Inquisitorial Witch Hunts

The editorial Toward Dallas (5/27) contains many thought-provoking concepts for structural changes that I pray our church leaders will consider and implement during their upcoming meeting in Dallas. The church has been guilty of hiding behind the obfuscation of legal minds more interested in reducing liability than promoting justice. When Cardinal Egan equivocates, If mistakes were made, or Cardinal Law stonewalls the many lay Catholics in his archdiocese about urgently needed reforms, then we as concerned lay Catholics cry out to God to change their hearts and ask the Spirit to give them courage to reform themselves and the church.

But reforms can go too far in the opposite direction, causing more harm than good. I am referring to your suggestion that the church must step in when the police refuse to investigate because the statute of limitations has passed or because there is insufficient evidence. I respectfully disagree. All of us are protected by the law, even priests. You are correct in suggesting that every allegation (no matter how flimsy) of sexual abuse of a minor by a church worker will be turned over to the police. Then you state, It will be up to the police to determine the credibility of the allegation. I agree. But after the legal authorities have determined that the allegation is groundless, your suggestion that the church renew the investigation strikes me as cruel and unusual punishment. Let the police do their jobs. Inquisitorial witch hunts after the priest has been exonerated by the police remind me of a time in the church that I don’t think anybody wants back.


Edward J. Thompson
Farmingdale, N.Y.

Moral Crisis

Your editorial on June 3 was the first hint of hope in the ongoing crisis. To be subjected to the otiose response of the Catholic hierarchy is painful to watch and personally embarrassing as a believing churchgoer.

The low point had to be the deposition of Cardinal Law. I don’t know, I can’t remember are not worthy responses to this self-inflicted moral crisis.

The question to be asked is not what did he know and when did he know it. The question is what would Jesus Christ have done and when would he have done it?

Gerry Cassedy
Jacksonville, Fla.

Great Hope

The contribution America magazine is making to the church in the United States through its recent issues (4/1, 4/22, 5/12, 5/27) dealing with the clergy sexual abuse scandal is unmatched in quality, breadth, depth and consistency of presentation. The only other comparable voices on the horizon appear to be Commonweal magazine and Boston College. Like America, Commonweal has published in its recent issues excellent editorials and articles shedding significant light on this vastly complex and painful topic. For its part, Boston College plans to develop a two-year interdisciplinary program (called The Church in the 21st Century) that will sponsor public lectures throughout the country, issue papers, sponsor services and create special courses that will address celibacy, married clergy, ecclesiology, sexuality and so on. Efforts like those of America, Commonweal and Boston College offer great hope and promise to the laity, priests and bishops alike in this time of confusion, anger and betrayal within the Catholic Church in America. Thank you for your outstanding leadership.

William J. Watters, S.J.
Baltimore Md.

Profoundly Sad

We are thankful for the splendid and balanced coverage by America over the past weeks reporting the serious moral problems in the clergy. But from reading the statements of Archbishop Herranz in Milan (7/1, Signs of the Times), I fear that the real crisis is yet to come. The bishops have reached a reasonable, necessary and compassionate policy to begin implementation of essential reforms. The rub will be Rome’s reaction. Will it be prudently related to the American and Catholic real world of the 21st century or will a wagon-circling, self-protective, arrogant policy emerge from beyond the mountains? The stakes may well be as high as when pitchmen roamed through Germany 500 years ago selling indulgences.

Pre-Vatican II believers like me were schooled in Plato, Aristotle and Thomism. Yet we were quietly exposed to the irrationalities in the Syllabus of Errors, to the Modernist controversy and the limitations on infallibility. We are generally able to distinguish between personal belief in the God of Catholic tradition and the hierarchy and between the people of God as the church and the Vatican bureaucracy.

The United States has the largest concentration in the world of young, educated, thoughtful, practicing and active Catholics. Two generations of them since the Second Vatican Council are a real hope for the future and the spreading of the Gospel to the world. They lack the scholastic academic training of another era, but they fervently wish to be Catholic and to tie their beliefs and hopes to a credible and humane clergy, from parish ministers to the apex of power in Rome. I fear that any material diminution, dilution or rejection of the bishops’ decisions at Dallas will alienate millions of the younger faithful and in their minds will confirm the demise of Vatican authority over the entire spectrum of faith and morals. It would be a profoundly sad outcome for all of us.

Regis D. Murrin
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Down the River

I am a lay Catholic who is part of the distinct minority who are ashamed of the bishops’ actions in Dallas (7/1, Signs of the Times). Yes, like everyone else in the country, I am very concerned about the problem of child abuse. I am a pediatrician, and I have children of my own, and I won’t take accusations that I am unconcerned with the victims or the larger problems. But I have absolutely no desire to be part of the hangin’ is too good for ’em mob with their shouts of zero tolerance. I recognize that zero tolerance is just a catchy slogan for injustice, and that is what happened in Dallas.

The bishops, recognizing a loss of their own good P.R. (and money), decided to put on a media show, complete with prancing out victims’ tales, all to sell the idea that they were doing something dramatic and decisive. What they decided to do, however, is ignore all principles of canon law and basic justice, and to throw away the rights of priests. Well, not all priests. For themselves, the bishops only felt a day of penance was in order. They will make sure that is well covered in the press, so they can get credit where it counts.

The news reports are that the Vatican has grave reservations about zero tolerance. It is good to hear that there is still some sense in the world, and maybe (only a faint hope) even some who will take the bishops to task for selling priests down the river to cover their own problems. When the bishops threw away canon law to write their charter, they betrayed the church. More important, they betrayed the Gospel, which preaches forgiveness. They gave in to the worst in their flocks in order to preserve their own power and prestige. It was wrong. It was ugly. It was manipulative. The bishops knew it was wrong, but listened to their P.R. consultants in suits rather than their own consciences. Bravo for the 50 bishops who declined to join the mob, and especially the 13 who voted against. Shame on those who will join the stone-throwers so they can look good to the mob. Dallas was the day that the American bishops outlawed the Gospel.

Thomas R. Jackson, M.D.
Aiken, S.C.

Wonders of Creation

I feel the need to convey to the editors and staff my appreciation for the June 3-10 issue, which most providentially I had the pleasure to read this afternoon.

The object of my appreciation and admiration is Goose and Me by Jennifer Kelly Carpenter. What a treat it was, especially after worrying my way through the previous articles, necessarily dark and depressing as they were, on the plague of news and commentary regarding the present scandals.

The sprightly piece was not only a joy to an ailurophile such as myself but, I’m sure, a lift to all who delight in the wonders of God’s creation. Goose, Maverick and Aidan: a lovable trio, especially the departed Goose.

So, thanks for publishing that article and resounding huzzahs for Ms. Jennifer.

Patrick McNamara, O.S.M.
Portland, Ore.


To this Presbyterian it looks like the American bishops in their efforts to build an image as protectors of children have expelled from ministry hundreds of dedicated priests who are no threat to anyone. From all I read and hear, most cases go back to sexual revolution days. Most priests in question have been clean for decades.

People accuse me of being a closet Catholic. What concerns me about this church, which I love like my own, is its lack of forgiveness: the John Gotti burial, divorced persons. Jesus didn’t say one strike and you’re out but seventy times seven strikes and you’re still in.

(Rev.) Arthur C. Alford
New Orleans, La.


The article by Valerie Schultz, God in the Tangled Sheets (7/1), is right on target. From Adam and Eve to the present, marriage is fully intended by God. More married theologians need to write from their experiences of grace in all areas of their marriages.

Sherman H. Otto
Maple Grove, Minn.

This Mess

I enjoyed the article by John Kavanaugh, S.J., Abusing the Truth (5/27). I found it level-headed and on the mark. It’s true that many axe-grinders have found the scandals a particularly fine stone to sharpen their already honed mind-sets. Many quotes in the newspaper, and a few from the pulpits, ought to be prefaced with, I told you so or, If you had only listened to me and my like-minded friends.

Joe Laramie, N.S.J.
St. Paul, Minn.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
16 years 8 months ago
I would like to thank Edward J. Thompson ("Inquisitorial Witch Hunts"), Dr. Thomas R. Jackson ("Down the River"), and Rev. Arthur C. Alford ("Forgiveness") for putting into eloquent words what I and many of my Catholic friends have been feeling. I can only say "amen" and to thank these men for letting us know that we are not alone in our views.

16 years 8 months ago
I would like to thank Edward J. Thompson ("Inquisitorial Witch Hunts"), Dr. Thomas R. Jackson ("Down the River"), and Rev. Arthur C. Alford ("Forgiveness") for putting into eloquent words what I and many of my Catholic friends have been feeling. I can only say "amen" and to thank these men for letting us know that we are not alone in our views.

12 years 1 month ago
After reading the strong letter by Thomas R. Jackson, M.D., (7/15) and the thoughtful contribution by Camille D’Arienzo, R.S.M. (“An Echo of Bagpipes,” 7/29), I feel reassured that I am not alone in questioning the wisdom of the “zero tolerance” policy. By giving up the ability to decide in individual cases, the bishops have straightjacketed themselves into making decisions that appear to defy justice, mercy and even common sense. One medicine does not cure all ills, and one policy does not fit all cases. Lawyers see crime, theologians sin and physicians sickness in the perpetrators of sexual abuse. In reality, there is a complex mix of these elements in varying proportions. Furthermore, the implications and consequences of the accepted policy have not been thought through, or at least not adequately explained. The assumption that the protection of children is assured may be erroneous. Are we only concerned about the children in our schools and parishes? By laicizing priests, they are released into the community at large, and are no longer in a formal relationship with their bishops. Who will make sure of their ongoing treatment, supervision and needed care? Our prison system is not known for its intensive rehabilitation services, nor can we rely on overworked parole officers. These ousted men may find themselves in stressful situations that predispose them to fall back into abusive behavior.

Finally, demonizing fallen priests and revenge will not bring healing to the victims nor prevent further abuse.


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