Glad to see Michael's post below about the laudable Cardinal O'Malley because it may provide some balance for the following. The National Catholic Reporter this week captures the awesome rhetorical flourishes of Belgium's Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard. In a nation still reeling after revelations in September of hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clerics and at least 13 suicides, the archbishop told a startled special parliamentary commission on sexual abuse of children that Belgium's victims should seek compensation from their offenders, which in his mind does not include the church as an institution, just the priests who abused them. He then led a parade of unpleasantries through his testimony, if it can be so described, that left commission members sputtering in astonishment and calling for the termination with extreme prejudice of the government's long-standing fiscal support of the church.
Just the day before Léonard's appearance, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels a year ago, had prepared the commission for a different kind of archiepiscopal response.
Danneels had told the same commission that the church must react with humility and make some profound gestures, including compensation to victims.
"For too long," Danneels said, "the church thought only about itself and about its priests and now it is time to think about the victims of sexual abuse." ... Most members of the parliamentary commission thought that Danneels' testimony was meant to open a door for Léonard, who has had stormy relations with government officials over the sex abuse crisis. The commission had expected Léonard to reveal a compensation package.
Instead, Léonard abruptly slammed the door shut.
During the parliamentary commission hearings, Léonard appeared defiant and at times took sarcastic swipes at the whole enquiry.
"Where will it all end up?" he asked. "Pretty soon authorities will ask for compensation for [unhappy] children resulting from [in vitro fertilization]. … And what about the studies showing the psychological impact on children who have two papas or two mamas [a reference to same-sex marriage]? Will we have to compensate them as well?"
Regarding the church's culpability/responsibility as an institution for the sex abuse crisis, the archbishop may want to consult with Pope Benedict, who appears to suffer a divergence of opinion on the matter. (Better yet, Pope Benedict may want to consult with the archbishop about a comfortable site for a retirement home.) In his Dec. 20 Christmas message to the Curia, the pope wrote:
In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests.... We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance.
Archbishop Léonard appears perversely intent on driving an already deeply wounded church to ground in Belgium. One is tempted to suggest that he seek advice from a public relations expert who could help him better "present" to the public. Alas Archbishop Léonard's press officer quit in despair in November after the archbishop broke a vow of silence that was intended to get them both through Christmas without any more media brush fires to stamp out. In his critique of the archbishop's most recent performance, the former spokesperson said, "If you are invited to give testimony before a parliamentary commission on the sexual abuse of children, you have to choose your words carefully. … This is incomprehensible and very painful."