Thursday, November 14, 2002

What's done is done.

We can argue all we want, but the policy is there, voted on, approved.

Where do we go from here?

I hope we go in this direction: towards greater attentiveness to what's going on in our church, and a willingness to accept the sad truth that when it comes to priest matters, bishops think and act differently than we might assume. The fact is, for most bishops, relations with priests and protection of priests comes first, before anything else, including the integrity of the Gospel. The reasons are complex. They are, of course, priests, and as such, have closer ties to priests as a body than they do with any other element in the Church. The priests are their primary employees, and there is a direct "boss-employee" relationship between them. Bishops aren't too bothered by the displeasure of lay people, unless those lay people are big donors. They are, however, bothered by the displeasure of priests. Finally, most bishops run dioceses that are already experiencing a priest shortage, and one that only promises to worsen in the next twenty years. They need their priests.

So anyone who didn't understand that before gets it now, and gets the fact that with very few exceptions, this bishop-priest axis is the primary reference point for acting on this crisis. We understand that if we want justice for lay victims of abuse, we must work very, very hard, take nothing for granted and use every means at our disposal to achieve that justice. We cannot take for granted that bishops and priests are going to quickly rally to the side of a victim. We can hope, but we can't assume. So we can't report something to the diocese and then rest, thinking it's being taken care of.

Even with the policy.

For you see, we all know that even with the policy, the bishop can still do what he wants. He can. Look at Dallas. The issue there is not abuse of a minor, but a sexual indisgression with an adult, an unwanted advance. The bishop isn't removing the priest, and no one can make him. Look at Arlington. What a mess. There, too, there's discipline going on, but we're certainly reasonable to wonder if the excitable Father Haley hadn't raised a stink, that at least the pornography-harboring fellow priest would still be where he always was. Because the bishop can do what he wants.

Of course the Vatican can always step in, which it does - but again, that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. Galante was brought into Dallas to give credibility to a beleagured bishop and to, we can presume, break him of the habit of protecting sexual abusers and such, but it doesn't seem to have worked. The bishop was perfectly willing to let the priest attached to the St. Sebastian's website continue in ministry, is all for this cathedral rector, while at the same time, moving pastors who didn't do fingerprint checks on Missionaries of Charity.

We can hope and pray that these norms have an impact, and that the discussion of the last ten months will have an impact, as well, but the evidence isn't exactly edifying - well into this, as you remember, two New Jersey priests were arrested in Montreal for soliciting up underage male prostitutes. You'd think they'd learn. You'd think they'd either put a lid on it or get out of the priesthood. But no - it shows both stupidity and the compulsive nature of the proclivity to sexual interact with youth - and heaven knows what these guys would be doing today if they weren't arrested in Montreal.

So, we're left, once again, with the question,what can we do?

Be alert to possible situations of abuse by any church employee, and don't be quiet about it. If your youth ministry volunteer seems inordinantly involved in the lives of the kids, and seems to be engaging them as peers and spending lots of private time - step up and do something. If you hear of a priest inviting a kid to socialize with him in private - for God's sake, say something and don't shut up until something's done. Priests should have better things to do, after all.

Try to help others understand the difference between forgiveness and allowing to continue in ministry. This is the story that keeps popping up, and will continue to. We have not seen the end of parishes crying over their lost Father Predator who only did it once twenty years ago. People really need to understand that the desire to be sexually involved with a child or youth is not normal and goes beyond the way we normally speak and think of sin. It betrays a wealth of problems that should alert anyone to the fact that such a person isn't fit for ministry to others. He may be fit to fix cars, but a person who harbors sexual desires for a child or a teen, even if he recognizes it and fights it, doesn't belong in ministry.

I think, finally, that all of us have become attuned to our own failures over the past ten months. We have discovered how much we depend on the broader church to do the work of Christ in the world, and how much we have defined our own participation by the checks we write to pay other people to do what we should be doing. We've learned that much of that money perhaps has not been well spent. We've learned that we don't have to give to a diocese in order to support the work of the Church. If we suspect that the diocese is misusing our funds, or that those funds are going to either support predator priests, even in exile, or to pay diocesan lawyers to further victimize victims, then we need to stop writing checks to that diocese and write them to the institutions we want to support instead - the schools that need help, the health ministries, the immigrant ministries, the Catholic Charities. That money doesn't have to go through the diocese. It can go directly to the organization.

We've also seen that there's great work ahead. Yes, the bishops need to work to build trust, but the job of restoring the good name of the Church in America belongs to all of us. Look around. We live in a country in a time that is great need of the love of Christ. Forget the bishops - unless they need some fraternal correction - and just get on with it. The world needs Christ. Let's get to work.

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