Discussion: Catholics in Crisis
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we get three perspectives on today’s meeting in Dallas from the Reverend Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, which represents the interests of over 25,000 priests nationwide; from Barbara Blaine, president and founder of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those abused by priests; and from Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly that covers the Catholic Church.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Barbara Blaine, what is your view of the charter that was voted on today?
BARBARA BLAINE, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: Well, I find it so disappointing. I just am so saddened and feel as though in many ways we as victims have been betrayed. We just are amazed and sad that the Church leaders would actually say that they are going to leave child molesters within the ranks of the priesthood. We just do not understand why they would do that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You heard what the Archbishop said. He said they will not be in the ministry but they will not necessarily be defrocked. They could be defrocked. This isn’t enough for you?
BARBARA BLAINE: No, because they’re still being allowed to be priests. When the priest molested me and the other victims, they were held– they were put up on a pedestal. They were looked up to with reverence and respect, and they were close to God. And they violated that position. That had a devastating impact on me and my family and so many other victims. And then so what the Church leaders are doing now is allowing those priests to still hold on to that position of priesthood, the most highly revered position in the Roman Catholic Church, and they’re going to say, we’re going to cheap the child molesters within our ranks. For us, we just don’t understand why.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Ms. Blaine, Do you understand– I’m really not exactly clear on this. Do you understand that some priests will in fact be defrocked and all priests who are charged with this will be asked not to wear their– their– their priestly outfit and maybe will not?
BARBARA BLAINE: The problem that there is no mechanism to make sure that that happens. And why would they still leave these men in the position of priesthood? It’s just illogical to us. And if they are still in that position– okay, maybe they’re going to remove some, but why wouldn’t they remove them all? That just is ludicrous to us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Ms. Blaine, what about the other aspects of the charter? Are there parts of it that you do support, for example, the fact that allegations must be responded to and reported to civil authorities?
BARBARA BLAINE: Well those are things that we just believe are common sense; that of course it’s a crime to abuse a child, so we would assume that the priests and the Bishops would begin following the laws that every state has that those crimes be reported to law enforcement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about the diocese review boards of mostly laypeople to examine the review claims, is that in the final document? I thought it was but since I haven’t seen the final document, I’m not sure.
BARBARA BLAINE: You know, in many ways what we see is that the diocesan review boards just don’t work. I don’t know if the Church authorities think they work, but the victims who contact us tell us on a daily basis, well, I contacted the Church and this was supposed to happen but it didn’t. And we hear story after story of just amazing disappointment that the Church leaders really don’t follow those policies that they have.And the review boards have, from our perspective, been a complete failure.
That’s even why we’ve asked that the Church authorities stop investigating crimes. They’re not in the business of criminal investigations. That’s what law enforcement and prosecutors do. Church authorities shouldn’t do that anymore so than the Church authorities would be inviting the prosecutors to come to give the Sunday homily at Mass.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Father Robert Silva, are you satisfied with the charter that was voted on today?
REV. ROBERT SILVA, National Federation of Priests’ Councils: Well, unlike Barbara, I find that there are some good things there. It’s a very difficult thing to do to put together a national policy on this issue. I am disappointed that the burden has been placed once again on the priests as a group…
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I’m sorry. May I interrupt you? Could you tell us what you like about it first and then go into the problems?
REV. ROBERT SILVA: Well, what I like about it is that I think it’s clear. I think it has a certain bite to it. The fact that a priest who is an abuser is to be laicized was not absolutized. That kind of thing, to absolutize that kind of a principle, it doesn’t work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because why?
REV. ROBERT SILVA: Well, we’ve seen it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we should explain that laicize means the same as the word I used, “defrocked.”
REV. ROBERT SILVA: Yes. But when you say zero tolerance, the words they use, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t allow for all the human variables that take place as life plays itself out. So, allowing for some variables, I don’t think that there will be many priests who are committing crimes against children who will not be laicized. I think very few priests would be permitted to remain in ministry… not only in ministry, but to remain in the clerical state. But I think you do need to have at least some way of judging of whether or not this human variable can be taken into account. So I liked that.
Now, the things that I think are problematic: The burden is placed upon the priests as a group of people, and I think the responsibility needs to be claimed by the Bishops themselves, because they are the ones who are the administrators. They are the ones who move people around, and they are the ones who have to make the judgment whether or not this priest should be laicized. And they need to talk a little bit more about that. The other thing is there’s not enough involvement of our faithful, of the faithful at all. The Bishops shouldn’t be doing all of this themselves. They need to talk about a policy against child sexual abuse that the whole community embraces– priests, people, and Bishops together– and somehow or other, creatively work that out so the community of faith deals with this issue. And I think if the Bishops maintain all of this close to the vest, they’re going to get caught once again in a very, very hard spot.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Tom Roberts, give us a little perspective on this. You heard what the Archbishop said. You heard what Barbara Blaine and Father Silva have said. You were there. You watched the deliberations, you watched the decision-making process; you heard what everybody had to say. It was very dramatic watching it on television. Try to help us understand why what happened happened, what is included is included, and what isn’t included isn’t included.
TOM ROBERTS, National Catholic Reporter: I haven’t seen a final document because it wasn’t printed before we went on here. I must say that I’m a little bit confused by Bishop Flynn’s characterization of what is going to be done with the priests. I don’t… it just isn’t very clear to me, because if indeed there isn’t some sort of sanction that says priests will be specifically required to do something, then I don’t know how far we’ve moved along the line. I really think it’s important to understand that, while I can understand Father Silva’s point of view, that not every case is the same, I think the Bishops have given up that option. It’s been taken away from them because from the beginning, they never trusted the community with the information. They went the legal route in the beginning and ignored the victims too often entirely, and in fact re-victimized them. And so, at this point, they’re only left with law and legal recourse.
This charter, I think, tries to get at some of the questions and some of the points that people have raised. It will be good to have a national policy. I think that’s a bit of a step, but I’m really not clear at this point on what it means. I think we won’t be clear until we hear what the norms are in effect, the law. There are a couple of other points that I think need to be clear. The Bishops, I think it’s fair to say, are somewhat looking over their shoulders to Rome.
The charter that was passed today is a sort of guiding document, as it has been explained to me, which will give them some way to proceed. It does not have to be approved by Rome, but it is also not binding on the Bishops. What would make it binding are the laws that would apply in very specific circumstances. Those laws are the things that have to go to Rome, and Rome has been sending some pretty strong signals that they have a problem with this zero tolerance policy. I think there are other serious matters in the document that need to be addressed. One is the lack of any mention of Bishops. I know Bishop Flynn said they were going to have a committee work on something. I think right now is where that is needed and I think that, you know, Scott Appleby and Barbara Steinfels’ critique yesterday was a criticism and all the victims…
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I’m going to interrupt you briefly. We only have a minute left and I want to ask Barbara Blaine and Father Silva and you first, Ms. Blaine: What happens next? What are you as a leader of one of the victims groups going to do next?
BARBARA BLAINE: At this point, what we’ve been doing, which is to reach out to other victims. We will continue to do that. With all this publicity, more and more victims have been coming forward, but in a sense, a great responsibility has been put on us because now it’s almost as though we have to continue to work to make this issue public. We have to put the priests’ names out there, and in order to do that, we have to have victims who are willing to do so. And that comes at a great personal price for any victim and for their family members when they go public. But we can’t trust that the Church leaders are removing our perpetrators from the priesthood. They’re saying that they will remove them from ministry but not from the priesthood, and there is no mechanism to make sure that they will actually not wear the Roman collar. There is nothing to keep them from holding themselves out as a priest because they will still be a priest.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you, Ms. Blaine. Father Silva, just briefly. What do you do next? What does your organization of priests do next?
REV. ROBERT SILVA: Well, what we do, this particular issue of policy on child sexual abuse is for the Bishops. Ours is, at the pastoral level, to work very hard to make sure that our parishes and our organizations become safe places for children. We need to put in place policies and educational programs and the kind of pastoral practices that people can trust so that they can learn more about child abuse.
The other thing is to work ecumenically and within the civic community to address the whole issue of child abuse, which is a terrible, terrible thing that is happening to many, many of our children. And the Church, at the pastoral level, priests, will take up that responsibility. And I’m sure that now that we’ve been made aware, they will take– they will take steps to put in place good pastoral plans for the sake of their people and their children.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all three very much.