An appropriate and long overdue response

Immediately complying with a judge’s order, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has released the personnel files of 87 clergy accused of sexual abuse and has posted the files online.

Archbishop José Gomez, who has led the archdiocese since 2011, announced that he has relieved his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of all administrative and public duties, and that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, at one time Cardinal Mahony’s vicar for clergy, has resigned from his duties as a regional auxiliary bishop.

Cardinal Mahony served as Archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011. Until recently, Bishop Curry served as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading,” Archbishop Gomez said in a statement. “The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.”

“We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today,” Archbishop Gomez continued. “We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.”

When I first saw this story last night I went through a series of reactions starting with “Finally and appropriate response.”

I already had little respect for the Cardinal and what was left was almost totally eliminated by the letter he wrote in reply to Archbishop Gomez.

“Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem.”

If only he had been trained to not cover up sexual abuse. His reply is exactly the type of thinking that led to the cover up of sexual abuse in that there is no responsibility and making decisions is hard. The problem is always because appropriate structures had not been setup. The problem and the horror of priestly sexual abuse is just something to deal with administratively, or at least this is what this attitude portrays..

What really outrages me about Cardinal Mahony’s reply is that it displays zero sorrow for what he in fact did do. His attitude is that yeah I made mistakes and I apologized for them so just leave me alone about them now. There is really no public shame displayed in what he did and the fact is that even after this information started to come out it was business as usual for him.

Now as I said I was no fan of the Cardinal and it is easy to get caught up in what Archbishop Gomez has appropriately done. Still I find I have to look at my own reaction to this. I am experiencing too much schadenfreude and very little charity. It is quite easy to associate this story with the conservative/progressive divide when really it has nothing to do with it. Cardinal Law and Cardinal Mahony fell on either side of this divide and yet acted roughly the same way. The types of attitudes that lead to covering up for priestly abuses transcend doctrinal orthodoxy for the most part.

One of the things that resonate about this story is the simple fact that there have been so few consequences for those who were involved in these cover ups. Once the facts of these cases came out the people involved usually going into bunker mode seeming to hope it will all pass by. Cardinal Law at least finally resigned. It reminds me of something Phil Lawler wrote on Bishop Finn wrote recently.

Having been found guilty in a court of law, and then having accepted the court’s verdict, Bishop Finn is now permanently handicapped as a teacher of the Catholic faith. The Los Angeles Times is not the first newspaper that has chosen to focus attention on his criminal conviction, nor will it be the last. Whenever he makes a public statement on a controversial issue, critics will be sure to remind us of the bishop’s troubles with the law, whether or not they are relevant to the issue at hand.

It may be unfair that Bishop Finn is now singled out as a convicted criminal, when so many other American bishops were guilty of the same offenses, and much worse, in the past. It may be unfair that the Los Angeles Times trains its editorial guns on the Bishop of Kansas City, when there is larger target at close range in Los Angeles. It may be unfair, but those are the facts. When an orthodox Catholic bishop makes a strong defense of the Catholic stand on contentious issues, the critics of Catholicism will fight back, and Bishop Finn is now vulnerable.

As much as I admire his stalwart leadership of the Kansas City diocese, I question whether Bishop Finn can act effectively as a teacher of the faith when his critics have such a handy means of impeaching his testimony. I question whether he can prosper as the leader of the Catholic community, in an increasingly hostile environment, while wearing a bulls-eye on his back.

Regardless of Bishop Finn’s past leadership I would agree with Mr. Lawler and it would be better for his diocese if he resigned.


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Jeffrey Miller (789 Posts)

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