Tuesday, April 12, 2011

U.S. Bishops' Annual Audit Comes Out, and Bully Bill Goes on Warpath: One Day, Two News Items

Suppose you were head of a big corporation with shady ethical principles, or a paid spin-doctor for the shady, ethically dubious corporation, and a report was about ready to come out that revealed your corporation was as ethically dodgy as ever.  While it claimed to be something altogether different.  And while it was involved in a huge, multi-faceted, money-draining legal situation that began opening its internal files up for all the world to see the corruption.

What would you do?  If you lacked ethical principles, and if you were mainly about money, power, and image management, you might try to change the subject.  You might try creating red herrings to get people running off on tangents, rather than analyzing your corporation's betrayal of its ethical principles.  You might try a blame-the-victim tactic, looking around for some hapless and relatively powerless group despised by many of your fellow citizens, and try to pin the blame for your own ethical shortcomings on them.

You might use some of that money that is so important to you, and so available to you as long as you cozy up to the right people, to engage in a big, ethically stinky diversionary publicity scheme, to deflect attention from that report that shows you lack ethical principles altogether--that you still do so, despite your claims to have been cleaning up your act as those expensive lawsuits lifted the veil on the inner workings of your money-power-image-focused organization.

Yesterday, the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference released the results of its 2010 national audit of U.S. dioceses, to see how they're doing with the sexual abuse situation that has been eating away at the image of the Catholic church for some years now and causing thousands of Catholics to walk away from the church.   A press statement about the annual audit is on the USCCB website here.  The press release leads with a positive spin right in the first clause of its title: "Drop in Number of Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse Continues."  

The report itself is on the USCCB website here.  What it does not tell you, but David O'Reilly reminds us in the Philadelphia Inquirer, is this: right as a series of legal hearings are taking place after a grand jury report in Philadelphia found at least 39 priests credibly accused of abuse of minors still in active ministry, the 2010 audit trumpets Philadelphia's "full compliance" with the stipulations of the 2002 Dallas charter.  Philadelphia is given a passing grade by the audit!

As O'Reilly notes, this clean bill of health is Philadelphia's own self-assessment.  The entire audit system depends on each diocese (each one that is willing to participate, that is) submitting its own data to the Gavin Group, which conducts the audit.  

And so the conclusion of this annual audit--that almost all of the nation's dioceses are in compliance with the Dallas charter (but on what "almost all" really means, see the SNAP press statement cited below)--is called into serious question by what we learned about Philadelphia just weeks before the annual audit announces to us that it's all sunny in Philadelphia now.  Things couldn't be better.  Number of abuse cases continuing to drop . . . .

As Laurie Goodstein reports in the New York Times, "Church officials say they were looking into the reasons for the discrepancy" between what this annual audit says about Philadelphia and what we know from the grand jury report.  

I'll say!   "Looking into" the discrepancy . . . .

As church officials look into this discrepancy, they might want to begin by looking at the audit system itself, which, as today's editorial about the audit by the National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) points out, relies for its completeness and accuracy on information provided to the auditors by the very people being audited--by diocesan officials.  The 2010 report itself states this, explicitly.  It also states that in two-thirds of all dioceses, dioceses did not meet the audit deadline, did not answer all questions asked by auditors in a timely way, and supplied data that fell outside the audit's parameters.

And so the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) concludes that this audit report demonstrates the precise opposite of what the bishops wish us to believe with their misleading press lede announcing that the report demonstrates that the "drop" in victims of clergy sexual abuse "continues."  As SNAP notes, this year's audit actually finds 55 of the 188 dioceses that chose to participate in this annual audit out of compliance with the 2002 norms--more than double the number of dioceses in that category last year.  And so SNAP states:

Bishops are getting worse, not better, with children’s safety, according to their own-hand-picked abuse panel. After a decade or more of promises, bishops are still refusing to abide by their own vague, weak policies adopted largely as public relations moves.

It’s alarming that dozens of bishops are refusing to honor the most basic and important pledge they’ve made – to keep predator priests out of ministry. When bishops let pedophile priests work and appear in public as priests, Catholics and citizens assume those priests are “ok.”

And now back to my initial question: what do you do, if you're an ethics-challenged corporation whose image depends on sound ethical behavior, but there's a huge, glaring "discrepancy" between what you're loudly proclaiming to the public about yourself and what everyone knows about your real behavior from information readily available to the public?  If you lack any strong sense of ethics, you bring in an unscrupulous hired gun with access to quite a bit of funding from somewhere--somewhere in the same shadows your own shadowy business enterprise inhabits, while it proclaims its ethical soundness to the public.

And you encourage that hired gun to let loose with a volley of shots designed to draw attention away from the stinky report that further exposes your moral rottenness to the public, as you cope with lawsuits in which that moral rottenness is on full display for anyone who cares to look.  And so enter Bully Bill Donohue of the Catholic League:

Who, the very day the U.S. Bishops release the results of their annual audit, takes out a hugely expensive full-page ad in the New York Times to make all of his usual ugly, false, diversionary arguments about the abuse situation that try to do everything but the one thing necessary, if we're ever going to understand and resolve the situation: that is, to acknowledge and begin to deal with church leaders' responsibility for this morally rotten situation.  Predictably, Donohue blames the media, liberals, anti-Catholics, lawyers and greedy litigants, everyone else who is just as bad about child abuse as the Catholic church is, and above all, the gays for the abuse crisis. 

I've dealt with Donohue's pseudo-arguments in the past, and won't rehash them here.  They don't deserve to be given that level of intellectual credibility.  Because they're not about having any real or productive conversation about the abuse crisis, one that might reach its roots and address them effectively.

They're designed to do the precise opposite: to create slimy red-herring diversions that keep us talking about all the wrong things rather than the one right thing we need to talk about to resolve this situation--the bishops.  And their lack of pastoral leadership.

For anyone interested, here's a smorgasbord of good commentary about Donohue's shameful diversionary tactics, about why Bully Bill is doing this, and about what's wrong with his arguments from just about every vantage point possible.  These links are all (or mostly: I forget if I gleaned them all from this one site) from the wonderful Abuse Tracker site at Bishop Accountability.org, and several of them have the full text of Donohue's ad:

Michael O'Loughlin, "Bill Donohue's Ad in NYT," America's "In All Things" blog

David Mittleman, "Catholic League President Bill Donohue Dishes Out Big Bucks for NY Times Ad," Injury Board Blog Network

Wayne Besen, "TWO Calls on the Catholic League's Bill Donohue to Stop Blaming Gay People for Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal," Truth Wins Out

Susan Campbell, "Bill Donohue's Straight Talk," "Still Small Voice," Hartford Courant

Eric Lach, "Catholic League NYT Ad: Priests Unfairly 'Singled Out' Over Sex Abuse Scandal," TPM

"The Disgusting Defense of Priest Molesters That Catholic Leagues' Bill Donohue Got the Times to Run," Queerty*

As you'll see if you wade through all of that material, from every angle imaginable and unanimously, no one is buying this particular segment of the Donohue show.  Or is it the Donohue-Dolan show, I wonder?  Note the good commentary following Michael O'Loughlin's America blog posting to which I link at the head of this list of links, in which some commentators ask if we're seeing a "one-two punch" here, delivered by USCCB president Timothy Dolan working in tandem with Bully Bill Donohue--Donohue whom Dolan defends.  And Dolan, in whose archdiocesan office building Donohue and his Catholic League offices are located.

And as several contributors to the America thread also note, who's footing the bill for this expensive full-page ad?  And why are they doing so?  And why was it released on the very day of the audit report?

If the president of the USCCB or people close to him had anything at all to do with the timing of this ad, with its subject matter, with its scummy attempt yet again to attack gay folks in order to create a smokescreen around the real causes of the abuse crisis, then it would appear we haven't gotten very far at all down the road to addressing the real reasons for the abuse crisis.  Or the real moral corruption in the Catholic church from which it stems.

Have we?

*This link was working earlier today, but seems to be down as I post this posting.  I'll keep re-checking and update you on the status of the link later.

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