No, complicit bishops have NOT been disciplined

By David Clohessy

“Some bishops were booted out (last year) because of their records on sex abuse.” So claims a writer for Crux.

He’s wrong.

Michael O'Loughlin writes “Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse often lament that bishops have not been held accountable for their handling of the crisis, but in 2015, a few bishops were removed from office for precisely that reason.”


First, no one was “removed” from office. They voluntarily resigned. (There’s a difference. Just ask anyone who’s ever been fired.)

Second, two of the three prelates O’Loughlin cites – Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt and Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien - were accused of COMMITTING and CONCEALING sexual misconduct.

They resigned but no one really knows why. For concealing? For committing? For becoming incapable to effectively govern their dioceses? Who knows?

For decades, prelates caught COMMITTING sex crimes or misdeeds have resigned. So if this is the reason they’re gone, this is nothing new.

Again, to be fair, no one knows whether Nienstedt or O’Brien resigned “for their handling of the crisis” or not. It’s wrong for a journalist to make this assumptions.

(There are, of course, two culprits here. Vatican officials could have been honest about the reasons for resignations. Or these prelates could have been honest about the reasons. Shame on all of them for their secrecy.)

So to be more accurate, in 2015, one bishop LIKELY stepped down from his post because he hid clergy sex crimes: Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn. Again, we don’t know for sure because neither Vatican nor Kansas City officials will SAY exactly why Finn stepped down.

(And note that Finn resigned three years after he was criminally convicted of having done so.)

What if the Vatican shocks us all by declaring tomorrow that Nienstedt and O’Brien both stepped down because they concealed sexual wrongdoing, not because they committed it?

We’d still be perfectly accurate in saying that “bishops have not been held accountable for their handling of the crisis.” Why?

Because voluntary resignations do not count as “being held accountable.” Being defrocked, demoted, disciplined and denounced by one’s superiors or by a court of law – THAT’s “being held accountable.” Being stripped of income and titles and prestige – THAT’s “being held accountable.”

And because three bishops resigning for hiding abuse - out of thousands who could and should – hardly represents any real change.

A final note - O’Loughlin’s deceptive reporting goes even further. He writes “another controversial bishop . .  accused of covering up for an abusive priest . . . hung on” and “was given support by Pope Francis, and he remains in office.”

That’s misleading. Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid was not just “given support by Francis.” He was PROMOTED by Francis.

So O’Loughlin should have written “Francis appointed and defended another controversial bishop. . .”

We do children and Catholics no favors if we sugar-coat reality. Journalists do themselves and their readers no favors if they present ambiguity as clarity and assumptions as fact.

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