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

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

May 10, 2011


Since January 2007, I have posted 148 entries on this blogsite, Archangel. Some of these have celebrated bright accomplishments in the life and ministries of our Church as it tries to bring the heart and mind of Jesus to the world. Other posts have been candidly critical of many aspects of church governance. All that has been written here has come from a love of our Church and a desire that it be seen as a city on a hill. But two outrageous icons seem significant to me:

1) A few years ago, full page K of C magazine ads COME FOLLOW ME; then a photo of Benedict XVI and message, "Yes, we must come and follow Benedict".
2) Latest book by Benedict XVI on Jesus - cover photo of Benedict with caption, "THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD".

Heretical? I think so! Benedict twice steals the words of Jesus. Just a step away from Dostoyevsky's "Grand Inquisitor". Please, a humble Pope, a humble Church! Is this a problem?

Leadership tips from CEOs, university presidents, et al: "Listen to employees, staff, customers, boards of directors, the public"; "Make everyone feel they contribute to the organization, its culture, its product."; "Get feed back."; "Be collegial and consultative, not command and control types." "Have meetings, present goals, discuss tactics, don't have meetings where no one or few talk."

Some thoughts for bishops: "Be interfaith and ecumenical friendly; talk to fellow Christians, Jews, secularists, feminists, Unitarians; more importantly talk, to your fellow Catholics in Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, and the like; don't keep them outside their church yards, meeting in Protestant and Greek Orthodox churches; send reps to their sessions; establish negotiable terms of discussion; they are not intruding on your turf - it's our turf; develop their human sense of belonging, don't think fences and walls"

Pope and bishops can no longer afford to diffuse responsibility as has been long a deplorable habit. Bishops are judged by pope alone; a more local judge is not available! For a bishop to be brought to justice is like a NYC cab driver able to be ticketed for a violation only by a US Supreme Court justice. The procedure kills the try for justice! The mantle of judicial immunity brings its wearer to a feeling of immunity from any criticism.

The bishops' National Review Board, consisting of outstanding Catholic lay personalities, in its February 2004 report was severely critical of the bishops: priests, but no bishop, were subject to punishment for violation of the Dallas Charter; the crisis was caused by the bishops failure to follow Canon 1395 ordering punishment, not therapy, for child abusers; damage to children was exponentially multiplied by bishops, who reassigned miscreants; bishops may well have had a conflict of interest in protecting themselves by agreeing to multi-million dollar payments and selling off church properties to pay damages; about the failures of bishops that brought grand juries and courts into the picture, the NRB report had this to say: "In the Board's view, any agreement between a diocese and civil authorities, in which the diocese gives power to the civil authorities to oversee the diocese, is a troubling infringement of the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion." History tells of many examples where Church and Pope steadfastly resisted such incursions, even to the point of deposing emperors.

These are serious charges, indeed,and it is understandable that some bishops were angered to be so taken to task. Our own Cardinal Egan, refused to offer the customary Mass for NRB members on their official visit to NY. Egan publicly disinvited Board members for a celebratory dinner held by chance at the time of their visit. In November 2004, Egan and three other bishops tried, thankfully without success, to delay and, perhaps, block the funding of the annual audits required by the NRB. In its report, the Board cited the violation by the bishops of Canon 1277, which requires the review and approval by the diocesan finance council for certain large payments. The Board pointed out that had the bishops complied with this canon, the large expenditures would have been questioned and their reasons disclosed to view.

Some board members have expressed dissatisfaction with the arrogance of some bishops. Former Oklahoma Governor, Frank Keating, described some bishops as "Mafia types". Illinois Supreme Court justice Anne Burke, after her term was up, has been giving lectures on the abuse crisis and the difficulties posed by many bishops to the Board in performing the duties entrusted to them. She said on one occasion that the NRB should be dispanded. I had been invited to provide a deposition to the Board. In Washington, I spent over three hours with Board member Robert Bennett, President Clinton's attorney in the impeachment affair. His questions showed a deep understanding of the crisis. He also observed that he could not understand the hostility and arrogance of some of the bishops towards him, given the time and loss of income he had experienced from his work on the Board. Out of frustration dealing with bishops, Anne Burke and Robert Bennett, with excelkent diplomatic connections, flew to Rome and met with then Cardinal Ratzinger with whom they discussed the situation. On their return, Bishop Gregory Wilton, Chief of USCCB told them they should have had permission for this trip, stating "even bishops need permission". Burke replied, "We are not bishops!".

With the abuse crisis very much with us, it would be appropriate to look again at the Feb 2004 NRB report. It is the most objective view to date of where accountability lay - in the past and, perhaps, into the future. Openness, not resistance , to criticism is a quality of the leadership needed to address the continuing crisis. In a recent Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune, entitled "Can the Bishops ever be Trusted?", Anne Burke pointed out that the bishops had not followed the recommendatins of the Board. As subsequent events proved, the recommendations would have avoided some missteps that ensued and would be helpful in the future.