Archbishop John Nienstedt pledges to restore trust. In reading words like these, I look for how things are expressed. Passive voice:
The first thing that must be acknowledged is that over the last decade some serious mistakes have been made.
Passive voice isn’t usually a good sign. When great numbers of people are saying something is wrong, all the passive voice does is to get on the bandwagon. The laity of the archdiocese acknowledge something is wrong. The archbishop isn’t adding anything new. Fair, unfair, or whatnot, the archbishop is in trouble. He has to respond.
The archbishop reminds us of history:
Since 2002, when the national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted and sweeping changes were made in every Catholic diocese here in the United States, we all hoped and believed that the horror of sexual abuse of minors by clergy was behind us. Yet, the painful reality is that abuse did not stop in 2002. This is unacceptable. As the head of this local Church, I know that the ultimate responsibility here is mine. My heart is heavy with the agony that these errors have caused.
More passive voice, but an accurate short timetable. There was hope that 2002 would be a turning point. But for most laity, the Charter was all about (or not so much, in hindsight) about getting bishops in line to stop the conspiracies. And making sure everybody stays insured.
Archbishop Nienstedt does use active voice to say …
As the head of this local Church, I recommit today never knowingly to assign a clergy member to a parish or school if I have concerns that he will do harm to the community. I promise to ensure that the most rigorous analysis possible is completed before making such assignments now and in the future.
This pledge would have been well-placed in 2002, or when he arrived in the Twin Cities. But stating it now is a start. And he should be held accountable for this.
We must also be committed to honesty and transparency. This must be the result of our own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. Parishioners rightly expect their clergy to be men of God and to be holy by pursuing personal conversion daily.
Certainly true. But again, this scandal is twofold. We expect an occasional abuser to slip through a system. We know abuse happens in families, schools, and other places. Absolute safety from sexual predation is impossible to guarantee. We’re not asking for 100% virtue in clergy–that’s unreasonable and impossible. What we do ask is that the moral standards of parents and concerned adults be employed when the virtue rating slips into the danger zone.
Catholics expect their bishops not only to be men of God, but extraordinary examples of virtue. When we see government and business rife with corruption in this world, it is not burdensome to expect opposite standards from church leaders. When grave evil is covered up and innocents are endangered for selfish reasons, then a Christian response is demanded. That response includes confession, contrition, and making amends.
In what appears to be a canned Q&A, the archbishop was asked about those calling for his resignation. He replied:
I am sorry they have lost confidence in me. As head of this local Church, I accept responsibility for addressing the issues that have been raised and am completely committed to finding the truth and fixing the problems that exist. My highest priorities are to ensure the safety of our children and to restore the trust of Catholics and our clergy. I will do everything in my power to do so.
Time will tell. But if the man has lost credibility, his power will be very little, and the healing process will be delayed. Is this a situation where, if it becomes conceded by all there was a cover-up, this bishop will be asked to take a leave of absence? If Rome isn’t going to fire bishops, maybe an extended leave of a year or two, or even more should be on the table.
It strikes me as a better theological solution that the JP2/Ratzinger approach of appointing a coadjutor to peel away from some of the bishop’s authority.