The latest issue of Voice of the Faithful's e-journal In the Vineyard has just come out. It carries an instructive article entitled "Lynn's Sentencing Illustrates Contrast Between Church & Penn State Scandals." The article maintains that the Lynn case is a "textbook example of how the Church has fought to maintain its reputation and treasure at the expense of innocence."
And when the Lynn trial is compared with the Penn State story, the contrasts between the two narratives "stand out sharply" despite the obvious similarities between the two narratives of powerful institutions putting their self-interest, reputation, and bank accounts ahead of the protection of minors:
But when evidence of such horrific wrongdoing at Penn State seeped out, and was confirmed by an independent investigation, those responsible were held accountable by appropriate criminal and civil actions brought in the name of victims. The conviction of former football coach Jerry Sandusky, firings of the highest university staff by trustees, harsh NCAA sanctions and the inevitability of civil lawsuits show clearly how Penn State has been held accountable for its crimes and gross malfeasance.
In the Catholic Church, however, the hierarchy has covered up systemic abuse of children in diocese after diocese, religious order after religious order. Church officials claim exemption from the way secular society treats these crimes based on their self-perpetuated views that clergy are separate, above and exempt from the same norms that apply to everyone else. So, when the Church commits crimes:
• no full independent investigation by qualified investigators outside the hierarchy's control takes place;
• statutes of limitations run out, too often precluding criminal or civil reviews of evidence, while the hierarchy fights tenaciously against statute of limitation reform in state after state; and
• no local trustees, a la Penn State, are available to judge the merits of the revelations on the grounds of ethical behavior, common decency and Gospel values.
Why the disparity? As the article notes, bishops are accountable to no one except the pope. And the Vatican has chosen to hold not a single bishop accountable in the U.S. "for failing to do what decency, ethics and Gospel values alone, not to mention civil law, would expect from leaders of a secular institution, let alone a religious one." Moreover, "[t]he U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the closest approximation of an oversight body such as the NCAA, has never even approached the types of sanctions the NCAA has levied against Penn State."
And yet we Catholics profess that what we're marketing is the salvific answer to the needs of a hurting, hungry world. And that we model the product we're marketing by our exemplary moral behavior.
Something's wrong with our Catholic picture and our Catholic product these days, it seems to me--at the most fundamental level possible. Hard to sell thoroughly rotten goods as salubrious answers to people's quest for salvation.