Wednesday, June 18

Thursday's op-eds today:

Frank Keating in the NYTimes:

On Monday, I resigned my volunteer position as chairman of the national review board of lay Catholics charged with enforcing the zero-tolerance charter against child sexual abuse adopted last year by America's Roman Catholic Bishops. I left, after almost exactly a year of service, for two reasons: the need to devote full time to my job, and frustration over the efforts of a small minority of church leaders to obstruct the workings of the board.

Still, I remain optimistic that the church — my church — will ultimately protect the innocent and hold the guilty accountable. The national review board, no matter who leads it, is an expression of the hopes of millions of American Catholics. As such, it can and must continue its work.

My optimism is based on my meetings with Catholic clergy and lay members over the past year. They understand the challenge the church faces, and they will not stand for a retreat from the truth. These are people who have come together not just to address a crisis, but to rescue their shared faith. Theirs is a mission and a movement that will not be denied.

......Sexual abuse leaves lifelong emotional scars. In the past year, I met with many victims of abuse. I heard their heartbreaking stories of damaged lives and broken trust. I pledged to them that they would have a voice, and I am convinced that they will continue to be heard, if only because most Catholics know that right is on their side.

Sadly, a few church leaders, including some in large dioceses, chose to resist and obstruct the board. When we asked valid questions, they gave us few or no answers. Where information and cooperation was called for, we received delay or an outright refusal to help.

These few leaders turned to their lawyers when they should have looked into their hearts — and I expressed my disgust with them. I am a candid person, and that makes some people uncomfortable. So be it. Obstructing justice, excusing and concealing those who victimize innocent children: these are not the actions of holy men. They are sins — and they are crimes. God may hold them accountable in the next world, but we will certainly hold them accountable in this one.

Today I was immersed in doing the best thing for which I get paid money: sitting outside in the sun, reading books. As you can see from the left rail.

Question. Has anyone read The Life of Pi? What did you think? Was it a "story that will make you believe in God," as one character said? (Well, you probably already believe in God...but you get the point.)

See. They can move when they have to.

Vatican appoints Archbishop of Santa Fe Apostolic Administrator of Phoenix.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan, credited with righting New Mexico's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese after a devastating priest sex abuse scandal a decade ago, is being asked to stabilize another trouble spot.The Vatican has appointed Sheehan, head of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, as apostolic administrator of the troubled Diocese of Phoenix.The archdiocese made the announcement early today after Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix, who has been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States, informed Sheehan of the appointment during a telephone call Tuesday. As apostolic administrator, Sheehan, 63, has been granted full authority over the Phoenix Diocese until the Vatican appoints a new bishop.

Here's my review of The DaVinci Code

Portland (OR) archdiocese considers bankruptcy

Stories about the bishops' gathering in St. Louis will, of course, be coming fast and furious over the next few days. I won't be linking to them all, but you can keep up with the reports and commentary by regularly clicking on the Poynter Abuse Tracker link

The theme will, of course, be the ultimate powerlessness of the laity on this score, and others.

Oh, and you're surprised? Guess you don't know how the Church works. When it comes to administration, bishops are it. The property is mostly in their name (unless, as has been done in a couple of dioceses, it's transferred down to entitities like the parish or school itself in an attempt to minimize diocesan assets in order to minimize what they can hand over in a legal settlement) and no matter how many lay employees you have, they all serve at the bishop's pleasure and their decisions are all ultimately subject to his approval, implicit or explicit.

This is just how it works, it's always how it's been, and it's a knotty problem for all sides. It's a problem for "conservatives" (forgive me for using the term, forgive me for putting it in quotes, but as much as I despise these labels, they're the most convenient shorthand right now) who want to uphold tradition, who are comfortable with the concept of Bishops in Charge, but who are extremely uncomfortable with what bishops are doing. So what's the solution? Better bishops is all they can hope for, because arguing for more non-clerical power doesn't really fit their vision of Church.

It's a problem for "liberals," too because as much as they may say they want more lay involvement in the real decision-making of the Church, many of them really don't - just like political liberals who say they would die for diversity - unless that diversity means inclusion of conservative voices, etc. Catholic liberals want lay power unless the laity in question are fighting against their diocese's bizarre "abuse prevention" program being inflicted on their children (as in Boston) or they are asking to pray the rosary before Mass (as happens in lots of places). So, in the end, the most the liberals can hope for is bishops who walk to their party line and will use their power to squelch unpleasantness.

Here's our conundrum, really. I think that most Catholics are at a real loss how to solve this particular problem and the attendant problems it raises. Most Catholics see the need for a structure with more checks and balances, with less opportunity for unbridled, insular clericalism to reign, but at the same time, most Catholics, no matter what "side" they're on, are flummoxed by this because, quite frankly and with all due respect, they see what's happened to so many Protestant bodies, with their divisions and now institutionalized infighting, not over administrative, but over doctrinal issues, and are afraid that that is what more (real) power given to non-clerics means.

Does it?

Update:As noted in the NYTimes today.

And as the recent dispute over Mr. Keating's provocative remarks likening the bishops to the Mafia makes clear, the bishops still have all the power — to reassign or remove priests, to ignore or carry out the new policies, to withhold or release information about abusers. The only power the board has is to make the recalcitrant bishops look bad.

"This board works for the bishops, it's in the employ of the bishops and to some degree beholden to the bishops," said R. Scott Appleby, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and director of the university's Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. "The only recourse it has to influence the bishops who don't choose to comply is to go to the media, in effect to go to the Catholic laity and report who is not complying."

This week, when the bishops reconvene in St. Louis, much of their discussion will go on behind closed doors, including what could be their most telling interchange. On Thursday, in a St. Louis conference center, at least three members of the review board are to face off with more than 250 bishops to try to allay the bishops' concerns about the board's work, board members and church officials say.

In the history of the Catholic Church, never before has a group of bishops subjected their operations to lay oversight, Mr. Appleby said. "That's unprecedented, and they're doing so, frankly, not out of some theology of an empowered laity, but because they're under political, legal and financial pressure," he said.


Michael reflects on the same question today.

Neumayr on hit-and-run Catholic leadership

Let us make the obvious point: O'Brien did starkly what the Mahonys of the American church do subtly. They, too, create the most hapless of victims, then sprint for the high grass. They witness life-altering accidents but don't bother to call the cops.

O'Brien resigns

Paul Pfaffenberger, organizer of the Phoenix chapter of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests, said O'Brien's response to both the sexual abuse allegations and hit-and-run case demonstrate his refusal to accept responsibility. "His decision with sexual abuse was to discredit, deny or run away from victims and to protect his priests," Pfaffenberger said. "Unfortunately, faced with a traffic accident, he once again ignored the victim and drove away


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