Editorializing on the criminal charges of clergy sexual abuse and its alleged cover-up in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, The New York Times observes, "The haunting question is how many other Philadelphias may be out there."Another dismal question to consider in such investigations is the role of a bishop whose actions are under scrutiny by a grand jury. If his own conduct as an administrator is at issue, should he be in charge of diocesan decisions on any plea deal that would result in avoiding criminal charges for himself, key administrators or the diocese? Should he resign? Now that the grand jury in Philadelphia has indicted one diocesan official and threatened in its report to indict a former archbishop, this needs to be considered further.A 2004 report by the National Review Board said that "to the extent that a bishop avoids consequences for himself by agreeing to provisions that impose onerous financial or operational restrictions on the diocese, the Board has grave concerns about the apparent conflict of interest." The report explains: "Many dioceses are structured as a `corporation sole,' whereby the bishop owns and is responsible for all of the diocesan assets. This structure may increase the risk of a conflict of interest between the bishop and his diocese."If there are indeed "other Philadelphias" - and, as the 2004 report documented, there were other dioceses similarly hostile to law enforcement probes - then this issue the Review Board raised about the bishop's role should get close attention.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.