Archbishop Dolan on Causes and Context

The archbishop has released a statement on the report he and his brother bishops commissioned from the John Jay College. Illustrative was his poke at critics of bishops, plus this paragraph:

The information provided in the Causes and Context study closely mirrors our own experience here in the Archdiocese of New York.  The report makes clear that the vast majority of sexual abuse occurred during the 1960’s through 1980’s, even as it examines the various conditions that led to this abuse.  It also concludes that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors has declined sharply in the Catholic Church since 1985.  The reports of abuse that the Victims Assistance Coordinators for the Archdiocese receive today are almost exclusively from decades ago.  This does not minimize the damage done to the victims of abuse, as I once again offer an apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or any other person acting in the name of the Church, however long ago.

This illustrates the problem the Church has with its bishops in this crisis. As they have been in the legal process, and by their own admission, when they went shopping for a favorable psychological ruling, they seem too willing to trust what experts feed them without much critical thinking on their own part.

Because he’s been told it’s so, Archbishop Dolan is satisfied the real crisis belongs to someone else. It peaked in the 60’s through the 80’s, so blame resides with the previous generation. Causes and Context, however, only studied living victims. No study was attempted on the history of abuse prior to the 1950’s. No study either on adult sexual partners of priests.

I do agree with the archbishop that we can be reasonably sure victimizing minors has dropped since the mid-80’s. He touts the Church’s efforts there. And with better psychological screening of potential priests, I believe he’s right. But a big nod also needs to be given to the culture, and to lay people who have, though slowly and not yet completely, raised awareness among our peers and in our children.

I have a problem with where the apology is buried in this statement. Such apologies are almost universal among episcopal statements, and it seems to be almost a requirement for any media text these days. When I was a kid, my mother insisted on a sincere apology. If she wasn’t convinced, it didn’t count.

If I were composing a statement like this, I’d strive to avoid the impression of eye-rolling, sighing, and cutting-and-pasting. Something like this as a first paragraph:

The occasion of the John Jay College release brings to our attention once again the heinous crimes of abuse committed by persons of trust in the Catholic Church. I am sorry for my own failings on this issue. As your archbishop, I apologize for the past horrors and present pain visited upon the innocent. I remain committed to working with our clergy, with survivors and their advocates, and indeed, with each one of you–with all those dedicated to ensuring our children will be safe from predation in our midst.

If apologies continue to get buried in the middle of statements, and embellished with editorials and conditions, they will be perceived as less sincere.

I don’t know why direct and unconditional statements are so difficult for some bishops. Surely they must realize they are the target of most of the anger, even from the survivors themselves. It is they who have been called on the carpet in the court of public opinion. Their mismanagement seems not to have been reformed at all, given Cardinal Rigali’s misadventures.

New York’s AB need not have called out Philadelphia’s, nor would I have expected it. But some kind of commitment beyond anything Cardinal Rigali has offered or would have offered–this would have been welcome. In Philadelphia, this same statement could have been written: the previous work done in the archdiocese, the buried apology, the blame of other generations, the standing committees and future to-do list. What makes New York different? As far as I can see, nothing.

As distasteful as it may seem, bishops are going to have to do something. In the Jewish tradition, clothes were torn and ashes heaped on the head not as a fashion statement, but as an outward sign of an inner reality–a commitment to repent and reform.

Now, I trust it is true that Archbishop Dolan never abused a minor. I assume he never knowingly transferred a sex abuser. I respect that his own actions as a bishop reflected the best advice he was given by priests and lay people, and that his intention was always for the Church’s best.

Archbishop Dolan won’t have to rend his red-piped cassock. Nor will he have to turn in his zucchetto for dirt and ash. But something out of the ordinary is required here. Something sincere. Something beyond cut-and-paste blogging. He wasn’t the criminal, but then, neither was Jesus, was he? As a bishop the reality of his office means that associations–both good and bad–go beyond the man. Priests have a two-way street: the representation of the people to God, the presentation of Christ to the people. With bishops, it is even more true.

The bishops need to ask themselves how Christ would speak to his people. Then do it, and do it with conviction and sincerity.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Archbishop Dolan on Causes and Context

  1. Eb Hurley says:

    “The bishops need to ask themselves how Christ would speak to his people. Then do it…”

    By “proof texting” Archbishop Dolan’s letter and then composing your own text, are you implying that you are in a position to “speak for Christ” more so than Archbishop Dolan? I don’t think so.

  2. Todd says:

    I don’t think so either.

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