Friday, January 4, 2019

U.S. Catholic Bishops Meet for Prayer-and-Repentance Confab: Some Valuable Responses

As the American Catholic bishops meet in Chicago for their prayer-and-repentance confab, here are some responses/commentary I have read in the last day or so that catch my eye, and which I want to pass on to you:

David Clohessy, "Faced with resurgent abuse crisis, Catholic prelates answer with more meetings": 

To some, this flurry of meetings may seem hopeful. But to those of us who’ve closely followed the church’s distressing self-inflicted scandal for decades, this seems depressingly familiar. 
Why? Because virtually every time the crisis nears a boiling or tipping point, the Catholic hierarchy follows the basic same formula: Act shocked at recent revelations. Then schedule a meeting among themselves. 
Over time, the formula has become more sophisticated: Structure each meeting slightly differently, so each can be called "unprecedented." Throw in a papal apology ("We failed to protect the little ones … ") and some tough talk ("We will no longer tolerate abuse … "). Beg for forgiveness and patience. Then wait out the storm. 
This formula has been used by bishops and cardinals and popes with surprising success for decades now. (It was in 1992 that the U.S. bishops first publicly discussed abuse as a group, seven years after the scandal first produced national headlines.) 
It may not be a shrewd long-term strategy, but it works well enough to get embattled prelates through the short term. Public attention wanes, victims give up, secular authorities back off. Parishioners complain quietly but hunker down, keep going, keep giving and focus solely on their local parish, assuming the corruption is basically limited to the men at the top. … 
Common sense also tells us that if an institution has a long-standing, deeply rooted and seemingly intractable problem, someone from the outside must be brought in to investigate, crack heads, fire people and impose reform. 
Ever seen that happen in the church? 
Sure, the notion of bringing in investigators gets lip service. But the ones "brought in" are almost always loyal lay people, who've grown up in the church and still belong, and who’ve been raised since birth to respect, revere and trust the ordained. 
The well-meaning but powerless laity are given "advisory" roles, and inaccurate and inadequate information by the hierarchy. Many eventually quietly quit when it becomes clear they're window dressing for a closed-door men's club that refuses to share power.
So seasoned observers and abuse victims aren't hopeful about these upcoming meetings and won't be mollified by them. We hope that state prosecutors who have recently been goaded into action by last year's damning grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania won't be either.

The Pope's letter clearly shows the self-centeredness of Vatican officials. In one brief sentence, he mentions victims. But his concerns, in order, are that "the church has been badly shaken," lay people have been "confused," the "communion of bishops" has suffered and the church's credibility has waned. 
Only half-way through his letter does he mention what should be his highest priority: "protecting those in our care." 
The Pope's letter is long on platitudes but short on the words that survivors and advocates want to read. Not once in his eight-page, 3,500+ word letter does Pope Francis speak to the urgent need for accountability for bishops who conceal clergy sex crimes.

You and Cardinal Gracias and Archbishop Scicluna and Fr. Zollner advised the conference presidents to "reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured." This is good advice. Will Cardinal DiNardo start with La Rosa Lopez survivor J.H., or with M.V., who spoke to police about the "duplicity of Cardinal DiNardo"? 
This is one problem with the summit. Many of the conference presidents are the wrong men for the job, and the people know it.

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