It was one of those questions that comes out of the
blue and kicks you in the side of the head, my friend
While driving along in her car with her eight-year-old,
the boy piped up and said, "Mama is the pope a child
"No, no sweetheart!" his mother responded urgently,
then stopped, trying to think of what to say next. No
sweetheart, it's just a bunch of parish priests,
wouldn't quite do. Unfortunately, she realized, the
truth was nearly as bad as the boy's misapprehension of
the truth. Still, she finally did own up that there
are, unfortunately, some priests who abuse children.
She hastened to add that the vast majority do not.
What an ugly spot the Catholic Church finds itself in
today. Thousands if not millions of the faithful are
bound to be disillusioned by stories of wolves in
sheep's clothing--no, it's worse than that--wolves in
shepherds' clothing. Those trusted to take the
tenderest care of the most vulnerable among us, have,
upon occasion, used that very trust, that very
vulnerability, for their own sexual gratification.
To his credit, the Pope called a meeting of Roman
Catholic leaders to try to bring coherence to the
situation. American cardinals and bishops, who oversee
lots of churches, met with Vatican officials for two
days last week in order to figure out how to dam back
the growing scandal.
What they came up with won't do at all.
American Catholic leaders came back with a plan to
defrock any priest who has become "notorious and is
guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of
minors." In cases that are "not notorious" they would
leave it up to the local bishop to decide if such a
priest is a threat to children and should be defrocked.
Well, just what do these cardinals and bishops
think "notorious" means?
In this context, it means someone who is already known
to be a child molester.
I hope my Catholic friends will pardon the disrespect,
but this is outrageous. They're going to defrock only
those who have repeatedly molested children?
Most of us have a better idea.
How about they call the cops at the first hint of abuse
of even one minor child, and suspend the priest in
question until all allegations have been resolved.
Anything less is a cover-up.
It does little good for Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony
Bevilacqua to "clarify" the statement several days
later by saying, "All of the cardinals are agreed on
zero tolerance, and by that I mean that we are all
agreed that no priest guilty of even one act of sexual
abuse of a minor will function in any ministry or any
capacity in our dioceses."
The words were right, but the timing was wrong. It was
too clearly an attempt at damage control, and it wasn't
really clear whether he was, indeed, speaking for all
of the cardinals. If that's what they meant, why didn't
they say so in their formal declaration, which had the
sound of a tepid compromise between disagreeing parties
on a committee.
"Now, we've all known priests who have gone astray,"
you can imagine one of them saying. "Let's not forget
our good friend so and so...."
The church hierarchy will have a chance to state
clearly its position in June, when all U.S. bishops
gather in Dallas. Unless they declare that even one act
of sexual predation against a minor will be treated as
a crime they will have failed the faithful and society
at large. Ditto for any cardinal or bishop or anyone
else who aids and abets such crimes by assigning
predatory priests to any parish that contains minor
In my book, Cardinal Bernard Law, who allegedly
reassigned priests he knew to be sexual predators, is a
criminal and should be treated as such.
He may have acted out of compassion for priests he
knew. He may have acted to keep from besmirching the
reputation of the Catholic Church. He very well might
have believed the reassigned priests had reformed or
were capable of changing their behaviors.
Very well, these are mitigating factors.
The courts law should line them up on a balance sheet
along with aggravating factors, and have the last word.
Anything less gives both God's law and secular law a