A Bit of Context, and a Label

David Gibson clarifies the context of Cardinal George’s remark I blogged yesterday. From Politics Daily:

“There are some who would like to trap the church in historical events of ages long past, and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years,” George said. “The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance.”

George noted that the “clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children” and said that whatever the sins of those abusers, they “cannot be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching.”

Sad. The cardinal still doesn’t get it. Will someone explain to him that we Catholics have known about abusive clergy for decades. Heck, they still make jokes about nuns going all corporal punishment on kid knuckles and all. 2002 wasn’t news to most people as far as clergy sex abuse was concerned. (If the USCCB had been paying attention to Tom Doyle in the 80’s, it wouldn’t have been news to them, either.) It was the bishops’ crisis (George’s words) of governance. A very ineffective governance. A scandal, if I may borrow a word from the Catholic Right. I don’t think the term misses the mark.

The particular anger directed at the Chicago archbishop a few years back wasn’t some psychological deflection from that priest found to be an abuser. It was the archbishop’s own complicity in allowing the man to be a danger to minors. Lay people are non-stupid enough to distinguish a criminal from his employer, as it were. When Cardinal George and other bishops don’t take the Charter seriously–their own rules, mind you–it’s then that we have to wonder not only about “effective governance,” but other matters even more grave.

Cardinal George doesn’t seem to make the public distinction between teaching by word and teaching by lived example. From the Scriptures all the way down to the Vatican documents, we see a strong emphasis on living the faith. In other words, orthopraxis (right actions or right practice) is right up there with orthodoxy (right praise or right belief). We believers have to practice what we preach. The bishops pull together a Charter. Fine. Anybody with a lawyer and a public relations catastrophe would do that. Do the bishops live the commitment they put into writing? Do they go the extra mile in applying it? Do they encourage embittered laity and clergy and set the bar high for themselves?

There are certain logical disconnects between bishops preaching on sexual sins and permitting clergy transgressions to go unpunished. It doesn’t invalidate the moral code of Christianity as we’ve received it from Jesus. It just means that certain bishops, and perhaps the Catholic hierarchy as a whole, will have to work a little harder to make a convincing case. The orthodoxy we don’t doubt. It’s the orthopraxis that’s called into question.

Cardinal George’s hope to lasso “Catholic” as an authoritative capitalized adjective is interesting, as are the doubting comments from other bishops Mr Gibson passes along. I use it on my web page. Lots of bloggers and sites. I can tell you that unless my pastor or bishop request me to change, I’m not planning on toeing some line the cardinal draws in the sand. This is the internet. Caveat emptor. Catholicism is not easy. You can’t drift through life after baptism and expect everything important to be carefully labelled for you. If you come to this site or lots of places on the internet, you will read things that will make you steam, you might be scandalized–in the sense that the Right sometimes uses that term, “Something I strongly disagree with.” Personally, I find the conservative sites more testy than the liberal ones. But we make it relative, I guess.

It would seem we are reduced to the simple principle of knowing Catholicism by its fruits. To that end, I can only set the best example I can muster. In a healthy Catholic spirituality, that means the checks and balances of valued counsel. I rely on my readers to set me straight when I wander on this blog. I certainly rely on my wife’s sensible guidance in matters of family and personal conscience. My ministry colleagues for our shared endeavors with students. My close Catholic friends for general guidance. I believe I’m set up pretty well in the Church. As I ponder the bishops meeting this week, I can only hope they also have the needed guidance in each of their circles of life, that they’re as well served as I am.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to A Bit of Context, and a Label

  1. Liam says:

    Cdl George is taking refuge in a lawyerism: “…purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children.” This elides the deeper issue of the Scandal: the gross negligence and willful misconduct of bishops, chancery lackies and pastors and others (lay and clerical) in covering up and stonewalling. How many of these have been, to use his word, “purged”? If being appointed archpriest of Basilica of St Mary Major is a form of purgation, I am most interested.

    The Cardinal’s remarks in this regard are obtuse, self-serving, disingenuous and unworthy of a shepherd. He needs someone close to him to say “You should know better than to try to pull that off” the way Roman generals being given a triumph had a slave uttering “Sic transit gloria mundi” in their ears…

  2. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish says:

    The sad fact is the bishops have not even begun to consider their own part in the enormity of the church’s sexual abuse problems. A number of dioceses still have confidentiality clauses in civil settlements and a number still are fighting the release of formerly sealed records. Even the small diocese of Wilmington Delaware filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the Sunday evening before the DeLuca 8 trial was to begin on the following Monday morning. A more blatent end run around Delaware’s new Child Victims Law and the two year civil window which closed in July of 2009 if hard to find. Neither the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California nor the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut has complied with the court’s decisions regarding previously sealed records. Note the article below —



    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Victims’ Advocate
    New Castle, Delaware

    In the case of the Bridgeport Diocese v. New York Times, 09-246, the United States Supreme Court on November 2, 2009 has again decided against hearing the most recent appeal by the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut to stop the release of more than 12,000 pages of documents that have been sealed since 23 lawsuits against six priests were settled in 2001.

    This decision is likely to be significant in that it sets a precedent for motions by any religious denomination whose leadership would seek to conspire to cover up for sexually abusive ministers.

    In addition, such a precedent could compel other public and private institutions to unseal their records in similar situations.

    This is a step in the right direction and the high court should be applauded for this decision as should the secular newspapers, including the New York Times, which pursued the release of these documents.

    It is particularly heartening for those of us in the Roman Catholic Church who have long pressed for the accountability and transparency that was promised by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 but which leadership has been slow in delivering.

    For example, it has been four years since the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report on the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia was published yet little has been done substantively to address its recommendations even though the archdiocese’s self serving and minimizing response was rebutted point by point by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

    Comment by Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Thu, Nov 5, 7:40pm

    In New York the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the state’s Catholic Conference have joined forces with the Orthodox Jews to continue opposing attempts to change childhood sexual abuse laws, especially any which would include the opening of a civil window for bringing forward previously time barred cases of abuse – by anyone!

    Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Brooklyn diocese even went so far as to threaten a local Catholic legislator some months ago with the closing of his parish church if he supported the Markey-Duane Bill.

    Such actions by episcopal leaders in attempts to avoid their responsibility for exposing untold numbers of children to the perversity of such spiritually corrupted individuals is a contradiction to everything Jesus Christ taught.

    The recent SCOTUS decision, however, and the expected release of files, records and testimony by the institutional church in Bridgeport, Connecticut should provide a window into a very secret hierarchical world, one that has been protected and enabled by clericalism.

    It will help to expose the how and why of a religious denomination’s gross failures to protect the bodies and souls of countless vulnerable individuals.

    The expectation is that these documents will show just who the bishops, religious superiors and other church officials were who made the decisions to protect known sexual predators from discovery; individuals who were routinely transferred from place to place without an ounce of pastoral concern for the children victimized. Such a template would be applicable across the United States.

    The absence of justifiable anger and rage for what was done to innocent children over decades is appalling and is surpassed only by the lack of empathy and pastoral concern by the bishops themselves.

    Comment by Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Thu, Nov 5, 7:44pm

    Neither the bishops nor other religious superiors have taken responsibility for the abuse of their power and authority which actually created what is referred to as the church’s sexual abuse scandal.

    “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” was the way Lord Acton put it.

    Is it too much to expect that the consciences of the American bishops will be touched enough that they will support the removal of all criminal and civil statutes of limitation in regard to childhood sexual abuse and direct their respective state Catholic Conferences to lobby for the same?

    Their refusal to support such legislative reform denies the protection of law to all children.

    There are precedents as close as the state of Delaware where all criminal and civil statutes of limitation have been removed and the two year civil window for previously time barred cases of childhood sexual abuse closed just this past July.

    Sadly, church leadership and Catholic Conferences in a number of states including New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland continue in their vicious opposition to any legislative reform that would bring child abuse statutes into the 21st century while not letting the truth get in the way of advancing their self-serving agendas.

    In a recent interview, the Bridgeport, Connecticut bishop, the Most Rev. William Lori, said the church has apologized and improved. “The Catholic Church today is one of the safest places your child can be, thanks to all the steps the diocese has taken,” he said. According to Lori, “it is about the future, not the past.”

    Such statements by Bishop Lori are disingenuous. Accountability and transparency in the present provides neither justice nor a firm purpose of amendment for the crimes and sins of the past.

    Comment by Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Thu, Nov 5, 7:46pm

    Now, adding insult to the injury inflicted on victim/survivors of clerical sexual abuse is the public statement of support for “Bishop Lori In His Diocese’s Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court,” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This statement of support was made at the meeting of the Administrative Committee of the USCCB on September 15 and 16 in Washington, D.C.

    More than just a statement of support, it appears to indicate a backsliding on the bishops’ promises of accountability and transparency which were made in 2002 while it follows the lead of the Holy See whose United Nations representative, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, recently spoke to in response to charges of gross violations of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child to which it is a signatory.

    Tomasi minimized the sex abuse problems of the Catholic Church while suggesting that the Protestant churches in the U.S. were much worse offenders.

    A mindset that uses, “they’re doing it too” as a defense, works no better in the hallowed halls of the United Nations then it does in the school yard.

    Particularly distressing is this paragraph from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ official statement which can be found at their website:

    “The Bishops of the United States have taken sustained, concrete steps to fulfill our pledge to ensure a safe environment for children and young people in the Church, and to promote healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors of sexual abuse. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (2002) was a prominent milestone in that longstanding commitment.”

    While child protection professionals acknowledge that programs have been put in place by church leadership, it must be remembered that the actions taken by the bishops in 2002 were not of their own choosing but rather ones they were forced to take largely in response to public outrage.

    Comment by Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Thu, Nov 5, 7:48pm

    As such it will be some time before any long term success attributable to these programs can be adequately evaluated.

    Moreover, while the bishops mention the promotion of “healing and reconciliation” they do not mention that justice is a human and civil right that victims of sexual abuse are entitled to pursue and which the USCCB should be promoting.

    The bishops do not profess their belief in these victims’ rights nor do they indicate any commitment to remove the archaic statutes of limitation that exist in many states.

    Trafficking in individuals for sexual exploitation, pornography, the sexual abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults are pernicious societal problems and certainly there should be no accommodation in law that gives more protection to sexual predators and their enablers then it does to the victims of such horrific physical, sexual and psychological violations which have little to do with the separation of church and state and everything to do with obeying the laws that that an entire society is obliged to follow.

    What still appears to be missing in the bishops’ recent statement is a strong pastoral response for the violations victims of childhood sexual abuse have had to endure by these trusted representatives of God and the subsequent betrayal by those whose first duty was to protect them.

    One cannot profess pastoral concern for those sexually, physically or psychologically abused while continuing to oppose attempts which would bring statutes covering such criminal and aberrant behavior into the 21st century.

    Jesus was angry and he expressed rage, especially in Matthew 18:6 where he admonished, “If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    Comment by Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Thu, Nov 5, 7:54pm

    Religious leaders in the United States and around the world would do well to reread the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child and the 2002 follow up Shadow Report.

    Then, rather than complain that others are worse then they, church leaders should, in the words of Matthew 7:3, ”cast out the beam in their own eyes that they fail to see.” ________________________________

    Sister Maureen Turlish is a Delaware educator and a victims’ advocate who testified before the Delaware Senate and House Judiciary Committees in support of Delaware’s 2007 Child Victims Law. She is a member of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, Voice of the Faithful and Child Victims Voice, a Delaware coalition for better child protection laws.

  3. Gabe says:

    Once again I am appalled and angered, though not surprised, by remarks of Cardinal George. How dare he expect us to believe that those bishops, cardinals and priests involved in the sexual abuse scandal are “purged” from the church? Does he think we are stupid??!! How can he say that when Cardinal Law is still being rewarded in Rome?? How can he say that when the diocese of Bridgeport is STILL trying to stop the release of records concerning trials?? How can he say that when the pope is still pope, and before he was elected to the papacy he was the man who handled the sexual abuse cases that went to the Vatican by DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING?? I have lost all faith in the Catholic church and prefer to go to God on my own. If the only thing that I am missing because I don’t practice my Catholic faith is the Eucharist, then I can celebrate receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in other ways!!

  4. What constitutes being really and truly “Catholic”? Oh good Lord, what’s next, a return to the Spanish Inquisition?

    As a Catholic author, blogger, and lay ecclesial minister, I’m oh-so-tempted to picket their meetings with a sign reading, “I’m Catholic. Deal with it.”

  5. Greg Bullough says:

    I mentioned over on NCR that the Church needs Sheriff Andy Taylor and is ending up with a bunch of Barney Fifes.

    Not only have the Bishops failed to address their own enabling and complicity to any significant extent, they have ignored something that is far bigger and far more uncomfortable for them to deal with. For it applies to each of them:

    Something is fundamentally wrong in the way clergy are being chosen and formed, if they are behaving as they have behaved. And that doesn’t just mean those who’ve put their hands on children or vulnerable adults.

    It applies to those who looked the other way, who put their brother clergy before the well-being of those entrusted to their care.

    When they do look at such issues, they do so among themselves, without calling in outside, lay, experts. Thus they hear the answers they want to hear and reassure one another.

    We often hear about “putting the scandals behind us.” What they are really doing is putting the survivors behind them— by turning their backs and walking away.

  6. Todd says:

    “What they are really doing is putting the survivors behind them— by turning their backs and walking away.”

    Devastating commentary. But true.

  7. Adelaide says:

    Here Ive’ struggled all these years to stay in the fold as I felt jerked around by changes and told what I thought as a pre-Vatican II Catholic (even though I hadn’t thought it) and taken classes all my life to find out what is the current Catholic outlook (on the surface it does appear to change) and now I find I might be “less than fully Catholic” because I think and question? Flawed I am, but less than fully Catholic? What, because I have 60 some years of life experince and I see things differently from some of the leaders and therefore raise questions? Cardinal Francis George is quoted as saying “Relations do not speak first of control but of love.” I’m not hearing the love but only hearing a whip crack. In the old days I would have been recognized as a cthaolic as I refrained from eating meat on Friday. Strangely enough soemtimes today I am recognized as Cahtolic from my actions. In the future I’ll be sure to point out I am less than fully so.

  8. Greg Bullough says:

    This “you’re not Catholic” seems to be the product of a sort of “bumper-sticker theology” that has now started to gain momentum.

    You know, it all started with the “Abortion is Murder” in “Redrum” font from “The Shining.”

    It has progressed to “It’s a child not a choice”.

    Over-simplifications, all.

    Of late we’ve seen declarations of:

    “You can’t be Catholic and Pro-Choice”

    Even the bishops are becoming infected with this sort of simplistic, my ends AS WELL AS MY MEANS mentality.

    After all, it’s so much simpler than (of all things) dialogue!

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