“It is history”

“It is history”

Bishop Wilton Gregory said on Friday, as he released the study of the scope of the Scandal over the past 50 years, “The terrible history recorded here today is history.” If ever there was a sign that the leaders among the US bishops don’t get it, here it is.

On the one hand, yes, it is history, if what you mean is that it is the record of past events. No one disputes that and it doesn’t make sense to say it as if you pointed at a glass of water and said, “That is wet.” On the other hand, what he likely meant is that what is recorded in the report is a record of the Church in the US the way it used to be, but isn’t today. If that’s what he’s saying, he’s wrong.

I say that because the root causes that led to the incidents of abuse over the past 50 years have not even begun to be addressed. Laicizing and removing priests who commit abuse is only treating the symptom, not curing the disease. What about the seminaries that failed to provide adequate formation, training, and screening for 30 years or more? What about the therapists and treatment centers that ignored Christian moral principles and declared known perverts “cured” and sent them back to ministry? What about bishops who ignored complaints and warning signs and outright abuse, putting the needs of individual priests above those of children and families? None of these problems has been addressed.

What of the stark accusations of misgovernance and spiritual malfeasance that the National Review Board leveled at the bishops as a corporate body? The bishops now will likely pat themselves on the back for a job well done, put the report on a shelf, and resolve to get back to business (you know, re-writing the Bible for inclusive language and the like).

I await the day a single American bishop stands up and says “Mea culpa.” I await the day his brother bishops stand up and say, “Seek forgiveness, brother, from God and His people, for the sins you have committed.” I think I’ll be waiting a long time.

1 comment
  • I read the national report last night, the one that is available in html format.  My reaction to it was that there are many bishops who should resign because of these crimes.  But the seeds for rationalization are strewn throughout the report, and the notion that this is “history” is the number one rationalization.  One of the many criticisms in this report is that priest-abusers were the recipients of “cheap grace,” of receiving absolution without penalty or consequence.  Now that there is a zero-tolerance policy [that is slowly being overturned by Rome’s canonical actions—one Detroit priest slated for laicization has had his case reversed in Rome last week, and can return to active, public ministry] for priests, where is the zero-tolerance for maladministration?  This smacks of the same explanations heard thirty years ago in the Nixon White House about Watergate:  “Mistakes were made,” as if the “mistakes” [not crimes] happened on their own, without agents to plan them or execute them. 

    And this is not about wanting “blood,” either, for those who might see a quest for vengeance in my comments.  It is about actions having consequences, which the bishops want us priests to know beyond a shadow of a doubt in their zero-tolerance policy.  I abide by the zero-tolerance policy as it stands, and I have always known that I am culpable and accountable for my actions, both in the temporal sphere of the life of the Church, and in the eternal, spiritual life to come.  But if this report goes on a shelf, and nothing more comes of it, I can assure you that what little idealism and hope I held for the episcopacy of this country will certainly be tapped to its limit.  I can think of at least a dozen bishops, by name, who should resign because of the roles they played in this scandal, roles that are well-known not merely by newspaper reports, but because of judicial depositions that are part of the legal transcripts of this scandal across the country.  That not one of these men see their culpability and come to a self-conviction of their maladministration and resign is an even bigger, long-term problem for the Church, because the cause of institutional reform cannot advance if there is no individual reform to precede it.