By Chris Carlson
What are Roman Catholics to do these days? It certainly is not to “pray, pay and obey.” Every time one looks there is a news story about vulnerable children having been sexually abused by priests. These perversions are compounded by the pathetic efforts of cardinals and bishops to cover-up the crimes.
The latest manifestation is the release of extensive documents exposing and damning the role of former Los Angeles archdiocese Cardinal Roger Mahoney.
As a former public affairs advisor (paid by a church benefactor) to Spokane’s previous bishop, William E. Skylstad, during the period he was vice-chair and then chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I became familiar with abuse issues as well as the growing chasm between liberals and conservatives within the conference that reflects society’s increasing polarization..
Unlike most bishops, Skylstad recognized the inadequacy of the church’s feeble, self-serving response, which 40 years ago was to send offending priests to a re-education monastery in New Mexico or have them undergo psychiatric counseling.
Skylstad acknowledged that as a young bishop in the Yakima (Washington) diocese, he moved one priest suspected of pedophilia to another parish, one closer to Seattle so the offending priest could more easily attend counseling. When the sessions did not work, he was removed from parish duties. Skylstad volunteered this information and expressed regrets in a heartfelt column he wrote for the diocesan newspaper years before other bishops assumed responsibility.
Skylstad’s openness increased his stature among colleagues as he led the charge for new protocols to protect the vulnerable including prompt reporting of any charge to the authorities. He was one of the first to go to each parish and publicly apologize for priestly misconduct. Ultimately, in order for the Spokane diocese to meet claims for compensation of past abuses, he led the diocese through a painful bankruptcy.
Until recently, I thought Cardinal Mahoney was, like Skylstad, a prelate who “got it,” who understood how badly the credibility of church authorities had been hit. He supported protocols put in place to protect the vulnerable going forward, grasped the importance of reporting allegations immediately and knew how deadly the inevitable exposure of cover-up and conspiracy could be.
I was terribly mistaken. Some say dioceses where abuse occurred are the exception, not the rule. I disagree.
News of the cardinal’s cover-up, coupled with previous news from Germany regarding systematic abuse and cover-up efforts there cause me to believe the problem is systemic and no diocese anywhere is untouched. I want to cry out in disgust about an institution once capable of delivering so much good to society, an institution now collapsing before my eyes in a paroxysm of self-serving deceit, outright lies, and betrayals of sacred trust.
Cardinal Mahoney fought for years to seal the records of his efforts to cover-up abuse that the court now has ordered released, exposing his tawdry secrets. Does he truly believe the perfunctory mea culpa he issued serves as accountability? He should if he has any sense of shame surrender his cardinal’s red cap, shuffle off to a monastery and do penance for his failures.
If there is one element missing in this moral tragedy it is no one has walked the plank. No bishop or cardinal has been fired. With one exception not one has suffered the expected consequences for criminal activities and lapses in moral judgment.
Until the faithful see more than meager contrition’s and witness guilty bishops suffering significant consequences, the Catholic Church will continue to flounder in the slew of despondency and increasing irrelevancy.
The primary mission of winning and saving souls, of witnessing the love of Christ by walking the talk of the Gospels, of standing for Truth, Justice and Peace is rapidly being overshadowed. Today’s Catholic hierarchy, aided and abetted by a calcified Vatican bureaucracy, is more concerned about the corporation than the mission, more interested in protecting tattered reputations and status than re-establishing a modicum of credibility.
Equally sad is how a bishop who has acted correctly can still be made to suffer. Bishop Skylstad’s successor, Bishop Blasé Cupich, was convinced by new attorneys that in order to meet abuse claims not covered by the bankruptcy and settlement, he should sue for malpractice the Spokane law firm Skylstad had retained. The firm is said by the new legal team to have been more interested in protecting Skylstad than the diocesan corporation. In Spokane, some see it as a cynical attack on Skylstad and his compassionate, progressive consultative approach to the abuse issue.
The suit will go to trial, reliving all the suffering once more.
Something is terribly wrong when one of the good bishops is tarnished by a business-oriented bishop who tosses his predecessor under the bus while a cardinal like Mahoney, culpable and complicit in a cover-up, probably escapes even censure.
And the Vatican wonders why the culture of hedonism and secular alienation is winning.
A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus.