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

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

April 21, 2010


Last Thanksgiving Day, a Commission of the Irish Government issued its report on its investigation of child abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Dublin. Names were published and the Irish faithful were enraged at the disclosures and their extent. Four bishops resigned because of their complicity in the secret cover-ups of pedophiles. Bishop James Moriarty declared, on resigning: "I accept that from the time I became auxiliary bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture." The sex abuse crisis that is wracking our beloved Church will be long with us. To move beyond it will require a new mindset. Should the prevailing culture in which this corruption took root continue, problems, old and new, will continue to occur.

That prevailing culture was at the bottom of the abuse crisis that exploded in our country in early 2002, in Ireland, when two government commissions published their findings in May and November last year., and now in Germany. Sadly, Church authorities had been unable to diagnose and treat its own corruption . This was accomplished by outsiders: in the US, the "Boston Globe" and other media, district attorneys, and trial lawyers; in Ireland, two governmental commissions; in Germany, the "Suddeneutsche Zeitung". Evidence is now surfacing that this same culture was prevailing in Munich during the regime of the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

But is this troublesome clerical culture still present? Sadly, it seems present in Benedict XVI and in John Paul II. On April 15, Benedict, in lamenting the corruption, declared about the whole Church, "Under attack from the world, which is speaking to us about our sins, it is necessary to do penance..." But the crisis was not brought about by the whole Church, but by the malfeasance of many bishops. Benedict has consistently used, as also did John Paul earlier, the passive voice about the cause of the crisis. "Mistakes were made." Nothing was said about who made the mistakes! This is classic clericalism: protect at all costs the bishops and the reputation of the Church. This is precisely what caused the sex abuse crisis: protect the Church. This is the prevailing culture that Bishop Moriarty wished that he had challenged. JPII shows the same culture of clericalism prevailing in his thinking. In his address to the US cardinals in Rome on April 23, 2002, he spoke of "great harm done by some priests and religious" but no mention of secret reassignments of miscreants by bishops. When he comes to that: "many are offended at the way in which the Church's leaders are perceived to have acted..." Protect, protect, protect! And at what cost? Damage to innocent children in the past. And now? Serious injury to innocent priests by failure to protect their rights, as well described by Cardinal Dulles (AMERICA, June 24, 2004) Six years later, there has been no effort to address Dulles' criticism and protect the innocent - in this case, innocent priests!

John Paul, like Benedict, made an effort to implicate the entire Catholic community in blame-sharing. He called for "an urgently needed purification of the entire Catholic community". He showed a further misunderstanding of the situation, when he declared that "the Church will help society understand and deal with the crisis..." This in the face of the fact that it was society that helped the Church, not the other way around!This is the length that clericalism goes with its superiority complex that obstructs the search for truth and justice.

As these two popes tried to suggest that the whole Catholic community shared blame and its need for penance, the bishops too protected themselves by trying to shift blame on others. Their Dallas Charter pursued "priests or deacons" alleged to be abusers. No mention of bishops! There was zero-tolerance for an abusing priest. But as the bishops' own National Review Board of distinguished Catholic lay men and women declared, "... there is no equivalent policy of zero-tolerance for bishops... who allowed a predator priest to remain in or return to ministry...the impression was created that the Dallas Charter...[was] the bishops' attempt to deflect criticism from themselves and onto individual priests".

It is not pleasant to write so severely about some elements in our beloved Church. But unless the old "prevailing culture" of quasi-divine clericalism is abandoned and a new open-to-others mindset develops in the Church, attainment of truth and justice will be blocked in new situations as they were in the abuse crisis.