Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

December 28, 2009


"Think with the Church", "Sentire cum ecclesia" was a mandate drilled into us as seminarians. Its strongest exponent was Saint Ignatius Loyola, who made it a foundation stone of his Jesuit order. I have placed a question mark after this expression in the title, because there is a substantial question: what is the Church with which we are to think. Is it the thinking of Pius IX, who condemned freedom of the press and other "modern novelties"; Pius X with his committees for heresy investigation; John XXIII and his vision of a more open Church; Paul VI, who set up the Synods of Bishops to give reality to Vatican II's goal of collegiality; John Paul's use of the Synods to discourage collegiality?

I respectfully submit that thinking with the Church is to involve the Nicene Creed, the basics of the faith. Policies and practices of various popes and bishops can differ substantially. Cardinal Ray Burke, Chief Judge of the Apostolic Signatura, formerly of St. Louis, with some few other bishops, forbids Holy Communion to pro-choice politicians. A majority of our bishops do not. Different management styles and agendas of popes and bishops may well be subjected to and benefited by critiques of faithful Catholics seeking the Church's growth in spirituality and efficiency in administration.

The sexual abuse problem festered in our Church until it was exposed by trial lawyers, district attorneys, and the press. Would not wider openness, discussion, and listening have made the Church able to heal itself? Lay committees in a more transparent church would have immediately questioned why huge payments were being made. A way of thinking within a clerical culture produced the cover-up practices of many bishops that damaged so many young people and, ultimately, the Church itself. A good image of the institution was given priority over the welfare of children. Those bishops were good men, not evil persons. They sought the good of the Church but how tragic was the thinking that produced the catastrophy. How is this way of thinking and the culture in which it is still embedded to be changed? Transparency and honesty! The $2 billion paid in settlements and court judgments was not paid because some priests abused children but because some bishops, who in the judgments of the courts, failed to do their job! They had made mistakes in judgment. A man, who makes a mistake driving a car and kills someone, does not become evil. But he is none the less accountable and must face the consequences. So too, those cover-up bishops are accountable. Regretably, the most glaring denial of accountability was Pope John Paul's conferring honors and perks in Rome to Cardinal Law, driven from Boston by his priests and people for covering up priest abusers. A public relations disaster! People simply threw up their hands. They saw it as a denial of accountability. They saw the pope as thinking that because Law was a good man and a bishop, he therefore was not accountable for the consequences of his mistaken judgments. This is the clerical culture out of which the crisis rose and out of which other crises will develop. This is thinking with a fake church; we are to think with the real church!

The Church in Ireland is now experiencing a startling disclosure of its own transgressions and ill-health. A governmental Commission, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, on November 26, 2009 released a report on its investigation of the Archdiocese of Dublin. The Irish Church, like our own, was unable to expose and cure its own ill-health. This was accomplished by the Commission. Its disclosures, unlike ours, published the names of bishops who had failed in handling complaints of sexual abuse by priests: Bishops James Moriarty of Kildare, Donal Murray of Limerick, Eaman Walsh of Elmham, and Raymond Field, Auxiliary of Dublin, Martin Drennan of Galway. All served as Auxiliary Bishops in Dublin in the years investigated. Four of the five have resigned so that the Church might better go forward. Drennan of Galway has refused to resign despite enormous pressure from the public.

Much of the analysis by the Murphy Commission has remarkable application to our own situation: "The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the state."

Bishop Moriarity, on resigning, stated that "from the time I became an auxiliary bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture". He and the other bishops, who resigned, seemed to have made in their statements the distinction that I made above, viz. that they did nothing morally wrong but that their resignation recognized their accountability. It is this distinction that does not appear to have been accepted by our US bishops or by the Vatican. JPII and B16 in their statements have invariably used the passive voice: "It has been badly handled." I do not recall their saying by whom it was badly handled. In the US, no bishop has ever been removed for secretly reassigning a predator priest. Many feel that our bishops and the Vatican live in denial of their complicity. They are not asked to admit any moral fault, but simply to admit their accountability, as four Irish bishops have done and as the Irish Commission have helped the Irish Church to see itself.

The National Review Board, established by the USCCB, had it quite right in its report of February 27, 2004: There has been "a general lack of accountability for bishops for the reassignment of priests known to have engaged in the sexual abuse of minors....The exercise of authority without accountability is not servant-leadership; it is tyranny."

Sentire cum ecclesia. Let us think with the real Church as the Irish Commission has clearly done; let us think with the real Church as our own National Review Board has done. Let us break free of the clerical culture that has wrought damage on children in our nation and on the Emerald Isle!