Some bloggers, like Mark Shea and Dom Bettinelli, are wondering how people like Clinton defense lawyer Bob Bennett and pro-abort Clintonista Leon Panetta got onto the Bishops' Lay Review Board for matters of sexual abuse. Certainly the trajectory that the board has taken has not inspired confidence. Coming after the rather stupid remarks made by board chairman Frank Keating a couple of weeks ago, the appointment of Panetta has caused the hopes of many to sink below the vanishing point.
I can't (and wouldn't want to) peer into the disordered workings of the USCC, but I think I can shed some light on how Panetta and Bennet got there: They're both Democratic party hacks. Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that most of the rest of the board are Democrats as well. With the exception of Gov. Keating and the two businessmen, the rest of the board members are all academics and lawyers (the trial lawyer is almost certainly a Democrat, and I know that Justice Anne Burke is), most of whom are left-leaning Democrats.
It should be apparent to anyone with eyes to see that for most of the 70's and 80's the U.S. Bishops were far more concerned with pleasing the establishment Democrats and "Rockefeller" Republicans than with being bold preachers of the Gospel. Why else would they have soft-pedaled Church teaching on contraception and, until JPII held their feet to the fire in the mid 80's, sat on the sidelines with regard to abortion? Why else would the bishops have sold out Catholic higher education in the name of getting government funding? What else can explain the bishops weak and impotent efforts regarding school choice? Why is it that even today the bishops' statements on pro-abort politicians and the duty of Catholics in elections are so mealy-mouthed and pusillanimous? A bishop once remarked to me and another priest over dinner a couple of years ago, when the bishops had just voted on Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that he wished his brother bishops "worried less about being good democrats and worried more about being good Catholics."
And even apart from many of the bishops' seemingly unalterable programmming to look to Democrats for guidance and advice, the fact is that the bishops don't really run the USCC. Most of them aren't there at the DC offices where all the staff are: even someone like Bishop Gregory isn't there a whole lot. The staff are the ones who really run things, and many of them are 70's-holdovers eagerly watching the horizon for Vatican III. The staffers pick these people (just look at the Dallas meeting and the spectacle of Ms. Steinfels speaking for the "laity"), and the bishops go along. After all, these people are "experts." Why should bishops who don't even write their own Sunday homilies (I can name for a fact at least two cardinal-archbishops who don't) bother with paying personal attention to the makeup of a lay review panel whose primary purpose is cosmetic anyway?
And the review board, in the end, I think, will be just window dressing. It has been carefully chosen to represent various "constituencies": You have the politicians, lawyers, and academics, with a token doctor or two and a couple of token businessmen. For this reason, I predict the board will accomplish little or nothing in reality. None of the members are particularly noted for being knowledgeable or well-informed about the faith. If they wanted good Catholic "expert" laymen or laywomen on the panel, why not pick someone like noted moral theologians Dr. William May or Dr. John Haas? If they wanted a lawyer, why not choose someone like Mary Ann Glendon? If they wanted academics, why not someone like Prof. Robert George?
Amy sarcastically remarks, "Yay, bishops! Strong, united voice for the Faith! You go, guys! Lead us on to glory!" It's clear to me that Faith and the Glory of God are still not what the bishops are thinking of. This lay review board isn't about Faith and the Glory of God. If it were, we would see people like the ones I mentioned above on it. The bishops didn't want truly outstanding men and women of faith, who would seek to serve the Truth first. They wanted "reliable" people who would utter the right platitudes and give sound bites acceptable to the dominant elite that they are still, pathetically, trying to toady.