Michael Sean WintersApril 05, 2010

If you were a student in a first-year Communications class, and you were asked to devise a strategy for taking a situation, say a scandal involving the clerical abuse of minors, and make the situation worse, to devise ways to add fuel to the flames rather than to squelch them, to present yourself as aloof and indifferent, and to enervate your most devoted supporters, you might have drafted a proposal that looks like what the Vatican did this past week. But, you would probably be laughed out of the room for being too ridiculous. No one could get it that wrong.

In my posts, I have pointed to the fact that in the initial New York Times article, there was ample evidence of bad judgment on the part of the authorities in Milwaukee but precious little about the Vatican and then-Cardinal Ratzinger. I have seconded the argument, but forth not only by seasoned Vaticanologists like John Allen at NCR but by Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna and Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, that as the Vatican began to grapple with this scandal, it was then-Cardinal Ratzinger who consistently and forcefully argued for a more robust response, who counseled in favor of investigations to discover the truth of the allegations, but who was often frustrated by other Vatican officials. I have noted that since the implementation of the Dallas norms, a Catholic school or church in the United States is about the safest place for a child to be.

I fault the media for failing to recognize the extraordinary beauty of the Pope’s homilies this week, concentrating only on the line, or lack of a line, about the sex abuse crisis, as if the salvation of humanity by the death and resurrection of Christ was unimportant compared with the fact that then-Cardinal Ratzinger was cc’d on a memo. But, now it is time to fault the Vatican for failing to understand a basic fact of modern life: Until they confront the crisis and respond directly to the criticisms raised, they will not be heard. They cannot effectively preach the Good News until they deal with the news cycle. I wish it were different, but then again, I am sure Paul wished his reception had been different at the Areopagus. It is time to call in the cavalry if the Church is to have its preachings about Calvary heard.

In this case, the cavalry is Cardinal Sean O’Malley. In 1992, the Porter case in Fall River was one of the first intimations of how grotesque the sexual abuse of minors by clergy could be, and how devastating to the life of the local church. Bishop O’Malley was sent to Fall River to get to the bottom of the case and to restore the faith of his flock. It seemed only natural, therefore, that when the Bishop of Palm Beach, Florida resigned after it was credibly charged that he had abused children, not just covered up the abuse, O’Malley was sent to rekindle the faith of the people there. The next year, after the first-ever forced resignation by an American cardinal, with the church in Boston literally coming apart at the seams, the Vatican again turned to O’Malley to turn things around.

Today, the church in Boston is not in meltdown. Today, the Boston church has turned around. Contributions to the annual archdiocesan appeal are back to their pre-crisis levels. Vocations are up. The morale of the clergy has been restored and priests are no longer afraid to walk down the street wearing their clerical collars. O’Malley has emerged as the face of the Church with even more authority than any of his predecessors because he has earned his moral authority by holding countless meetings with victims, by never using weasel words or the passive voice ("mistakes were made") to describe the cover-up of the abuse, and by never failing to apologize again and again to the victims whenever the subject comes up.

In the run-up to Pope Benedict’s trip to the United States in 2008, there were Church officials on both side of the Atlantic who thought the Pope should be spared a meeting with the victims of clergy sexual abuse. They did not want to put him through the emotion of such a meeting and they worried that such a meeting would drown out all of the Pope’s other appearances. It was Cardinal O’Malley who went to Rome and met with the Pope and told him the truth: If he did not meet with the victims, the trip would be seen by many as a disaster and that only by addressing the issue head-on could the pope hope to get heard on other issues. O’Malley was right.

If the Pope wants to get past this crisis, he should call O’Malley to Rome and appoint him the head of a small commission. (I would include Dublin’s Archbishop Martin who, like O’Malley, has maintained his moral standing because of his willingness to speak the truth.) The commission should recommend steps the Vatican can take to address the issue, such as extending the "zero tolerance" norms of the U.S. Church to the universal Church and calling for screening of and training for all Church personnel who will be working with children. Most importantly, the Vatican needs to hear from Cardinal O’Malley what they need to do and say to reclaim their moral voice. They need to listen to him explain how to address the legitimate issues and questions raised by victims and by the press, at the same time separating the wheat from the chaff and isolating the irresponsible press. They need to hear from O’Malley how he turned around the archdiocese that was in the worst situation because of this scandal and how those lessons can help the Vatican respond better than it has so far. Send in the cavalry. Send in O’Malley.




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11 years 6 months ago
If one accepts everything the writer says about Cardinal Sean O’Malley as true, one has to realize that O'Malley would still be very much the exception to the rule among U.S. bishops.

European bishops are being urged on every front to follow the exceptional work that the U.S. bishops have done in responding to America's variation on this horrific theme but that's just so much wishful thinking, an attempt to rewrite history and cover the bishops in an undeserved mantle of altruism, justice, accountability and transparency. That isn't the way it is and that's not the way it was, either, or don't you remember?

The United States bishops were, in a sense, dragged kicking and screaming to their USCCB meetings and forced to do what they did in 2002 by an outraged public while the more powerful among them tried to torpedo some proposals whenever possible and that has been documented.

To presume that ''a Catholic school or church in the United States is about the safest place for a child to be,'' is naive because, as has been documented, the bishops have been uneven in their implementation of the Dallas norms, even going against the recommendations of church investigating committees the bishops themselves appointed.

I hope and pray that they are safe but that doesn't make it so either.

If, when, how and how and much individual bishops implement the Dallas norms is completely up to them. The USCCB has no power to compel compliance.

In twenty years of so a completely independent review of compliance can be done to determine how safe a Catholic school or church is and not until them. Just saying so doesn't make it so.

A number of U.S. bishops continue to oppose any listing of known predators on diocesan websites and in parish bulletins. They oppose statute of limitation reform in their own states. Chaput in Colorado, DiMarzio and friends in New York and Rigali in Pennsylvania come to mind. They have their powerful and well funded state Catholic conferences to lobby that position in addition to their own law firms. So far those bishops have been very successful in avoiding much accountability and transparency.

In addition, they have stopped civil cases by declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the eve of going to trail in a number of states. How much pastoral concern does that show for victims and their families?

O'Malley was right in recommending that the pope talk to victims in the U.S. Other U.S. prelates didn't have the guts to do that and one wonders if they didn't because it might have put the brakes on their career plans.

O'Malley will not be the savior Winters belives he will be because he is not an independent investigator he is a Cardinal Archbishop and he would, be beholden to the those above him.

Like other bishops he should be what he is supposed to be, a pastor to his people.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
Stephen SCHEWE
11 years 6 months ago
Good idea! Add Abbot John Klassen of Saint John's Abbey, Archbishop Zollitch from Germany, and a couple of fearless nuns (Kathleen Hughes, rscj comes to mind) to the commission.
Happy Easter!
11 years 6 months ago
There is much to commend about this idea, and also about significant leadership/inclusion of laypeople (which Benedict has also been vocal about, although slow to act).  Unfortunately, I think a "bunker" mentality has sunk in, between the Regensburg speech, the significant outreach to the Lefvrebrists, the Pius XII/anti-Semitism, etc.  It just seems to me that they've concluded its "us against them", so let's pull out more lace, fiddleback chausables, & gold thrones & let the good times roll.  The Curia has always been the obstacle to reform (it was why John started to reform it BEFORE he called the Council & they still nearly derailed the Council).  Even on this Easter Monday, I almost no hope that this ends well.
Thomas Rowan
11 years 6 months ago
If the only person who can get through to the Pope and the Curia of the gravity of the situation and help them to become more transparent, humble, and penitent, then it is Bishop O’Malley, indeed.  I would also recommend representatives from SNAP as they are the persons who carry the affects of clerical abuse with them.
Recommendations for the Universal Church:

Call a Vatican Council III that would invite laity from around the word to a gathering of the people of God to evaluate the recommendations from Vatican Council II for their implementation, pray, and set direction for the Church.  Members of the Curia and College of Cardinals and Bishops Conferences could be invited with voice but no vote.
Immediately suspend the implementation of the changes in the Sacramentary pending review by VC III.
Start praying for the future of the Church.
11 years 6 months ago
Washington Post has a piece by Timothy Schriver that could/ought to be seconded by most of the aware Catholic laity, The cavalry should be led by a mounted laity.. 'now is the time for all good laity to come to the aid of the Faith'. [not hierarchy] A laity/church that has as its main  focus/option on the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and to do this as its main/visable mission for at least  a hundred years, That would be a start to a conversion [turn]. along with massive resignations.. 
anything less is the continuation of a bumbling embarrassing PR campaign,
Vince Killoran
11 years 6 months ago
"I fault the media for failing to recognize the extraordinary beauty of the Pope’s homilies this week. . ."
C'mon MSW that's a  fanciful demand on the media-there's a major crisis and you are insisting that they  comb through a homily for other parts of the Pope's  talk that don't have to do with the crisis. There's too much "extraordinary ugliness" coming from the hierarchy right now & that makes this "extraordinary beauty" hard to appreciate.
Thanks to Steve, Tom, Ed, and Sister Maurine Paul Turlish for their insights. The laity must be at the center of any reforms.  This cannot seem to be a PR job or the bishops "handling" the crisis.
Donald Lindeman
11 years 6 months ago
To say that the Church, especially its leadership, is in the midst of a grave crisis, only reiterates the obvious. The most vital and urgent remark made by Michael Sean Winters is the following: "Until they confront the crisis and respond directly to the criticisms raised, they will not be heard."
Put another way: news and news cycles are not merely about facts but about perceptions, everyday beliefs, and prejudices as well. This is something the Vatican does not seem to have grasped. Time is running low. It may already have run out. That the Archbishop of Canterbury understands the news cycle, and the importance of timing is obvious. The Church of Rome owes him a debt of gratitude for stepping into the breach and making his remarks on time, even though he had no choice but to do so during Holy Week. That he was using the situation of the Catholic Church in Ireland as a prop to speak of the "credibility" of the Church of Rome itself should be obvious to anyone. It is galling and embarrasing that the Church of Rome should have ceeded its manifest obligation to speak publicly to Dr. Rowan Williams. What greater "speech-act" of kindness could he have given the Holy See?
Donald Lindeman, a member of the Church laity, New York City
Tom Maher
11 years 6 months ago
You are right to say Cardinal O'Malley is the calvary when it came to dealing with the dire impacts of the clergy sex abuse scandal on the Boston Archdiocses and the Church in the United States. The Boston Archdiocese was the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States when Bishop O'Malley arrived in 2002. He confronted epic legal and moral issues head-on and made numereous principled but very large, difficult and painful corrections. And somehow he and the Archdioscese survived the reforms and restitutions.

You would be very wrong to thing that O'Malley's did all this becasue he is some kind of a public relations genius or gifted word-smith with great crowd-pleasing ability. His words of apology which everyone now seem to be emphasize, are not noteworthy or memorable. He denounced the sex abuse, of course, but mostly he took continuous, multiple-year, solid actions to correct the problem at its roots. The church needs his example of basic moral concerns being put into action and not obsess over public realtions impressions, gestures and apologies.

O'Malley actions demonstrates the church's ability to make solid, long-term corrective actions. The church should not be in public realtions business, trying to perfectly manage the public's impressions of the church. Protecting the church's public image is part of the problem, not the solution. The O'Malley blueprint is corrective action.
James Lindsay
11 years 6 months ago
The Vatican and most of the Bishops are acting very true to form as hierarchists, including the recent closing of the wagons around the Pope. Their might be a Vatican III if someone gets through to the Pope, however if they only tell him what they think he wants to hear, there may be an Ecumenical council, but it won't be called by the Vatican and may not be limited to Catholic bishops, although they must certainly be invited (along with other churches with an Episcopal sysem, like the Anglicans and Orthodox).
Jim McCrea
11 years 6 months ago
Until and unless there is a serious church-wide gathering (synod, council, whatever) to address the issues of clericalism, transparency, accountability, equal partnership of women, qualifications for appointments of pastors and elections of bishops and  respect for the laity that INCLUDES a substantial representation of the non-ordained, non-vowed, said gathering will be a sham and not worth the time and expense it will take to buy the whitewash.
It will be cheaper to go to Ace Hardware and stock up.  At least the laity would most likely be trusted to do that.
Jim McCrea
11 years 6 months ago
Until and unless there is a serious church-wide gathering (synod, council, whatever) to address the issues of clericalism, transparency, accountability, equal partnership of women, qualifications for appointments of pastors and elections of bishops and  respect for the laity that INCLUDES a substantial representation of the non-ordained, non-vowed, said gathering will be a sham and not worth the time and expense it will take to buy the whitewash.
It will be cheaper to go to Ace Hardware and stock up.  At least the laity would most likely be trusted to do that.
James Lindsay
11 years 6 months ago
A laity driven conference might do some interesting things, but unless you organize a world wide network with representation from every diocese and include non-Latin Catholics as well, I think the first step is simply to move (with the Anglican Communion) over to the Orthodox and insist on our own patriarch. Expanded participation by the Laity in that Church may be the best hope for extending this to all of the Universal Church (which includes Orthodoxy).

One of the aftermaths of this scandal (which is a crisis for the hierarchs) is that Rome will no longer be able to assert its claim of privledge as the first among equals. It must finally yield to Constantinople. Until it does this, there is no chance of Christian unity in the west (nor should there be) except for those conservative Anglicans who are resisting inevitable change).
Theresa Maccarone
11 years 6 months ago
The Holy See or even a few Cardinals or Archbishops are incapable of bringing an end to this grave crisis that we are now facing.  I think someone should advise the Holy Father that he should convoke some type of emergency council or synod (or whatever you want to call it) made up of bishops, clergy, religous and laity - including survivors of clergy abuse.  This problem has gone on long enough.  The Pope and his closest advisors should not be left alone to solve this mess. In the meantime, I ask all Roman Catholics to pray for the Pope and the entire Church.
Molly Roach
11 years 6 months ago
I believe it was Albert Einstein who said we will not be able to overcome our problems by using the same kind of thinking that got us into the problems in the first place.  A lot of words have flown in the midst of this mess.  I have to agree with Tom Maher about the value of ACTION.  Action in support of the victim/survivors, in support of developing processes of accountability and sticking with them, and in making the bishops who enabled the perpetrators resign. ACTION.

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