Bishops sink me to new
By ARTHUR JONES
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
Ive 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
In the Royal Air Force at boot camp I
said my prayers at the side of my bed.
Wherever Ive 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 XIIs 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 wasnt an American Catholic, I
was an English Catholic, but I was proud of what they were all so energetically
about. And Ive remained proud of them, through all the hopes and
squabbles, sorrows and non-senses, advancements and retrenchments. Great
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 couldnt. (I noticed a
couple of other Catholics nearby shift a little uneasily when the questions
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
Not one had the personal integrity to
And no, I couldnt 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, theyll 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 dont totally capitulate.
The pedophilia problem, I said to my
questioners, stemmed from a priesthood drawn from a small pool of candidates
that didnt include married priests and women. Celibacy wasnt the
problem, celibacy didnt 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
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 theyve
been handing out hush money, many of them have a sense of fiduciary
responsibility -- once they have their hands on other-peoples-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
What hadnt I said?
That the American bishops havent
even the stature in Rome to explain to the pope that this isnt Poland or
Latin America where calling in the police is concerned. They havent 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
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.
Its not a pretty sight. Im
convinced very few bishops actually understand the extent of the shame and
damage theyve 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.