We have had good reason this year, which has produced the greatest crisis in the history of the U.S. Catholic Church, to remember a man who faced the clerical sexual-abuse crisis over a decade ago, both institutionally in Chicago and personally in enduring a false accusation. The great lesson from Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s ordeal, in his life and in his dying, is clear: Tell the truth. As we reflect on the sexual-abuse crisis, the biggest challenge we face is exactly that: Telling the truth. Though it may seem that we have had all too much "truth," we do not yet have the whole truth. We must take the time to understand not only the what of sexual abuse, but also how this tragedy happened and why it happened. Only then can we move forward with integrity and with the hope of a remedy. We must pursue a form of what Vaclav Havel, now president of the Czech Republic, called "living in truth" in his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless." "Living within the truth," he wrote, "is...an attempt to gain control over one’s own sense of responsibility." Although he was writing of Soviet domination in the 1970s and 1980s, his words call us to a sense of our own responsibility as members of the Catholic Church (Living in Truth, Faber and Faber, 1986). Uncovering the truth of the matter requires searching for how and why this crisis happened. Instead of anxiously dismissing this crisis, instead of simply moving on, we need to practice a patient attention to the facts and the events so that we can inform ourselves, understand what has happened, and, above all, judiciously consider what needs to be done. Not every remedy deserves our support. Not every remedy has yet presented itself.


Dallas and its outcome


I was one of several lay people to address the bishops at their meeting in Dallas this past June. Dallas was an awesome experience-and I mean that in the archaic sense of the word: the power to inspire dread. Now, it is possibly the top fantasy of a thinking Catholic to have some 300 bishops sitting in front of her listening-or appearing to listen-to every word she says. And on June 13, seven lay men and women did speak to the bishops. It was not, I think, the occasion that any of us could have imagined or would have wanted. That was part of the dread-to see so many bishops brought to that room, you might say, in such low estate. For a long time after, that dread has continued to be my overriding sense of Dallas. Apparently at least some bishops share that sense: Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati has written in the newsletter of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative: "from more than one bishop’s perspective, the Dallas meeting...was a very painful experience. Most of us felt, going into the meeting, that we had been doing a pretty good job dealing with our sexual-abuse problems. Policies were in place and were being followed. Things were pretty well in hand. Now we were being told that that wasn’t good enough any more. Offending priests whose tendencies were apparently under control were no longer to be allowed to remain in ministry of any sort. Decisions that had previously been taken by bishops more or less on their own were now to be shared with boards made up mostly of lay persons. Civil law was to be involved even in cases that, to some, didn’t seem to require the involvement of civil law. Many bishops did not leave Dallas with a sense of fulfillment. Some felt that they had been dragged under by a few of their brother bishops, who, for whatever reasons, had not made appropriate decisions. Tasks awaited them at home that they did not look forward to tending to. Action had been called for and action had been taken, but it wasn’t the kind of action that made everybody-or anybody-particularly happy." About that, I think Archbishop Pilarczyk is right-nobody was particularly happy about the outcome: • The victims’ organizations initially applauded the charter for the protection of children, but have since reacted negatively to what they see as foot-dragging by some bishops. More recently they criticized the Vatican revisions, which they believe return the bishops to a pattern of secrecy and clerical decision making. • Many priests have been angered by the bishops’ policy, though some accept that zero-tolerance may be necessary. In any case, they have been disabused of the idea that bishops and priest have special ties of loyalty. A breach in trust has occurred between bishops and their priests, the vast majority of whom, after all, are innocent of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, many accused priests have been in limbo. In New York, an October gathering of metropolitan-area priests heard a canon lawyer tell them that the father-son relationship between bishop and priest is irretrievably broken. It seems to me that it’s been a long time since that was a working metaphor among diocesan clergy. Maybe it’s past time to say it’s a bad metaphor, but there are theological and ecclesiological consequences to that fact. What will the new metaphor be? Contract workers? Employees? Free agents? Brothers in Christ? • Lay people who have paid attention to the crisis, who have wanted to help, are treated to something like the following: No, you cannot meet in your parish church. This is my church, this is my property, and this is my problem. I am in charge. I know best. I will tell you what to do. (I paraphrase one bishop only.) Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), the Boston-based group that began meeting last spring and had four thousand people at a July organizing convention, has been subject to various forms of disinformation by the Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper, and by conservative publications like Crisis. Whatever one might think of its prospects, VOTF is spending its scarce resources fending off a variety of suspicions, if not of the laity, then of the kind of laity that would think of organizing itself. Better a laity organized from the top down! To all of this, the mixed commission of American and Vatican officials has now added another element, the revised norms, which the bishops approved on November 13. The revisions acknowledge the canonical process for removing a priest from ministry. They do not, it would seem, resolve the ex post facto factor in the Dallas norms. I fear that the tribunals as now constituted may reintroduce into this vexed subject the secrecy and exclusive clerical oversight that the bishops tried to end in Dallas, practices that caused trouble in the first place. The current situation could be described as paralyzing. The church is paralyzed. And the Gospel passage I have most often thought of over the last several months is that of the paralytic in Mark’s Gospel. The paralytic’s friends brought him for healing. His friends carried him up to the roof of the house where Jesus was staying, because it was so crowded outside. The paralytic’s friends stripped the covering from over the place where Jesus was sitting. Then, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Jesus, seeing his faith said, Your sins are forgiven. For the time being, each of us must carry our paralyzed church with such faith until we find some authentic and effective way through the mess we are in. We must carry it with faith, not with resignation, nor with joining in the vilification of our church, nor with putting the crisis from our minds. That is the great American temptation, isn’t it; maybe it is the great human temptation. Think of September 11, 2001. How did that happen? We know what the terrorists did in the months and years before their attacks. We know a good deal about what went on in the airplanes and in the Twin Towers. We know how the towers collapsed. But where is the robust examination of that breach of intelligence and security that allowed an attack that killed thousands? We still don’t know the why or how of September 11 for some of the same reasons that we don’t know the why or how of decisions made by bishops about the sexual abuse of children. The CIA and the FBI, much like many chancery officials, resist a full examination; they too are reluctant to ask why-better, they argue, to move on. Telling the truth is difficult and painful-difficult because it is hidden; painful because we must accept that even good people do bad things, or at least allow bad things to happen.


How & why?


The Catholic Church won’t have a congressional investigation, or an independent commission, that might aid us in understanding the truth about the sexual-abuse scandal, but we do have lawsuits. These offer one set of clues as to why and how; small parts of the truth can be found in the legal depositions of church officials. These depositions under oath are focused on Boston, on Cardinal Bernard Law, and on a number of Boston chancery officials who have since become bishops, including Bishop Thomas Daily, now of Brooklyn. Bishop Daily held a number of important posts in Boston from 1971, when he became secretary to Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, until he left in 1984 to become bishop of Palm Beach, Florida. (He was an auxiliary bishop in Boston from 1974 to 1984; he served as chancellor from 1973 to 1984; he was also vicar general from 1977 to 1984.) He was a man well placed to know about the problem-if he wanted to, if he saw a problem. On August 21-22, 2002, Bishop Daily gave a deposition in a civil suit brought by Gregory Ford and two other plaintiffs who allege that they were abused as children by Father Paul Shanley of Saint John the Evangelist parish in Newton, a suburb of Boston. Bishop Daily was questioned under oath by a lawyer named Roderick MacLeish in a civil suit, if not against Bishop Daily and Cardinal Law, then against the Archdiocese of Boston. (For that reason, we should realize that the witnesses were prepared by the archdiocese’s defense lawyers.) There is also a criminal case: Paul Shanley has been charged with child rape, indecent assault and battery, and child molestation between 1983 and 1989. Reading this deposition is one way of gleaning some idea about what Bishop Daily was thinking (see www. boston. com/globe/spotlight/abuse/shanley/daily_deposition/1.htm). There is much that Bishop Daily does not recall-reasonably so; much of this happened more than twenty years ago. Still, there may be some facts and events that he chooses not to recall or that he considers to be under the seal of confession. In any case, his responses seem at times forgetful, confused, or evasive. His interlocutor, the lawyer MacLeish, is not exactly an inspiring character either. There seems to be a good deal of fishing and efforts at entrapment. Furthermore, much of this testimony will probably not be heard in court; nonetheless, it was made public on October 28. So there is also a kind of trial by media that is taking place before there is a trial by law: the adversarial culture of American law meets the stonewalling culture of the chancery office. What insights can be drawn from Bishop Daily’s testimony about the operations of the Archdiocese of Boston in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was its chancellor, second in command to Cardinal Medeiros and to Cardinal Law, and in command for about six months in 1984? Several letters were sent to Cardinal Medeiros complaining about Father Shanley’s public statements approving of sexual relations between men and boys, in which Shanley claimed that children were the seducers, and denied that such sexual relations were damaging to children; what was damaging, he argued, was bringing in the police. In answering those letters, Bishop Daily wrote the absolute minimum. In several cases he simply replied that Father Shanley did not represent the cardinal’s views-as if people thought he did-and as if that were the most serious charge. Daily cannot recall whether he ever asked Shanley about the truth of those inquiries, but he thinks he did not. Why not? What was the culture of this chancery office that appeared so indifferent to the potential for child abuse? In Bishop Daily’s telling, at least part of that culture seemed designed to avoid trouble and perhaps confrontation-confrontation with priests, confrontation with lay people who wrote those letters, and perhaps even confrontation with the cardinal. There were files for miscreant priests (Shanley was among them), which Daily says were locked in his desk drawer. Did he ever really look at them? If so, did he ever connect the dots? Did he ever think of children? Bishop Daily says in his deposition that it was Cardinal Medeiros’s responsibility to deal with Father Shanley. After Medeiros’s death, it was Cardinal Law’s job (although Daily was in charge in the interim of about six months). To questions about his own responsibility and authority, Daily seems unduly modest. Did the cardinal deal with Shanley? Daily assumes so, but he doesn’t know. Who was in charge? He says that in this hierarchical system the cardinal has final authority. Was no one else therefore responsible for Shanley? Did anyone in the chancery office expect to be held accountable? Cardinal Medeiros died in September 1983; Cardinal Law arrived in March 1984. We do not know Cardinal Medeiros’s view of the matter. Cardinal Law, in his own deposition, testified that Bishop Daily would have been responsible for checking out and responding to such letters; for example, one concerning Father John Geoghan’s molestation of boys in Saint Brendan’s parish. Geoghan is now imprisoned for multiple cases of abuse. Cardinal Law acknowledges that he saw this letter and sent it to Bishop Daily for investigation. Did he investigate? We don’t know. Daily left Boston in September 1984. Was that letter just coming to him? Was it on his desk? Had he already filed it in his locked desk drawer? He doesn’t remember. Daily was replaced by Father Robert Banks, now Bishop Banks of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Did Bishop Banks pick up the ball? No one seems to know that either. Then, asks lawyer MacLeish, What about Cardinal Law’s appointment of Shanley as pastor of Saint John the Evangelist, the parish where Daily, in the interregnum, had made him acting pastor? Well, Bishop Daily assumes that the cardinal would have checked the files locked in that desk drawer, and having seen those letters, made an informed decision. Still isn’t there another possibility: Cardinal Law assumed that having been made an acting pastor by Bishop Daily, Father Shanley needed no further vetting. Was it unwarranted assumptions, was it sloppy procedures, was it a desk drawer locked so tight that really no one ever opened it? What was it that led to the abuse of so many children by Father Shanley and Father Geoghan? In his deposition, Bishop Daily also makes a distinction between talking and doing. The accusations against Father Shanley, Daily argues, involved words not deeds. No one was accusing him of having sex with children or young people (although it turns out that there was a 1966 letter in Shanley’s file from a priest accusing Shanley of molesting boys in a summer cabin-about which Daily claims to have had no knowledge). It is, of course, fascinating to recall that in the same period, Father Charles Curran was being drummed out of The Catholic University of America for merely raising questions, in an academic setting, about the church’s teachings on contraception and other sexual issues. Father Shanley is talking about sex between men and boys, but mere saying does not seem to count in his case, does not rise to the level of further inquiry by Bishop Daily. In all of this scandal, a great deal has been made of clerical culture. Does such a generalization help explain why and how? What if we narrowed the arena to chancery culture-the culture of ambitious priests who work together and who may live in the bishop’s household? These men run the local church. Is not this chancery culture-at least in large archdioceses such as Boston-akin to a system of lord and vassals, in which the vassal pledges fealty and the lord pledges protection and promotion? The vassal does the lord’s bidding, protecting him from vexing and difficult problems, like a Paul Shanley. Though we do not fully know what went on in the chancery office of the Archdiocese of Boston, we do know that officials knew things about Paul Shanley that should have alarmed them, that should have really appalled them. Yet Bishop Daily admits to doing nearly nothing himself to sort through the inquiries. He does not know whether Cardinal Medeiros did anything, except in 1979, when he removed Shanley from his ministry to runaway and homeless youth. Is Bishop Daily’s testimony, his lack of recall shaped by the seal of confession or, as the second in command, some unknown requirement of absolute confidentiality? Is there a subtle and complex pattern or knowing and not-knowing, now obscured by time and events? Shanley was a popular and even lionized "street priest." Was he incorrigible? Or untouchable? Was Bishop Daily simply clueless? Or indifferent? Is this a bureaucracy so miasmic that Peter honestly didn’t know what Paul was doing? [The release of more documents on December 2 suggests that there was a certain level of shared knowledge among high officials in the Boston chancery; these documents, selectively released by plaintiffs’ lawyers, do not yet answer the how and the why.] There is rich treasure here for social analysis: perhaps an anthropologist could describe that chancery culture with greater precision. It does bear out my point that finding the truth, the why and the how are both difficult and painful. In reflecting on this, I could not but think of Havel’s phrase, "living a lie," a condition as he sees it, so subtle, and so unconscious that those who live a lie may not fully grasp the ordinary subterfuge in which they carry on their daily life. Havel writes, "Individuals need not believe all these mystifications [he is speaking of the Soviet system and Communist ideology], but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system."


Thinking about the crisis


What is to be done? To what should we be paying attention? There are three frameworks through which I have been thinking about this. 1. At heart, we are facing an ecclesiological crisis, that is, a crisis about the church itself, how it orders itself, and how it understands office and authority-a crisis that has been growing for at least the last two decades. This crisis did not begin last January in Boston, but the sexual-abuse crisis manifests this larger crisis. It concerns not only episcopal authority, or lack thereof, episcopal power and its possible abuse, not only church governance, but also and more fundamentally a crisis about the church itself. How do we understand ourselves as the church? Forty years ago, Vatican II offered a renewed idea about ourselves as a church, as a Christian community. The liturgical changes were an expression and a promise of the communion of saints. Gaudium et spes said the church traveled the same path as all humankind; the church was "a leaven." Lumen gentium described the church as the people of God. This means collaboration and collegiality, the practical mechanisms for acting as a Christian community. Vatican II is frequently described as the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, who back in 1962 fully anticipated the effect of the council’s teachings, especially Gaudium et spes, on the church itself? The warrants that the council launched on the "world"-warrants for human solidarity, dignity, and responsibility for the human condition, and most important in the current crisis, responsibility for political and organizational behavior-these warrants have come home to roost in the church, most obviously as a response to the sexual-abuse crisis. All of this was embedded in the council fathers’ sense of history and historical consciousness: The church’s mission was to read the signs of the times. That admonition is strangely absent now from our reflection and action in the church. The church is part of history. But how? In reading the signs of the times, doesn’t the church have to face up to the contradictions and the contrary pulls in the circumstances of its life today, especially the structures and decisions that have fostered this crisis? The council reconfigured the understanding of how the church was to be in this world. The last forty years have been a struggle to live that understanding in our practice. It is a struggle between the church as a perfect society and the church as a pilgrim people. As time has passed and we have come to critical forks in the road, the church itself (and I mean all of us) has not always taken the right turn. We are falling short in implementing and embodying this new understanding of the church, above all, in reconfiguring our relationships as lay people, as clergy, as bishops within the framework of a hierarchical church. Let me be clear about that: I do think hierarchical organizations work. I even think they are necessary, but not if they are all head and no body. Maybe I should also say, all mouth and little brain. Though the liturgy reminds us that the laity is a part of the communion of saints, the current Vatican ecclesiology seems to see most lay people as a bunch of knaves and ne’er-do-wells-a rowdy people (doubtfully) of God. Not to be trusted. And bishops, too often, have been appointed only because they are cautious, careful, and concerned above all with pleasing their "Holy Father." Thus our current situation. We have been told often in recent months that the real crisis in the Catholic Church is a crisis of faith. And the answer to that crisis of faith is obedience and submission, or as some intone it mantra-like: fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. This echoes Vatican statements and actions that over the last two decades have focused on a doctrinal crisis that is always threatening to pollute the church, or to tear it apart. This distracts attention from a deeper, or, at least, another crisis. In fact, sometimes it contributes to the ecclesiological crisis of disordered relationships among and between bishops, priests, and laity, and the relationship of all of us, but especially the American bishops, to the Vatican. Not only that, Dallas showed how profoundly disordered the relationships among the bishops themselves have become. Preceding Dallas, and from January on, there was little effort among the bishops to respond nationally to the evolving scandal. At Dallas, they were under tremendous pressure to act in concert, when, in fact, it is only some bishops who had disgraced their office. Those men should have been called to account by their fellow bishops. Rather than examine the failures of some of their fellow bishops, many otherwise responsible bishops (whether out of deference or a misguided sense of solidarity or fear of making matters worse) chose to risk the reputations and ministries of their priests rather than confront their fellow bishops. Who could have guessed that this is where we’d be forty years after Vatican II? 2. Because this crisis comes from the top, it cannot be resolved in the customary way, from the top down or with pronouncements from on high. Yet such is the state of the church that we are admonished with: Who are you-the ordinary Christian faithful-to suggest any remedies? More to the point, what mechanisms are available for us to offer remedies? When there are no internal mechanisms, where do people turn to voice their anguish and their complaints? To the media, to TV dramas, to Oprah Winfrey! Each of us-and all of us-needs to take some responsibility for being what Gaudium et spes said we were, a leaven. "The church is at once a visible organization and a spiritual community that travels the same journey as all humankind and shares the same earthly lot with the world: it is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God." We are leaven in the church as much as in society. 3. The usual fault lines-or maybe I should say the usual fault persons-are jousting for position in responding to this crisis. Still I do not think these particular knights-errant are able to remedy the ecclesiological crisis and reorder the disordered relationships. George Weigel doesn’t have the answers; neither does James Carroll nor Garry Wills. All of them have written recently on the scandal, and no surprise, each of them has found the answer in the very agendas he has been pressing over the last two decades. Each may be correct in portions of his analysis, but none has the answer. I don’t have the answers. We don’t yet know the answers, because we don’t yet have the truth, or at least we have not yet fully told the truth.


What can we do?


Let me conclude in suggesting that in the interim, there are some things we probably should not do, and some things we should try to do. • We should not press our usual agendas: on the one side, obedience and submissiveness, overhauling the seminaries, banning homosexuals from the priesthood; on the other side, allowing married priests and the ordination of women. • We should not scapegoat homosexual priests or bishops, though we must come to a fuller and deeper understanding about the role that homosexuality plays in a church that requires celibacy, and what role, if any, it has played in the sexual-abuse scandal. • We should not believe everything we read in the papers or hear on TV. The media did not cause this scandal, but the coverage often enough has inaccurate headlines, sound bites, or information. We see in this coverage a terrible confluence of media animosity toward the church and inadequate communications by the bishops. Yet, when looking to the mote in the eye of the media, some church officials ought to look to the beam in their own. And then, here are some things we should or could do-some things to think about: • Look again at the usual and ordinary mechanisms now on the books for church governance, mechanisms like parish councils, diocesan pastoral councils, presbyteral councils, finance councils, many of which have been coopted by bishops or pastors, have fallen into disuse, or ceased to be effective. Above all, the bishops’ conference, the USCCB, has got to be recognized once again, as a critical and vital force in the life of the U.S. Catholic Church. The erosion of its influence over the last decade-partly under the influence of the Vatican, partly under the influence of some American prelates, and partly under the influence of persistent and false accusations by conservatives-has created an enormous gap between the Vatican and the local church. A church that values mediating institutions is now without a national voice or bridging capacity. If more of us paid attention to these organizational structures as authentic governing mechanisms and genuinely worked on them for the good of the church, and not our own hobbyhorses, perhaps they could be revivified and serve their purpose of helping to bring good order to the governance of the church. • Though it is hard to see at the moment, we should not forget that some great good may come of this. Not only will sexual abuse of children be at the forefront of our attention in the church, it could also be in other institutions; sexual abuse as well as physical and psychological abuse; not only in this country, but elsewhere. We know that the prostitution of children is a grave problem often connected with tourism in some countries. Could raising the church’s consciousness about sexual abuse extend the compassion of others to these children? • The church has been wounded, badly wounded: in this condition that requires examination and repair, bishops, priests, and lay people will have to scrutinize theirown attitudes and behaviors in order to remedy the indifference we all display at times toward the well-being of the whole church. • One can never underestimate the importance of prayer; of course, we can overestimate it too. In any case, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen recently urged us all to pray for the work of the spirit. And then he said: "We need a miracle. Expect one." Would it be the miracle of uncovering and telling the truth? Can we tell the truth? Can we know the truth? Perhaps. Think of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. She was not immediately forthcoming about herself, lingering over the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, discussing well water and living water, buckets and such. Yet when Jesus speaks the truth of her condition, "You are right to say, you have no husband. You have had five and the man you now have is not your husband. You spoke the truth there," she immediately recognizes his power and his compassion: "I see you are a prophet, sir." Then she returns to her village to announce the good news. The Catholic Church is caught up in an ecclcesiological, political, and sociological crisis: the truth and full consequences of that are obscured both by reams of media coverage and by the silence, bad memories, and perhaps bad consciences of church officials. If we are to know the truth, we must all stop living a lie. December 10, 2002

Published in the 2002-12-20 issue: View Contents

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a former editor of Commonweal. 

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