Thursday, November 7, 2002

Every issue, every argument has a subtext.

When my children argue about a piano practice or time in front of the computer (theirs, not mine) our discussion is not just about the issue at hand. It’s usually about something else, too: who’s in charge here? Why can’t I make my own choices on how to use my own time? (that’s them, not me…no, that’s all of us).

As we trudge towards the bishops’ meeting in Washington next week, and eight months of astonishing and disheartening revelations come to a climax of sorts, we’re looking at a policy, but we’re also looking at a subtext.

Can we trust you?

Some would say that the real subtext is power, but after mulling this over, I think I disagree. Power comes into it, certainly, but I think in the end, most Catholics would be satisfied with almost any permutation of ecclesial power structure if they felt that they could trust the goals and the process. That is, if they trusted that the bishops were committed to the goal of ridding the priesthood of sexual predator, and to a process that put truth first, no matter what the cost.

Now. How is that to be done? At one level, the specific structures make no difference. An autocratic bishop who makes all of decisions, from the diocesan budget to the plants in the chancery waiting room, completely on his own with not a smidgen of input from any councils, committees or boards, could conceivably, drum any abusive priests that come to his attention out of ministry and push them, with the help of the law, right into prison. It could happen.

Likewise, the most collegial - sounding bishop in the world could conceivably be protecting predators in his diocese, even as he listens to the ruminations of a lay review board, even as he invites sexual abuse experts to give workshops to his priests, even as he nails a “policy” to the cathedral door. He could do this in any number of ways, and he could do it because chances are there’s no one to punish him for it.

The question is, given the fact that a bishop doesn’t need a policy to get rid of predators and the fact that a bishop can get around a policy, what can we come up with that lifts the process above the whims of an individual bishop and insures the compliance of an individual bishop?

We’ve learned that although we would like to trust our bishops on this, we can’t. Sorry gentleman, it’s just a fact. What we want is a trustworthy process that will work, no matter who this bishop is.

And the answer, in the end, doesn’t lie with any particular arrangement of power between laity and ordained. It lies with that now overused, yet fascinating word – “transparency.” Absoluteness openness on this issue is the only way to restore and maintain trust.

So, it seems to me, what we should be thinking about, and evaluating these policies on, is its fidelity to the Gospel. And the Gospel tells us the story of our Savior, who calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. Truth. How effective is this policy in ensuring that truth is attended to in a diocese, no matter who’s in charge?

To be continued....

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