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

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

April 1, 2011


The Philadelphia Grand Jury report of February 10, 2011 was profoundly upsetting to the public and to the Catholic community. Cardinal Rigali had pledged, together with all the other US bishops, to abide by their 2002 Dallas Charter, which required dismissal from ministry of any priest with even one credible allegation of abuse. This Grand Jury had found that a number of such priests were still in active ministry in Philly. Cardinal Rigali, in response, declared that no such abusers were still in ministry. Six days later, he removed twenty-one. Three priests and a lay teacher were charged with abuse and arrested. Monsignor William Lynn, Vicar for Clergy, was charged with endangering the welfare of children and was arrested. Will he be a sacrificial lamb to save the cardinal whose policy he followed?

The report also describes a similar Grand Jury report in 2005, which pointed out alleged abusers. But they could not be prosecuted because of statutory limitations. It had been thought that the 2005 report would have been a wake-up call. The 2011 Grand Jury found it otherwise and lodged severe criticism against Cardinal Rigali and his predecessors, Cardinals Bevilaqua and Krol, in that they knew of the abusers but did not oust them from ministry.

Both Grand Juries have indicated that the motivation of archdiocesan officials in removing or reassigning an alledged abusing priest lay in the danger of scandal. There appears no reference to possible danger to children as a cause of concern. Investigations by Church authorities as to what went wrong in Philadelphia will be anxiously awaited.

I suggest that the underlying problem to be addressed is one of governance. Not only have acts of abuse been covered up and miscreants secretly reassigned. The real cause is constantly covered up. It is not acts of abuse. It is the failure in governance of those bishops who did the cover ups and reassignments of miscreants. This cause is constantly pushed aside. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have invariably used the passive voice when it comes to who caused the problems. "The problem of priestly abuse was badly handled." "Priestly" is used; but "badly handled by bishops" has never been said by our two popes, to my knowledge. Not one cent of the $2 billion paid out was for the sins of priests, but in every case of court judgment or settlement, payment was for mismanagement by a bishop. $2 billion! JP II showed profound misunderstanding of the crisis in taking Cardinal Law, driven from Boston by his priests and people and, perhaps, to avoid indictment and installing him to a prestigious church in Rome with a six figure salary and a position on the entity that selects bishops. Law was poster boy for secret and multiple reassignments of miscreant clergy. He was protected and honored by JPII, who is now on the express train to beatification.

The bishops'own National Review Board understood the real causality that escaped mention by two popes. They used these words: "bishops engaged in massive denial."; "general lack of accountability of bishops."; "serious failings of some bishops caused the exercise of state authority over Church matters."; "the bishops'attempt to deflect criticism from themselves onto individual priests." This harsh criticism by the NRB angered many bishops as e.g. Cardinal Egan, who attempted to stop NRB funding at one point and explains his hostile attitude to them on their visit to NYC.
Board members showed their displeasure with the non-cooperation of many bishops: Chairperson Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, termed them "Mafia types". His successor, Ann Burke, former Chief Justice, Illinois Supreme Court, on completion of her term, went on lecture tours, describing how many bishops interfered with their mandated work. I was invited to give a deposition before the NRB. In Washington, I was interviewed by Board member Robert Bennett, President Clinton's personal attorney. He candidly complained to me about his irritation at giving up time and income only to be met by anger from some bishops.

The hostility of so many bishops to criticism may be related to their immunity under canon law from judgment or supervision by anyone less than the pope and his CDF. When have we ever seen the pope crack down on a bishop for the mismanagement, which the pope himself described in nameless passive voice? When Dublin Archbishop Martin persuaded some bishops to resign for their involvement in the crisis, Pope Benedict refused to accept their resignations. Don't anyone step on my turf!

In the view of many, the Vatican's appetite for control seems excessive. JP II in his Synods of Bishops diminished the collegiality of bishops, so encouraged by Vatican II.
The USCCB was hamstrung, I think it was in 2002, by papal decree that decisions of national conferences had to be unanimous to have force. Otherwise, to Rome. Control is the name of the game. Rome hijacked the ICEL after decades of its work, appointed new members and imposed a questionable translation of the Roman Missal on the English-speaking faithful. Caritas, an international agency, of which our CRS is a part, was to have its highly regarded chair, a Ms. Knight take another term, as was customary. The Vatican made a different appointment. JP II, in his effort to expand papal control, tried, according to some, to expand the scope of infallibility by introducing a new phrase: the "magisterium of the Church".
In addition to reducing the clericalism and centralization of Church authority now abounding, a new way of thinking might well lead to an invigorated Church. Example: In November 2002, JPII and the US cardinals, after their meeting in Rome,issued a statement, which among other items, declared that "priestly celibacy" had nothing whatever to do with the abuse crisis. Obviously, an attempt to defend priestly celibacy at all costs! No studies had ever been made. But they had the conclusion. Very much like the time of Galileo. Church authorities had the Bible stating that the sun stood still. No need for research and study! Galileo was wrong! A priori thinking has its place. But it is no substitute for research and experience. Many feel it is too prevalent in Vatican thinking.

These thoughts are to encourage policies and thinking that can be helpful as we try to wend our way through today's maze. Back to the simple Christian faith; remove the encumbrances that block the view of Jesus. Just off the top of my head, indulgences and canonizations. How about some other examples? What do you think of the above observations? Other thoughts?


Anonymous Mary Louise Birmingham said...

And off the top of my head:

How about abolishing the (remarkably unchristian) rank of cardinal?

In atonement for Humanae Vitae (which defied the pope's own Commission on Marriage, Family, and Faith), how about a century of prayerful silence on the subject of procreation?

April 5, 2011 at 1:20 PM  

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