Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Some thoughts on the Bishops' conference.

I generally tend to support the U.S. Bishops because I think that some vocal Catholic conservatives do not understand the role of the Bishop and tend to think that the Bishops are middle managers, or cabinet appointees, or executives put in place to carry out the will of shareholders. The Bishop is not the Pope's employee and a Bishop's primary responsibility is not to the Pope but the sheep (ideally). As a result I get irritated by the whole idea of pitting the Vatican against Bishops and the attempt by the Vatican to rein in Bishops who happen not to be Pope cronies. But today I felt that the U.S. Bishops have exhibited no back bone in the past year and so I will be critical.

The applause from the Bishops and their enthused acceptance of the work of the Mixed Committee and the revised norms is baffling being that it was their own document that the Vatican unilaterally decided was in need of revision. All I can figure is this. The U.S. Bishops in June caved to public pressure and gave the public what it wanted, knowing full well that there would be Canon law problems. Some have admitted so much in not so many words. They couldn't as a body take the heat for not making a public show. Well, the Vatican sent the norms back for revision and joined in the process, so that now it looks like these are the Vatican's revision, when in all likelihood, it is what the Bishops wanted in the first place. They just were to afraid to do it and were none to glad to have the Vatican do it. That's spineless to me.

I do think that the first set of norms that were sent back for revision, and the June meeting, reflected the will of Bishop Gregory who is known to be extremely tough on sex abuse by priest and Archbishop Flynn. So in a sense they both lost this battle. Cardinal George's observations were interesting, he expressed a sentiment that I feel strongly, which is that the Bishops let the pendulum swing in protection of abuser priests for so long that they have to let the pendulum swing the other way because that's what pendulums do. This is not the time to be protecting priests, it is the time, rather, to be in complete solidarity with the victims. At such a time, when the Bishops have displayed goodw will, then they can proceed towards moderation. Cardinal George made some comments to that effect and those comments were well received by the body.

It was also very interesting that a Bishop had put in an ammendment for the Bishops to take responsibility for their mistakes. This ammendment was rejected by the committee and was headed for the trash bin until a Bishop moved to reconsider, Cardinal Law favored the motion and others too. Basically, they noted that many priests feel abandoned, while the Bishops have protected themselves. Finally, language was put in that said that the Bishops apologize for the action of "some" Bishops. That was positive but still weak. I think that they should all agree that from here on in, any Bishop not in compliance should tender his resignation to the Vatican and even if the Vatican rejects it, the symbolism would not be lost on the victims and the Church community.


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