e-mail us


Secret meeting misses the larger picture

Consider this picture: Two dozen prelates meet in secret to discuss the endemic clergy sex abuse scandal. No victims are present, no mothers or fathers, no experts in the fields of psychological, social or criminal behavior.

The church leaders know going into their meeting that the man who called them to Rome and appointed them to high office opposes discussions of clergy issues, mandatory celibacy chief among them, that are on the minds of most Catholics. These men who gather never publicly question any aspect of Pope John Paul II’s church policies.

Virtually all of the men -- despite more than a dozen years of repeated public pleas by victims of sex abuse, by attorneys, by Catholic editors and others -- have been the slowest of all to wake up to the serious nature of the scandal. Yet they continue to designate themselves the only ones capable of discovering answers to the stunning challenges of faith caused by their inattention.

After meeting for two days in secret about the greatest challenge to trust they will face in their episcopal careers, with the media of the world focused on them, most of the prelates simply disappear. The world is told the cardinals had “other pressing engagements.” Two brief statements liberally laced with papal quotes are the only traces of their deliberations.

They speak of accountability and transparency, of greater lay involvement, but the words sound awkward and unconvincing. In such matters, they find themselves in uncharted waters.

Though it is obvious to Catholics of almost all ages how tragic these crimes have been to the victims, the final communiqué does not specifically console them.

By the prelates’ own accounts they focused narrowly on the issue of what to do about priests who abuse children, omitting from their deliberations the question of what to do about bishops who have protected abusive priests -- even though accountability is the larger and more pressing Catholic concern.

Does anyone else find something wrong with this picture?

It can reasonably be argued that the meeting at the Vatican was a step forward. A modest one. Some of the cardinals who assembled likely feel their own hands are tied and cannot speak as freely as they would like. We can only pray that at least some of them see the larger picture even though they cannot paint it at this time.

National Catholic Reporter, May 3, 2002