Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Report: Some Signs of Honesty?

I have not yet read the Report of the National Review Board in its entirety, but I have read read it in part and intend to finish it this weekend.

Some preliminary reactions:

Firstly, given the problematic identities of some members of the Board (Bob Bennett, Leon Panetta), and its total reliance on the bishops for its existence and sources of information, I was impressed at how honest it is in some places. For example, they pointed out that to knowingly allow evil conduct to continue is to cooperate with evil, and so laid the serious moral charge of cooperation in evil at the bishops' feet.

They also took the bishops to task regarding their wholesale failure to exercise fraternal correction (an issue I have commented on recently) of one another:
"Only one, or very, very few members of [the Conference] are willing to get up, even in the executive session, and say, 'Your Excellency, Your Eminence, this is wrong.'" This absence of fraternal correction compounded the lack of episcopal accountability and further fueled the current crisis.
The bishops are going to have to get serious about laying down the law with their own peers. There is, as yet, little indication that this is happening.

Which brings me to one of the faults of the report: it does not demand the resignation of bishops who shuffled abusers, nor does it even ask the question "Why have so few bishops resigned as a result of their sometimes egregious failure to live up to the responsibilities of their office?" They note that "several hundred priests have been removed from ministry, but few bishops have left the episcopacy." But they fail to draw the conclusion that this glaring lack of accountability entails: the bishops still are not taking responsibility for their actions.

However, there is one piece of almost astonishing candor in the report: The Board actually dares to use the "H" word in assessing the causes of the crisis:
We do not seek to place the blame for the sexual abuse crisis on the presence of homosexual individuals in the priesthood as there are many chaste and holy homosexual priests who are faithful to their vows of celibacy. However, we must call attention to the homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority of the cases of abuse observed in recent decades. That eighty-one percent of the reported victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy were boys shows that the crisis was characterized by homosexual behavior.
I have doubts about just how "many" homosexual priests live chaste, faithful lives, but that line may just have been honey helping a bitter pill to be swallowed. Given the bishops' resolute refusal to acknowledge the homosexual nature of The Situation, I think this recognition by the board is very significant. The report also dismisses the attempt to obscure the homosexual nature of the problem with the the red-herring "diagnosis" of ephebophilia:
Ephebophilia is thus not a disorder in the technical sense, but rather a newly-coined descriptive term for homosexual attraction to adolescent males.
I almost wanted to jump and shout "hallelujah!" (but this being Lent, I didn't) upon reading these things. At last, signs that someone is "getting it"!

But my elation was short-lived. Because, I realized, now the ball was once again in the bishops' court to actually do something about this. I fear we're going to need about another 100 or so Burkes, Weigands, and Carlsons before this "hapless bench of bishops" has both the courage and the prudence to act.