Special Report

Souls and CEOs

If the damage has been done, what are the chances for recovery? Reflections on Andersen and the American bishops.

By 6.18.02

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At about the time the Roman Catholic bishops in Dallas were agonizing over their policy toward pedophilia, a federal judge in Houston was Allenizing an undecided jury in the Arthur Andersen trial. The so-called Allen charge involves telling a hung jury to snap out of fixed positions, consider fellow jurors' views, and reach higher for a verdict. The Andersen jury soon returned a verdict of guilty that would seal the fate of the auditing company and may open the way to further prosecutions. The bishops in Dallas had no such superintendency of their deliberations and they returned a verdict which has dissatisfied many and leads the way to further obfuscation.

For a time the bishops leaned toward the allowance of one established priestly pedophilic act, a sort of "one man, one vote -- one priest, one boy" rubric. But the howls of the laity -- some actually picketed the proceedings -- made them think better of that. They decided instead that any priest who ever has or ever does sexually abuse a minor will lose the clerical collar and be denied ministerial responsibilities. As for de-frocking, expelling from the priesthood, that tortuous process will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In keeping with the current reaction to crisis, there will be a new national review board, a sort of enforcement arm, headed by Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, joined by Washington lawyer Robert S. "Bob" Bennett, who assisted President Clinton in resisting Paula Jones's legal advances. Gov. Keating foresees a board of 15 to 20 eventually. To handle the day-to-day administration of these new policies, each diocese will appoint a review board of at least five people, one of whom "should" be a priest. Credible allegations of abuse are to be reported to "the public authorities." (Unclear is who gets first dibs here -- church or cops.) Above this diocesan board will be an appellate review board, at least one member of which should be a bishop and another a canon lawyer.

All of it is subject to approval by the Vatican.

In many ways the headlines of the bishops' deliberations and decisions mirror those of the CEOs on the business page. Both acknowledge failure at some point and the loss of public credibility. With the rare exception of one taken from his SoHo digs in handcuffs and his 'jammies, the business CEOs are allowed to walk away from diminished corporations with the millions prescribed in their contract small print. It is the stockholder who foots the bill of share prices plunging from 60 to a dollar. If still in the earning category, the stockholder may be able to recover. Hard work, or class action, but recover.

The CEOs of the soul may share the headlines of remorse and revision. But they are different. No bishop is leaving his parish house some morning in handcuffs and pajamas, though in the view of many concealing the buggering of a little boy far surpasses the sin of selling stock with inside information. His will be the unpleasant duty to judge another priest; though Gov. Keating warns in his acceptance statement that "if someone obscures, absolves, obstructs, hides (that) criminal act, arguably they are obstructing justice or arguably they are also accessories to the crime." We'll see, arguably.

But what of the losses? The laity of Enron has lost money; it can make it back. Andersen employees have lost jobs; they retain their talents. All can soldier on. But if the CEOs of souls fail, they have cost their stockholders that which is becoming the rarest, most irreplaceable of all commodities -- faith.

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.