Friday, May 19, 2006

Oregon Bishop Criticizes Lay Response
Portland Archbishop John Vlazny speaks out on his continuing frustrations with the sex abuse/cover-up scandals and their fallout. He doesn't lack for some sincere and heartfelt expressions. And there's no lacking for a moment or two of narcissism either:

Nineteen years ago on May 19 I was appointed a diocesan bishop. As I look back upon that day, I can’t help but entertain the image of a lamb being led to the slaughter!

Vlazny claims "there was no manual" for guiding the bishop and his advisors on dealing with sex abuse. Still, it wouldn't have taken much for him to assemble a group of trusted Catholic lay people to ask some basic questions: - If a priest who had sexually victimized minors seemed to be cured, would you accept his placement in your parish? Would you expect to know? If not, what would your threshhold of tolerance be: One incident? Two or more? Or one strike and you're out? Advice from such lay people would have given any bishop what he needed to know. Instead, many bishops chose to believe what they wanted to believe: these abusers could be cured and returned to the world of temptation. As I read Vlazny's essay, I grew dismayed that he doesn't get it. It's not about priests abusing children. We've known about those horrors at least since the 70's, and victims have always been abused by clergy, probably back to the dawn of Christianity. What Vlazny, for all his heartfeltness, doesn't get is that people are ticked off at their bishops for mismanagement. I am regularly chided by parishioners. They might have their reasons. We all want assurances that the priests who serve us will be mature leaders. We want assurances that bishops will not hesitate in pulling the plug on a guy who is unfit for ministry. In one paragraph, Vlazny accurately discusses the healing of victims, conceding that "just compensation is a victim's right."

But the healing did not occur because of money. Don’t be fooled.

And he's right. But he also appeals to the institution's need for material resources, that the preaching of the Gospel is endangered by lawsuit settlements, and by the seeming indifference of the Catholic laity to legal judgments against the Church:

Too many of our Catholics have had their own minds and hearts poisoned with respect to our church. I grow weary of people who wash their hands of the whole matter and seek reassurances that their contributions will not be used to compensate victims or pay attorneys. My friends, we are the ones who are being sued. We are the ones who compensate victims and pay attorneys. Who else?

In a word, bishops.

We are doing much better in our efforts to protect children and deal with complaints swiftly and fairly. We have taken this matter seriously and we have shown the world what needs to be done, even though no credit is given.

Not actually. The bishops looked for good advice, remember? Secular programs have been instituted for education. The psychologists (the ones with good advice) have shown the Church what must be done.

I have no doubt Vlazny is a sincere and holy bishop. I have no reason not to believe it. And while he himself may be innocent of grave mismanagement, other bishops have not been. Conservative or liberal ideology is no marker for sin or innocence: bishops all over the ideological spectrum have taken PR, if not moral hits.

I suspect what many Catholics are still looking for from their bishops is this:

- An admission that the episcopacy has had its own role in the scandal, separate from the abusive clergy, but no less grave as a moral issue.

- A series of gestures that demonstrate they understand the concerns of the laity.

- A willingness to be the first to make sacrifices for the victims, even if they themselves were not guilty of moral trespass. Jesus demonstrated nothing less; why shouldn't bishops show the way?

- More transparency in governing the Church: not necessarily more lay input, but better communication.

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