and RIP cards in my Jerusalem Bible, I can no longer lift it with one hand. Jesus is on the wall above the computer, along with an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. And a framed page from a Catholic prayer book in Japanese.

In the Royal Air Force at boot camp I said my prayers at the side of my bed.

Wherever I’ve worked in the secular world, my Catholicism has either been on my sleeve or on my desk. No observer-come-lately to Catholic issues, I was writing on the American church pre-Vatican II – when I was in this country from 1962-64.

In the early 60s, if I was disgusted at the uncertainty surrounding Pius XII’s possible anti-semitism when I wrote the first U.S. stories on “The Deputy,” I was cheered by the stories I was able to do on Catholics Marching on Washington, creating Catholic Worker houses, serving the poor in their hospitals, going off as missionaries to help the worst off in the world, filling the church rail for communion on Sundays, and populating the landscape of the East Coast cities I knew with symbols of their energy and caring.

I wasn’t an American Catholic, I was an English Catholic, but I was proud of what they were all so energetically about. And I’ve remained proud of them, through all the hopes and squabbles, sorrows and non-senses, advancements and retrenchments. Great church.

Yet the Friday the bishops were doing their Dallas shuffle, the bare minimum required to temporarily get themselves off the hook, I was in a room filled with professionals and peers.

Of the four dozen present -- possibly a half-dozen were Catholics -- I knew perhaps 20 present on a first name basis. They all knew where I worked and what I did.

In casual conversation they wanted to know about the Catholic Church and the Catholic bishops. Not in an aggressive way. They wanted me to make sense of it for them. I couldn’t. (I noticed a couple of other Catholics nearby shift a little uneasily when the questions came up.)

All I could do was say that the bishops were symptomatic of themselves, not the Catholic laity. That the Catholic Church was better than its leadership. That it was unconscionable that across the last decade and a half not one had the courage to publicly called his confreres to task. Not one had the decency to publicly apologize until forced to.

Not one had the personal integrity to resign.

And no, I couldn’t understand why no bishop has yet been prosecuted for allegedly sheltering criminal priests. When pressed as to why they had not, I surmised that -- given the evidence of cover-up – it stemmed from a certain diffidence on the part of city police chiefs or prosecutors.

Where was it headed, I was asked? Nowhere, I said.

The bishops will stammer, and stall. Despite the Gospel call for compassion, they’ll oust priests without an iota of mercy and compassion in order to protect their own standing.

When Rome thunders, they will find ways to mollify if they don’t totally capitulate.

The pedophilia problem, I said to my questioners, stemmed from a priesthood drawn from a small pool of candidates that didn’t include married priests and women. Celibacy wasn’t the problem, celibacy didn’t equate with pedophilia, nor did homosexuality. And it stemmed from the exclusive club mentality, common to some professions. I grew up in and around hospitals. Medical professionals protected drunken fellow doctors delivering babies, botched surgeries, misdiagnoses for generations.

Not until patients began suing -- the way sexual abuse victims began suing -- did some one kick open the club door.

Equally bad is yet to come, I said. It is how the bishops in their dioceses handle money entrusted to them. This crisis will be a time coming, but it will be the actual beginning of the end when it happens.

Many bishops, it appears, continue to skim off the top of the collection plate. Judging from the way they’ve been handing out hush money, many of them have a sense of fiduciary responsibility -- once they have their hands on other-people’s-money – that would put a Wall Street bucket shop to shame. The bishops honestly believe the cash is theirs. Incredible.

I took the cab for the plane home.

What hadn’t I said?

That the American bishops haven’t even the stature in Rome to explain to the pope that this isn’t Poland or Latin America where calling in the police is concerned. They haven’t the stature among their own people any more to lead. Any moral suasion they had with the American public in general is gone.

How do we look to our fellow Americans eyeing us through the prism of the bishops and Dallas? Pretty much as I looked at the gathering.

A Seattle man, not a Catholic, writing post-Dallas to his local daily in the wake of Dallas, asked: “Why am I not surprised that the Catholic bishops failed to propose any sanctions against fellow bishops who transferred known abusers from one parish to another?”

If these bishops remain “effectively immune from any accountability to Catholic laity,” Bill Sieverling told the Seattle Times, it seems to me those outside the church have a responsibility to speak up and call abuse of power by its right name.” He found the bishops’ post-Dallas “self-congratulatory claims” to be “disingenuous at best.”

Turn to any readers’ letters page and you see the church as others see us.

It’s not a pretty sight. I’m convinced very few bishops actually understand the extent of the shame and damage they’ve inflicted on the American Catholic church and its people.

Most of them will continue to smile their ways along chancery corridors quietly humming “Earthen Vessels” and hope the headlines will go away.