21 Oct 2010

Bishops' criticisms: Prophetic or pointless?

USA Today - March 27, 2009

by Cathy Lynn Grossman | Faith & Reason Blog

Victims of the clergy sexual abuse crisis are watching with anger and dismay as bishops from Phoenix to Rome mouth off at each other -- invading each others ecclesiastical turf -- on who is in or out of line on hot potato political issues.

But during the most horrific days of the abuse scandal, bishops held fire on each other, with no public chastising of bishops or, most notably, of Cardinal Bernard Law, whose mismanagement as Archbishop of Boston allowed hundreds of sexual abusers to go undetected or unpunished for decades.

In 2002, when the scandal erupted, bishops said they were offering fraternal corrections in private but had no right to publicly point out each other's errors or interfere across diocesan boundaries. Bishops answer to God and the pope, not each other.

"It's galling, really galling, that they are so eager to speak out now on things they have no influence at all, when they kept silent when they could have done some real good," says David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Photo by L.M. Otero/ AP: At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in 2002, victim David Clohessy holds a photo of another victim who killed himself.

Recently, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, and Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles both criticised holocaust-denying British Bishop Richard Williamson -- although they did not cross diocesan boundaries in expressing their views.

Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis who now runs a tribunal in Rome, pronounced, in an interview he now regrets giving, blasted bishops who offer communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

-- Bishop of Phoenix Thomas Olmsted fired off a public letter to the priest who heads University of Notre Dame, blasting him for awarding an honorary degree and the commencement speech invitation to President Obama, who is not Catholic. The Notre Dame president is actually under the authority of Bishop of South Bend John D'Arcy, not Olmsted.

(Wonder who might refuse to come to the newly named Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan's installation next month since Dolan has reportedly invited Obama?)

"Bishops all over the place are violating what would once have been considered episcopal etiquette," says political scientist, the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and expert on the polity (governing structure) of the Catholic Church. "You don't criticize each other in public or comment on what's happening in someone else's diocese."

That's broken down now, says Reese, because, "Many bishops believe they are being prophetic on the issues they think are important and these bishops think abortion is the pre-eminent issue of our time, like slavery and genocide were in the past. They are true believers and they are speaking out, even if, like Archbishop Burke, they have absolutely zero authority to tell someone else in the USA what they can do."

Clohessy says bluntly,

They are grandstanding to score points with with the Catholic right wing, just as Mahony and O'Malley were grandstanding to the left with their gratuitous denunciation of Bishop Williamson.
Imagine what would have happened if they had called for a debate on ousting Cardinal Law from the Bishops' Conference in 2002? The bishops were deceitful, reckless and selfish while people were getting hurt. Now, when it doesn't matter what they say, they are quick to speak up.

Of course, it should be noted, in fairness to the bishops, that not even police, district attorneys or the media had any idea the depth and breadth of the abuse scandal until the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Timesand other media investigative teams ripped into it.

Do you think the outspoken bishops are stepping up to being prophetic? Why now and not then?

Photo by Ken Lambert, AP: Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law listens at a November 2002 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He resigned as archbishop of Boston six weeks later but there was no public criticism from fellow bishops.

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Correcting my post on bishops' turf

By Cathy Lynn Grossman | March 29, 2009

I was wrong in my posting Friday (see above post) on Catholic bishops, says Tod Tamberg, director of Media Relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop.

I originally included Mahony and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, in a list of bishops who were publicly criticizing another bishop (holocaust-denying British Bishop Richard Williamson) outside their ecclesiastical jurisdiction. David Clohessy, a survivor of clergy sex abuse, complained that bishops stayed mum -- in public -- about other bishops' errors during the scandal.

Tamberg says:

Cardinal Mahony co-wrote an op-ed -- meaning he spoke out together with -- two well-known officials of the American Jewish Committee. The purpose of the op-ed was to address folks like yourself, who seem to believe that just because the pope lifted his excommunication, Williamson is Catholic. He isn't.
(And what's with the "trumpeted" description? The op-ed was co-published by The Tidings and Jewish Journal, local publications. The media picked it up and "trumpeted" it on their own.)
The point of the op-ed was to repair any damage to Catholic -- Jewish relations in a city with lots of members of both faiths. How unsophisticated and cynical and wrong to drag it into sexual abuse.
And yes, the cardinal indeed has jurisdiction to prohibit Williamson or anyone else from entering any church or school in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles ...

And here is the Cardinal's original opinion piece and the Boston Globe coverage of O'Malley. O'Malley criticized Williamson while supporting the pope's efforts to draw Williams back into full accord with the church's teachings since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council half a century ago.

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