What Has Been Lost

The church after Dallas

Surveying the battlefield of the sex-abuse scandal, I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church in the United States will never be the same. I said that to the bishops in Dallas on June 13 (see: www.usccb.org/bishops/steinfels.htm). In the weeks since, and as I have thought more deeply about the consequences, I have become even more convinced that the first six months of 2002 have presented U.S. Catholics with a turning point in our history. It is important for us to acknowledge that, and to calculate what such a turn may require. As historians are fond of saying about certain periods (for example, Germany in 1848), X reached a turning point and failed to turn. We could fail to negotiate this turning point.

Something essential has been lost: simply put, basic trust in the bishops. By that I mean a form of quiescent confidence that those who lead do so with integrity and to good purpose. Such a loss at this point in time seems surprising, doesn’t it? After years, even decades of insistent criticism from Catholics, left, right, and center, the tensions generated by the reforms of Vatican II and the counter-reforms of this papacy have not been resolved. Yet neither has this criticism significantly reshaped lay attitudes toward episcopal authority. Catholics may not like...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.