Thursday, March 10, 2011

"It Is Just So Disappointing to the Whole Church": For Philadelphia, Boston Wept

Freshly-returned from his Vatican mission to Ireland -- where, in Pope Benedict's name, he led the Dublin church's extraordinary public repentance (above) for the country's sex-abuse scandals -- Cardinal Séan O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston became the highest-ranking churchman to comment on the crisis' new eruption in Philadelphia at an Ash Wednesday presser:
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley yesterday called the news that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to remain in ministry “very disturbing,’’ and said he considers this latest chapter in the abuse crisis worrisome....

O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, said that whenever the Catholic Church mishandles abuse cases or “tries to cover up . . . it is just so disappointing to all of us, to the whole church.’’...

The cardinal has spent most of his nearly eight-year tenure in Boston helping stabilize the archdiocese in the aftermath of the abuse crisis that exploded here in 2002. Yesterday, he grew emotional when pressed about whether he thought the Philadelphia news might reopen wounds here at an inopportune time....

“Of course it is worrisome,’’ O’Malley said. “On the other hand, I believe that Jesus Christ’’ — he paused a long moment to collect himself — “has the answers for the problems of our life. And we are a church to be able to communicate that message [sic].’’
Lest anyone forgot the degree of evolution evidenced above, keep in mind that it wasn't all that long ago when the cardinal-archbishop of Boston would "call down the power of God on the media" when sex-abuse would come up in its questions.

Said earlier to have been privately "distraught" over the developments, over a quarter-century as a bishop, the Capuchin prelate has been tasked with healing three local churches rocked by the scandals' fallout: Fall River in 1992, Palm Beach in 2002 (after its second bishop in a row had himself been found to have abused) and, of course, months later, Boston -- "ground zero" of the crisis' national emergence -- in the wake of Cardinal Bernard Law's unprecedented resignation on grounds of a cover-up.

O'Malley offered his take at the Boston launch of Catholics Come Home, the successful Atlanta-based effort to reach out to the church's significant inactive membership.

Meanwhile, in the latest indication of the Philadelphia scandal's toll on the five suburban dioceses which comprise much of the nation's fourth-largest media market (home to a combined 2.5 million Catholics), Bishop David O'Connell CM of Trenton -- himself a River City native -- penned an Ash Wednesday op-ed in the Jersey capital's paper of record, the Times, underscoring his 850,000-member church's commitment to the Dallas Charter:
We have all heard or read media reports about troubling situations in dioceses around us. In the short few months since assuming the role of bishop of Trenton, I have done my best to learn what has transpired in the Diocese of Trenton since the establishment of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by the U.S. bishops. As a result of this inquiry, I am convinced that our diocese has done everything in its power to fulfill the 2002 charter, implementing every possible safety measure, removing abuser priests when identified and bringing them to justice, and reaching out in compassion and support to anyone who has been victimized by a member of the clergy.

I do not have the same level of certainty, however, in regard to the decades that came before the charter -- a time when awareness about the problem was much less developed, when standards and expectations for response were less clear, and when policies were more open to interpretation and use of someone's best judgment. I say this not as a defense or an excuse, but simply as a historical fact. The church has widely acknowledged that mistakes were made and that things needed to change. That is the resolve that emerged out of the crisis of 2002. In every corner of the country, diocesan leaders have issued formal apologies for the failure of the church to act steadfastly in defense of children and young people, and I add my deepest, heartfelt apology to theirs.

No matter how much any of us would like to, we cannot change this painful history. It stands as a sobering reminder of what can happen when we fail to fulfill our role as protector of the innocents who are placed in our care.

We are committed to helping anyone who was hurt as a minor by sexual abuse to seek help and to begin the healing process. But if we are ever to move beyond those darker days and truly begin to heal, we need to focus our energies on how we conduct ourselves now, looking always to implement best practices and to educate adults and children about how to maintain safe environments.
While the Trenton church is almost evenly divided between the Philadelphia and New York media zones, the former's outlets cover the Central Jersey diocese's see city and southern half.

* * *
Elsewhere, in another notable response, the Pittsburgh civil and canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi -- a former chair of the bishops' National Review Board on abuse and dean of Duquesne University Law School -- contributes a long look for Commonweal into what's become "Another Long Lent" for the Stateside church.

In a separate interview with the London-based Tablet, Cafardi -- a former general counsel for the Pittsburgh diocese whose canon-law thesis, dedicated the church's legal mishandling of abuse cases, was later published as a book -- said that "the Dallas norms failed in Philadelphia or they weren’t being properly followed."

Referring to Tuesday's suspension of 21 priests by the Philadelphia curia, the former dean added that "according to those norms, these men were not supposed to be in ministry.

At the June 2002 Dallas meeting that crafted the Charter, Cafardi said that "the bishops made promises to the American faithful and it now appears a major archdiocese, led by a prominent cardinal, did not keep those promises."

Arguably the English-speaking world's most prominent Catholic journal, the Tablet made the Philadelphia developments its top international story in its weekend edition.

(Full disclosure: this reporter served as the Tablet's US correspondent from 2005-2008.)

* * *
And in the "war zone" itself, with the aftershocks of Tuesday's mass suspension still rippling across the roiled landscape, and as Cardinal Justin Rigali prepares to lead a Cathedral service of penitence in response to the revelations tomorrow night, in an unsigned editorial, the chancery's official organ of communication called the faithful to "Be strong and take heart":
This week another glimmer of hope arose that the Archdiocese does indeed grasp the severity of the crisis and the necessity to protect all children, respond compassionately to victims of sexual abuse and deal effectively with clergymen accused of misconduct with a young person.

In addition to the steps taken in February that are empowering experts in legal and social service fields to help strengthen the Archdiocese’s procedures and policies in the above areas, the placing of the priests on administrative leave shows the Archdiocese is going to great lengths to examine more fully those cases that call for a more stringent review.

As Cardinal Rigali said in announcing new initiatives in February, the continuing task of this local Church “is to recognize where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve.”

Those actions include this week’s. More actions may be expected in weeks to come. They are to be done with the sole purpose of strengthening the Church’s response to the scandal. And they are to be done in a spirit of truth and justice, relying on God’s ever-present assistance.
In a prior editorial amid the second grand jury's cataclysmic fallout, the Catholic Standard and Times indicated that the whole church of Philadelphia needed to apologize for the abuse, and proceeded to beg forgiveness in the people's name.

Any reference to the mishandling of files, however, was conspicuous by its absence.

Along those lines, as the editor of the Philly church's leading suburban newspaper -- himself a Catholic -- described the scene at Lent's launch....
Ash Wednesday, and it would appear that the archdiocese is indeed in ashes.

I know I need at least 40 days to repent.

I’m not really sure how long the archdiocese is going to need.
In what's expected to be the story's next major development, Monday brings the preliminary hearing for the five men charged on the grand jury's recommendation -- four priests and a lay teacher accused of abusing two boys in the late 1990s, and the former secretary for clergy Msgr William Lynn, the first US church official to be indicted on allegations of a cover-up.

John McElroy