Saturday, June 18, 2011
An alternate universe...
This past week the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held their Spring General Assembly in Seattle. Their behavior at and statements from that meeting confuse me greatly.
The bishops voted (187-5) to tweak their 2002 chartered norms for “Protecting God’s Children” by adding child pornography and abuse of people who “habitually lack reason” to the norms’ list of abuses. I’m glad they are in the norms now but wonder in bewilderment why adding them took 9 years.
I also stagger in confusion when I see that Bishop Blase Cupich, USCCB Protection of Children and Young People Committee chair, said at the meeting, “The charter has served the church well.” He said, “The charter works,” and, “It is a helpful tool as we keep our pledge to protect children, promote healing and rebuild trust with our people.”
The bishops and I must live in two different worlds. During this past year, actually just the past few months, inhabitants of my universe learned that Philadelphia’s Cardinal Rigali didn’t follow the norms, leaving dozens of accused priests in active ministry. Two grand jury reports and the arrest of some diocesan clergy finally inspired him to follow the norms in February, 2011. However that same month he initially asserted that no priests with credible allegations were still active in ministry. Before actually complying with the norms, Cardinal Rigali falsely reported to USCCB auditors that the Philadelphia Archdiocese fully complied with norms. In my universe, falsehoods erode rather than rebuild trust.
Nonetheless, the USCCB’s April, 2011 annual compliance report counted the Philadelphia Archdiocese as “compliant” because the audit relies on self-reporting. Even without Philadelphia correctly categorized as “non-compliant”, the report still indicated 55 of the U.S.’s 197 dioceses were non-compliant. Saying “It’s working” when more than 25% of dioceses self-report non- compliance seems euphemistic at best. Since dioceses with gross violations, like Philadelphia, can and do self-report as compliant, compliance levels remain a mystery. These factors also impede rebuilding trust.
In May, 2011 the Gallup, N.M. “Independent” ran a five-part report discussing the Gallup diocese’s failure to comply with the USCCB’s norms. The paper reported such violations as the bishop’s failure to meet with the mandated diocesan review board and failure to respond to abuse victims’ requests for meetings. With numerous violations, why did the Gallup Diocese falsely report as compliant? Does this engender trust? Does ignoring victims promote healing?
Last month a Kansas City priest was arrested on child pornography charges. He remained active in ministry more than a year after a Catholic grade school principal conveyed concerns to diocesan officials. Why did the Kansas City Diocese falsely self-report as compliant?
Compliance seems mythical only. Perhaps extensive non-compliance explains why in 2011 bishop-funded Catholic lobbyist groups increasingly lobby against legislative reform on child abuse statute of limitations. Rather than comply with their own rules so as to reduce causes of lawsuits, bishops try to reduce lawsuits by blocking abuse victims from filing valid ones. These behaviors do not protect children or promote healing.
Archbishop Thomas Hursley’s statements this week were also confusing and scandalous. He suggested the assembly set a goal of reinstating abusive priests to active ministry under the auspices of forgiveness. At least Archbishop Hursley is aware my universe exists because he acknowledged his suggestion might infuriate its inhabitants. He said, “This might stir up SNAP (a network for abuse survivors) – so what? The press might come after us. It’s time we confronted them. The time is now, not later on.” In my universe, child abusers have proven incapable of abandoning predatory practices; returning them to ministry countermands protecting children. In my universe, blatantly callous disregard for survivors’ feelings undermines their healing.
Bishop Cupich declined Archbishop Hursley’s suggestion but did not rebuke him for his remarks. Perhaps that is because Cupich and Hursley occupy the same alternate universe where non-compliance masquerades as compliance, where rampant non-compliance protects children, where lobbying against victim-sponsored legislation promotes healing, and where denial, deceit and lies build trust. This is not the case in my universe.
How should inhabitants in my universe respond?