Special Report

Parents Beware

American bishops still can't bring themselves to endorse a zero-tolerance policy for priestly molesters of children. The one exception who is on record wanting to is treating the entire matter as a PR stunt.

By 6.5.02

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The American Catholic bishops are endless equivocators. Having exchanged hardheaded Catholicism for soft-headed liberalism, they find it impossible to pull the trigger on evil. So it is no surprise that they still can't endorse a zero-tolerance policy for priestly molesters.

According to reports, they will defrock future abusers, but they are prepared to tolerate past abusers, provided the clerics "have been treated, (are) not diagnosed as pedophiles, and who have not committed more than one act of sexual abuse of a minor." Who will make the determination that these priests are not pedophiles? Presumably, the same psychiatrists who "misled" the bishops (according to their self-serving account) in the past about the recidivism rate and status of priestly molesters.

If one act of past abuse is acceptable, why isn't one act of future abuse also acceptable? Because future abuse poses a public relations problem and legal liability for the bishops. Their defrocking policy depends not on the crime, but on the timing of the crime, because it is based on opportunism and fear.

In their proposed policy concerning abuse, the bishops say that "We are mindful of the power of conversion about which the Holy Father speaks." They rely on this vague phrase to justify accepting one act of past priestly abuse. But does this not confuse concepts? Can't the Church remain "mindful of the power of conversion" while simultaneously defrocking any priest -- past, present, or future -- who has committed one act of molestation? The Church has never considered the priesthood a right. It is a privilege which should be withdrawn from individuals who have committed a felony. The molesting priest's need for conversion does not trump the common good of the Church.

The bishops, though slaves to public opinion, remain maddeningly tone-deaf to it. The public wants a true zero-tolerance policy, not a weasely exception-ridden one. But because of the bishops' lingering relativism, they can't satisfy public opinion, even when it is right (the bishops seem more willing to follow public opinion when it is wrong).

Would the bishops show similar latitude for other past crimes? Could the bishops accept one past act of stabbing? How about one past act of grand larceny of Church funds? Or how about one past act of adult rape?

Apparently one past act of child rape requires a more "nuanced" response than these matters. Which shows that the bishops still can't comprehend the evil of molestation. If they thought the sexual abuse of minors were an intolerable crime, they would sweep the Church clean of all abusers, whether they performed the abuse 10 seconds ago, 10 days ago, or 10 years ago.

It will be interesting to see if Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Los Angeles prelate who reassigned molesters but now preens as a reformer, will accept the diluted draft policy above at the upcoming Dallas meeting of the U.S. Conference of Bishops. He has been hawking in recent days his newly-discovered policy of "zero-tolerance -- past, present, and future."

The prelate who told Catholics that his archdiocese just had a "few" abusers" now must admit that 50 former and current priests are under investigation for abuse. According to a law enforcement source, speaking to Los Angeles's New Times, "I'd predict we'll be looking at 100 priests, or more, before it's over."

Mahony's response to the growing crisis should be to hire an exorcist. Instead, he has hired a public relations firm (actually two, but the first one, Weber Shandwick, didn't work out for some reason). His new flacks at Sitrick and Co. can't help this apostolic successor with action, but they can help him with the appearance of action. And that's the important thing, isn't it? The cardinal's con-the-public campaign will get a boost on Thursday when Sitrick and Co.'s newspaper ads, telling Mahony's "good story," will appear in the Los Angeles Times</>, the Los Angeles Daily News and La Opinion. The ads will highlight, among other things, Mahony's "zero-tolerance" policy and his new "Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board," reports the L.A. Times.

Mary Grant, an abuse victim who helps run the Southern California Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, isn't impressed. "They should be publishing an apology and contact number for the police," she said to the Times of Mahony's ads. "They should be placing an ad saying they have covered up clergy abuse for years. It should read: Parents beware."

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.