MD - SNAP blasts USCCB's failure to discipline bishops
Is there any crime a bishop can commit that would get him kicked out of America’s bishops group? Or even denounced by one of his fellow bishops? That’s what we can’t help but wonder.
At least three men will be at today’s bishops meeting who, we believe, shouldn’t be. We think they should have voluntarily stayed home. Or, even better, we think they should have been disinvited by their brother bishops. Why? Because when we ignore wrongdoing, we encourage wrongdoing.
Who are these three?
One (KC Bishop Robert Finn), just last month, was criminally convicted of keeping evidence of child sex crimes from police for months.
Another one (Archbishop Thomas Wenski), also just last month, finally suspended a priest from his parish after the fourth man filed the fourth civil lawsuit against the priest.
And the third (Bishop Daniel Conlon), back in September, abruptly and inexplicably announced that he was putting a credibly accused priest, back on the job even though the priest had been suspended for child sex abuse allegations. Ironically, and sadly, that bishop heads the USCCB child sex abuse committee.
Why does this matter? Why should anyone care whether these three get to chum around with their buddies for a few days?
Because, again, ignoring wrongdoing perpetuates wrongdoing.
Because victims and Catholics deserve better.
Because the Vatican won’t discipline complicit bishops and lay people can’t discipline complicit bishops, so bishops must discipline one another, if ever they are to regain their moral stature, deter future recklessness, and better protect children.
Because bishops have refused to discipline one another for decades, and the result has been tragic: more than 6,000 accused child molesting clerics and perhaps 100,000 once trusting, devout girls and boys have been sexually assaulted by priests, nuns, bishops, seminarians and brothers.
Because while only Rome can oust a complicit bishop and only prosecutors can charge a complicit bishop, the bishops themselves can oust complicit bishops from their national group. They should discipline complicit colleagues because they can, and because it might make a difference.
And finally, because bishops have promised to do this. They pledged, ten years ago, to stop ignoring their colleagues’ wrongdoing in clergy sex cases. Under pressure, at the November 2002 USCCB meeting, they formally adopted a policy of “fraternal correction.” They publicly said they would hold each other responsible for adhering to their own abuse policy, the one that calls for promptly ousting credibly accused predator priests, cooperating with law enforcement, and being transparent in child sex cases.
Here’s how, back in 2002, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, a past president of the USCCB, described their “fraternal correction” policy: "(It) will stop an aberrant bishop from going his own way just because he has the legal right in the code to govern his own diocese. It's a shift in the culture. If that shifts, other things are possible."
It hasn’t shifted.
Every US bishop, all 200+, has broken this promise. They broke it with Finn, with Wenski, with Conlon, and with dozens of others. And that’s one reason we’re still seeing children put in harm’s way, predators still in Catholic parishes, and clergy sex crimes still being covered up, because few secular authorities, and no church authorities, ever discipline or denounce the wrongdoers.
Adding insult to injury, just last year (in June), bishops renewed their so-called “Statement of Episcopal Commitment,” emphasizing their "accountability to God, to God's people, and to one another" and the "moral responsibility" bishops have "with and for each other.”
Still, they ignore their promises. Still, they stay silent in the face of clear and egregious wrongdoing by their peers.
Some bishops might claim “We correct our brother bishops in private, not in public.” But we seriously doubt that. In public and in private, bishops continue to split hairs and dodge responsibility and claim they have absolutely no responsibility for or power over clergy sex crimes and cover ups in other dioceses or in religious orders. So if they believe this, why would they privately denounce one another? Either they’re lying when they say they powerless about wrongdoing in the bishop next door, or they’re lying if they claim to correct their brother bishops in private.
There’s another problem with bishops allegedly denouncing one another privately in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases. A decade ago, bishops also pledged to be “open and transparent” in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases. How can one bishop quietly, behind closed doors, criticizing a complicit colleague be squared with this promise of “open and transparent?” Besides, haven’t we learned that nothing helps wrongdoers more than when we try to deal with their wrongdoing “behind closed doors?”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the USCCB, refused to act on the side of the well-being of children. So did virtually all of America’s bishops. Again, they had a chance to restore some of their deservedly shattered credibility. Again, they had a chance to show that they’re sincere about their promises and children’s safety. Again, they had a chance to deter future recklessness and callousness in child sex cases. But they refused, again, to act.
But the USCCB meets every six months. And we hope that before their summer meeting rolls around, these prelates will re-read their “Statement of Episcopal Commitment” and their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” We hope that they will examine their consciences. And we hope that they will kick out of the USCCB bishops who continue to put children in harm’s way.