Special Report

Doing Dallas

Catholic bishops lament not being given credit for all the abuse they worked so hard to prevent.

By 6.14.02

The blind are leading the blind in Dallas. The church leaders, whose mental and moral habits led to the crisis, now assure everyone that they can solve it. Do habits die so quickly?

The Dallas Morning News reports that the vast majority of bishops played musical chairs with molesters. But Wilton D. Gregory, the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Thursday that his colleagues feel misunderstood.

"My brother Bishops: There is a lot of anger among us in this room -- righteous anger. Since 1985 -- as a Conference and individually as Diocesan Bishops -- we have been working on the problem of sexual abuse to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that the Church would be a safe environment for our children," he said. "The very solid and good work that has been accomplished by the majority of Bishops in their dioceses has been completely overshadowed by the imprudent decisions of a small number of Bishops during the past ten years. It is as if the fabric of the good work that has been accomplished had never existed or had completely unraveled. The anger over this is very real and very understandable. I know. I feel it myself."

After Gregory commiserated with the bishops' about their hurt feelings, he offered some patronizing remarks to the media about their sometimes "distorted" and "hysterical" coverage of the American Church:

"During the past five months the sexual abuse of children and young people, especially by priests, has been a focus of the national and local media. In my own many encounters with the media, I have been treated usually, if not invariably, with consideration. I have a great respect for the power of the media to do good. If, as seems to be the case, the current attention of the media has helped victims of abuse to come forward, this has been a great service. I am particularly pleased that the media have also given greater attention recently to the issue of the sexual abuse of children and young people as a societal problem.

"But I ask the media to allow me a moment of complete candor. During these last months, the image of Catholic hierarchy in this country has been distorted to an extent which I would not have thought possible six months ago. Sad and disturbing facts, often long in the past, have been readily presented in ways that create an erroneous image of the Church in 2002 as neglectful and uncaring in a matter about which we Bishops have cared a great deal for many years now.

"The advances we have made in trying to overcome the problem of the sexual abuse of children and young people have not been so quickly reported: more stringent screening of seminary candidates, seminary formation that makes healthy human development a major goal, and procedures to remove from ministry those who have proved a threat to children and young people.

"I am not only proud to defend this body from the distortions; I do it as a matter of justice to set the record straight so that the work we Bishops will be doing today and tomorrow will be seen in its proper perspective -- as an important piece of work that we have been doing together for twenty years."

These poor-us remarks reveal that the American bishops are still in Clintonian mode: Even as they bite their lower lips for the cameras, they mumble about their good deeds and mistreatment at the hands of a "hysterical" media.

Yes, good bishops do exist, but they are not calling the shots. The ones who saw the crisis coming hover near the edge of the episcopate, while the ones who denied its gravity and let the problem mushroom, such as Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, get to hog the mike.

Mahony, with a straight face, told reporters this week that he's had a "zero-tolerance" policy in effect since the early 1990s. Can't at least one television reporter call him on this? All the reporter would have to ask in response to that lie is: "Why then did you make a known molester, Father Carl Sutphin, the associate pastor of your new cathedral?"

As Mahony blows smoke in Dallas, Los Angeles Catholics wonder if they belong to a church or a crime syndicate: Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has been forced to turn to a grand jury to obtain personnel files on Mahony's priests. Cooley is sick of Mahony's stonewalling, so he has issued subpoenas "to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to force it to hand over the personnel records of three priests under criminal investigation for alleged sexual abuse of minors," reports the Los Angeles Times.

Here is the legacy of the bishops in Dallas: a church that produces not saints, but subpoenas.

Like this Article

Print this Article

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