This new article in Commonweal is a must-read for all American Catholics interested in their church. Ana Maria Catanzano, the chair of the Review Board for Philadelphia, details why, despite the work of the Board, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia still found itself with 37 priests in active ministry with credible accusations against them as late as this year. Ms. Catanzano writes: "This article is my attempt to answer the question being asked by Catholics in Philadelphia and across the nation: What went wrong?" Her piece stands beside that of Justice Ann Burke, former interim head of the National Review Board, who recently wrote a scathing critique of the process nationwide in the Chicago Tribune, entitled "Abuse and the Church: Can the Bishops Ever Be Trusted?" Ms. Catanzano writes passionately about her service on the Review Board, and for me the article can be summed up in the first sentence of this paragraph (my boldface):
It is the archdiocese that determines which cases the board reviews. We do not examine cases in which an ongoing criminal investigation or civil litigation is involved. The board reviews allegations the district attorney has already determined cannot be prosecuted (for lack of evidence or because the statute of limitations has expired). When we are given a case, external investigators, hired by the archdiocese, interview the accuser, the accused, and anyone suggested by either party. The board does not take testimony, but we consider written testimonies, along with the investigators’ transcripts and any information provided to us by the archdiocese.
The review board does not have the power to subpoena, nor does it have the authority to remove a priest from ministry. We simply examine the evidence available to us, determine whether there is enough evidence to indicate that a minor has been sexually abused, and make a recommendation to the cardinal regarding that priest’s suitability for ministry. It is up to the cardinal to accept or reject our recommendations.
Cardinal Rigali and his auxiliary bishops also failed miserably at being open and transparent. Their calculated public statements fueled speculation that they had something to hide. Since the release of the February grand-jury report, their carefully scripted statements led laity and clergy alike to wonder whether the archdiocese had told the whole truth. As a result, many Philadelphians believe the archdiocese kept child molesters in ministry. Other Catholics think the cardinal simply allowed accused priests to be convicted by the media. As a result, many priests are disheartened. After all, they were not given any explanation about the thirty-seven priests mentioned by the grand jury until Cardinal Rigali and his auxiliary bishops met with them a month after the grand-jury report was released. Some priests continue to fear they could be falsely accused and hung out to dry by the bishops. Despite that, they continue to minister faithfully.
Apparently Philadelphia’s bishops don’t fully grasp that by failing to speak openly from the outset they will continue to pay a higher price, in terms of both credibility and cash. If only they would have followed the example of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Confronted with an accusation against him, Cardinal Bernardin openly, humbly, and without a prepared text, answered all the questions he was asked. That’s the sort of response the people of Philadelphia expect and deserve.
So why haven’t they gotten it? In a word, clericalism.