The Editors

The publication of the first annual report on the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was a first step in the long and demanding journey necessary to restore confidence in the bishops’ moral authority, after the searing revelations of the way in which certain bishops responded to allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

 

After adopting the charter in Dallas, Tex., at their annual spring meeting in June 2002, the bishops agreed that as an exercise of necessary accountability, a compliance audit would be conducted each year to measure the progress made in implementing the provisions of the charter by the dioceses and eparchies of the United States. The fact that the report, issued by the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, is intended to be the first in a series of annual reports is the most obvious reason why it can only be a first step on a challenging journey.

While a compliance audit is an exercise familiar to corporations and government agencies in the United States, conducting an on-site review of 191 Catholic dioceses and eparchies presented unusual challenges to the auditors. Still, the report describes the process as “informative, illustrative, and inspiring.” Nearly 90 percent of all dioceses were found to be in compliance with the charter. The auditors issued Instructions for dioceses that were not in compliance, Recommendations when they found incomplete compliance or room for significant improvement and Commendations for dioceses that had established sound sexual abuse policies prior to the adoption of the charter or had developed enlightened pastoral programs to support the victims of sexual abuse.

Since the purpose of the audit was to measure compliance with the Dallas charter, the auditors confined their attention to allegations of sexual abuse made since June 2002. Later this month, a broader study of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy dating back to 1950 will be published. This study, commissioned by the bishops and conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, will provide necessary information on such neuralgic questions as whether incidents of sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy in the United States occurred at a higher rate than in other groups in the male population. The information provided by the study should lead to a candid analysis of possible systemic problems in the training of candidates for the priesthood: what standards should be set for admission to seminary training; what level of emotional maturity is necessary for candidates to understand and accept the commitments of a celibate life; what kind of formation will promote the development of such emotional maturity.

The study will presumably identify the rate of such incidents in different cohorts of priests ordained at different times since 1950 and clarify the relationship, if any, between the kind of theological education they received (for example, before or after the Second Vatican Council) and their subsequent behavior.

When the John Jay College study is released, the Catholic bishops of the United States will face another challenge in their attempt to restore the confidence of both laypeople and priests in their leadership. These are not easy days to be a bishop. A bishop’s moral authority cannot be simply assumed as a corollary of his ecclesiastical appointment. While a better educated and increasingly disappointed Catholic laity in the United States recognizes the need for moral authority in the Catholic community, it also believes that such authority, to be effective, must be earned by personal witness.

Even more than the shameful deeds of individual priests, the patterns of deception and misplaced priorities displayed by certain bishops in dealing with errant priests have been the primary cause of the anger and disillusionment that is widely shared by Catholic laypeople and priests. In the end, only the bishops themselves can restore the confidence in their leadership necessary for the exercise of effective pastoral authority. To do this, the bishops may have to find a new voice, relying less on assertions of canonical authority and more on their ability to fashion a new language to speak to their people, after first listening to their needs and frustrations. Their capacity to listen will probably be tested from time to time by intemperate voices and individuals pursuing their own special agendas. But the bishops have one great resource: the desire of all Catholics for strong and credible moral authority in a time of accelerating change and shifting cultural values. Patience and generosity of spirit will, in the end, be the most important allies of our bishops on their journey toward a restoration of trust.

Comments

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 2/3/2004 - 12:24pm
Your frank and sensitive "Restoring Trust" editorial stresses the bishops' own critical role in the restoration of their lost credibility: "Even more than the shameful deeds of individual priests, the patterns of deception and misplaced priorities displayed by certain bishops... have been the primary cause of the anger and disillusionment widely shared by Catholic laypeople and priests." (2/2)

Detroit's auxiliary bishop, Thomas J. Gumbleton, singled out the double standard which he feels lies at the heart of our bishops' loss of credibility: "Zero tolerance," he writes, "has been the cruel response rendered to priests by the bishops, while the bishops escape such penalties even though it was they who constantly hid the grave problems by secretly moving guilty priests from one place to another. I have found that nothing causes greater anger and greater loss of credibility in episcopal leadership than this double standard... We can only hope that Voice of the Faithful and other lay groups will have the stamina to persist in their efforts to hold the bishops accountable and to bring structural reform to the church."

Robert A Super | 1/30/2004 - 3:28pm
Your editorial “Restoring Trust” (2/2/04) correctly identifies that “the patterns of deception and misplaced priorities displayed by certain bishops in dealing with errant priests have been the primary cause of the anger and disillusionment that is widely shared by Catholic laypeople and priests” with regard to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. But your proposed solution, suggesting that bishops need to “find a new voice” for speaking to their people, seriously misses the mark. It falls woefully short of identifying the significant institutional and leadership changes the bishops must make to restore their credibility as moral leaders.

While the bishops have taken strong, positive steps to hold priests accountable for specific instances of sexual abuse and put in place structures and systems of oversight and accountability to minimize the risk of such abuse occurring again, they have done little with regard to their own accountability. For example, where were the voices of bishops calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and other bishops who, even after they knew abuse was recurring, continued to move priests from one parish to another, enabling them to continue their abuse? Which bishops have spoken out publicly challenging the unconscionable behavior of these bishops? Why do we still hear nothing today?

I understand that asking bishops to hold one another accountable is no small matter. Indeed it is very complicated and requires great moral leadership. And this is not a problem peculiar to the Catholic Church. We have plenty of non-religious examples in the past year demonstrating these difficulties, for example, the failures of the accounting profession to adequately regulate itself and the failures in countless boardrooms and executive suites across corporate America and Europe to be self-regulating.

The Vatican, of course, has the institutional power needed to deal with this issue, but the Vatican has done nothing, at least nothing publicly, to hold bishops accountable in this regard. And when it comes to all aspects of Church governance, the Vatican has shown little resolve for providing moral leadership.

Of course, any bishop or group of bishops who would publicly call for accountability from other bishops would pay an enormous institutional and personal price. But someone should have had the courage to do this. It needs to be done. Our Church continues to suffer mightily because it has not been done.

Not many middle-aged people like me will leave the Church because of this, but our children are not as committed to the Church as we are, nor are they as willing to put up with such duplicity. This well-publicized evil makes it very difficult for kids to affirm their faith, even for those who want to be active, faithful members of the Church. They, and we, need strong moral leadership, not just when it is pointing out that abortion is wrong or sexual behavior needs to be moderated or economic systems are unjust. We need moral leadership now that is inward looking, dealing with our own institutions and leaders.

The bishops have gotten half of their job done, and done well, with regard to priests. But the other half remains unfinished – dealing with their own complicity. The bishops need to find a lot more than a new voice for speaking to the faithful. They need to find the courage and grace to be willing to make the painful changes still required to heal, liberate, and resurrect their flock. We need them to walk the paschal mystery.

Jim Conniff | 1/29/2004 - 8:45pm
What a relief to see this example of open, honest, frank, clear-eyed and refreshing commentary! It blows like a sea breeze through the dim corridors of stale incense-befouled precincts that Jesuit Ray Schroth rightly denounced for "power and hanging on to power" about which there is not a good word anywhere in Scripture. This is the Jesuit legend redux at its best.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 2/3/2004 - 12:24pm
Your frank and sensitive "Restoring Trust" editorial stresses the bishops' own critical role in the restoration of their lost credibility: "Even more than the shameful deeds of individual priests, the patterns of deception and misplaced priorities displayed by certain bishops... have been the primary cause of the anger and disillusionment widely shared by Catholic laypeople and priests." (2/2)

Detroit's auxiliary bishop, Thomas J. Gumbleton, singled out the double standard which he feels lies at the heart of our bishops' loss of credibility: "Zero tolerance," he writes, "has been the cruel response rendered to priests by the bishops, while the bishops escape such penalties even though it was they who constantly hid the grave problems by secretly moving guilty priests from one place to another. I have found that nothing causes greater anger and greater loss of credibility in episcopal leadership than this double standard... We can only hope that Voice of the Faithful and other lay groups will have the stamina to persist in their efforts to hold the bishops accountable and to bring structural reform to the church."

Robert A Super | 1/30/2004 - 3:28pm
Your editorial “Restoring Trust” (2/2/04) correctly identifies that “the patterns of deception and misplaced priorities displayed by certain bishops in dealing with errant priests have been the primary cause of the anger and disillusionment that is widely shared by Catholic laypeople and priests” with regard to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. But your proposed solution, suggesting that bishops need to “find a new voice” for speaking to their people, seriously misses the mark. It falls woefully short of identifying the significant institutional and leadership changes the bishops must make to restore their credibility as moral leaders.

While the bishops have taken strong, positive steps to hold priests accountable for specific instances of sexual abuse and put in place structures and systems of oversight and accountability to minimize the risk of such abuse occurring again, they have done little with regard to their own accountability. For example, where were the voices of bishops calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and other bishops who, even after they knew abuse was recurring, continued to move priests from one parish to another, enabling them to continue their abuse? Which bishops have spoken out publicly challenging the unconscionable behavior of these bishops? Why do we still hear nothing today?

I understand that asking bishops to hold one another accountable is no small matter. Indeed it is very complicated and requires great moral leadership. And this is not a problem peculiar to the Catholic Church. We have plenty of non-religious examples in the past year demonstrating these difficulties, for example, the failures of the accounting profession to adequately regulate itself and the failures in countless boardrooms and executive suites across corporate America and Europe to be self-regulating.

The Vatican, of course, has the institutional power needed to deal with this issue, but the Vatican has done nothing, at least nothing publicly, to hold bishops accountable in this regard. And when it comes to all aspects of Church governance, the Vatican has shown little resolve for providing moral leadership.

Of course, any bishop or group of bishops who would publicly call for accountability from other bishops would pay an enormous institutional and personal price. But someone should have had the courage to do this. It needs to be done. Our Church continues to suffer mightily because it has not been done.

Not many middle-aged people like me will leave the Church because of this, but our children are not as committed to the Church as we are, nor are they as willing to put up with such duplicity. This well-publicized evil makes it very difficult for kids to affirm their faith, even for those who want to be active, faithful members of the Church. They, and we, need strong moral leadership, not just when it is pointing out that abortion is wrong or sexual behavior needs to be moderated or economic systems are unjust. We need moral leadership now that is inward looking, dealing with our own institutions and leaders.

The bishops have gotten half of their job done, and done well, with regard to priests. But the other half remains unfinished – dealing with their own complicity. The bishops need to find a lot more than a new voice for speaking to the faithful. They need to find the courage and grace to be willing to make the painful changes still required to heal, liberate, and resurrect their flock. We need them to walk the paschal mystery.

Jim Conniff | 1/29/2004 - 8:45pm
What a relief to see this example of open, honest, frank, clear-eyed and refreshing commentary! It blows like a sea breeze through the dim corridors of stale incense-befouled precincts that Jesuit Ray Schroth rightly denounced for "power and hanging on to power" about which there is not a good word anywhere in Scripture. This is the Jesuit legend redux at its best.

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