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Catholic Church in Crisis

April 25, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: For more, we’re joined by Marianne Glendon, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. She is a Professor of Law at Harvard University. Deal Hudson, the publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine, a Catholic monthly about politics and culture. Marianne Duddy, the executive director of Dignity/USA, the nation’s largest organization for gay Catholics. And Sister Maureen Fiedler, co- director of the Quixote Center, a faith-based justice organization. She is also on the advisory board of Catholics Speak Out, an organization advocating Church reform.

I want to start off by getting an overview of the communique and of the words that came out of Rome this week from all of you. Let me start with Deal Hudson.

DEAL HUDSON: Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that they said we need a national plan, a national policy. Predators are going to be out. There is a zero tolerance policy for them. They said very clearly that the problem was homosexuality because none of these cases really are about pedophilia. They said that. They didn’t use the word homosexuality but they pointed at it. They said they’re going to look at seminaries very closely.

It’s going to happen very quickly because they can see that seminaries is where a lot of these problems have come from. Finally, I think, it’s very clear that they’re going to say to priests that no longer will you disgrace your ordination, as he says, betray the grace of your ordination. The bad news is they didn’t spell out how they’re going to handle first-time or one-time offenders when after all what American Catholics really want is they want their children to be safe.

RAY SUAREZ: Sister Maureen Fiedler.

SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER: I found the response of the cardinals in Rome really totally inadequate to the situation. I think the problem with the meeting itself because the meeting was that of the closed all male clerical club that incubated this problem to begin with and that unfortunately has tended to protect its own at the expense of the children of the Church.

And I certainly hope that the Catholic Bishops who are going to take this to the next stage in Dallas in June will be a lot more creative about inviting the voices of the laity in. And I do mean many voices of the laity and the victims so that the laity themselves can become a part of the decision-making in this process. I also find that rather interesting from a group of men who pronounce on sexual morality and other issues like this very frequently to the laity that they talk about really dismissal for priests that are serial predators.

I’m wondering how… I tried to translate that into what they might say about things that they usually pronounce on for the laity. You know, what’s really serious is if you were a serial abortionist or if you were a serial… you had several divorces and remarriage. But we’re not quite sure what we do about just one. I think there’s a double standard that comes through there.

RAY SUAREZ: Marianne Glendon.

MARIANNE GLENDON: I think the real news, the real story, Ray, is the one that the Cardinals didn’t announce because it would have seemed self-serving for them to say it. But the fact is that the problem of clergy sexual abuse is well on its way to being solved and has been for the past nine years.

The cases that have caused all this furor are old cases — ten, fifteen, twenty years old. And since 1993 when virtually every diocese in the United States put some kind of procedures in place, there have been very few new cases. That shows that the procedures are working and I think what we have from Rome is an encouragement now to find out what was the best, what worked the best, make it uniform and mandatory across the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: And Marianne Duddy.

MARIANNE DUDDY, Dignity/USA: I would agree that it was a very mixed result. I think that most Catholics are relieved that there was finally a recognition of the criminality of individual abusers and that the Church can no longer stand apart from the law. I think we find it very perplexing that our leaders cannot come to agreement on a zero tolerance policy.

What’s the debate? Is three kids enough to get a priest out of ministry? Is it two? Why are we having trouble with that or why are they having trouble with that kind of conversation? But I think where the real disappointment comes is that there was absolutely no sign that the Church leaders were willing to wrestle with their own culpability in moving serial abusers from parish to parish and unnecessarily putting other children at risk.

All we got on that was a very brief statement of regret and a call for a day of penance. I think that that’s a totally inadequate response. And it will lead to continued frustration on the part of Catholics.

RAY SUAREZ: The quote from the communique, “We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the Church from this scandal.” Marianne Glendon, was this a document that looked forward too exclusively and not back to the moving of priests from parish to parish, from diocese to diocese who were under a cloud?

MARIANNE GLENDON: I think it looked forward and it looked back. But the main focus of the document is constructive action for the future. And when you talk about Episcopal oversight in the past, that has to be put in the context of what people of that generation thought in the 1970s and early 1980s, how hard it was for them to wrap their minds around the fact that certain things could happen, their efforts to take a pastoral approach, their reliance on clinical advice.

But they got their act together in 1992 and 1993. And as I said, from that time on, we’ve had very few new cases. Whatever the mistakes were in the past, it seems that most of the leadership of the Church has really learned from them.

RAY SUAREZ: Sister Maureen.

SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER: Well, there was knowledge out there since the mid 1980s that, in fact, pedophilia was not a really curable disease and that priests who were afflicted by this really needed to be removed from ministry and they were not.

I think surely if there’s going to be a healing in the American Church, it’s the hierarchy that are responsible for moving these priests around and endangering the lives of further children who have to resign — people like Cardinal Law of Boston perhaps Cardinal Egan of New York and others. I think they’re leaving their posts is necessary, unfortunately it doesn’t begin to be the whole answer to the problem.

The real answer to the problem is structural reform in the decision-making of the Church that will bring the laity in with a full voice. But it’s a necessary first step. If the Holy Father is talking about discipline in the Church, it has to begin at the top. I’m actually amazed that he didn’t call for the resignation of Cardinal Law. That would have been a great step forward.

RAY SUAREZ: Deal Hudson, your response to that point.

DEAL HUDSON: The problem isn’t pedophilia. There are no more pedophilia cases among Catholic clergy than there are married men with children. The problem here are homosexual priests preying on adolescents. The document, the communiqué recognizes that. Also the fact that they’re going to do an apostolic visitation to the seminaries and houses of religious formation shows that they’re aware of this. Cardinal George mentioned it. Cardinal Might of Detroit mentioned it and Wilton Gregory the president of the Bishops Conference mentioned it. It’s not about pedophilia but its about the numbers of homosexuals in our priesthood that are not keeping their vows of celibacy.

RAY SUAREZ: I don’t know if statistics exist for this but are you convinced that more priests among the 46,000 priests in the United States break their vow of celibacy with people of the same sex than with women in their parish? Teen-aged girls of their acquaintance?

DEAL HUDSON: If there are statistics on this I’m not aware of it.

RAY SUAREZ: You seem to speak out of a conviction that that’s true.

DEAL HUDSON: The conviction I have is the statistics on the kinds of incidents that are being revealed point directly to homosexuality and not to pedophilia.

RAY SUAREZ: Marianne Duddy.

MARIANNE DUDDY: I think one thing that I’m really sorry about is that the stories and the experiences of the female victims who have come forward during this latest crisis have been largely overlooked lately — I think maybe because it is kind of an old story unfortunately.

The reality is that anyone who is going to act on sexual attraction to children in a criminal way and abuse these children is not acting out of any kind of healthy sexuality. And their criminal behavior cannot be considered representative of a mature heterosexual identity, a mature homosexual identity. They’re sick people. That’s the reality.

SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER: I wanted to add last year there was a revelation of a major scandal of the sexual abuse of nuns by priests. It’s a story that grew out of Africa but it was found to be true in 27 countries of the world. Now, are we going to investigate the heterosexuals in seminaries as a result of that or are we going to suggest that heterosexuals shouldn’t be in seminaries?

I think what you’ve got here is the abuse of power and the abuse of sexuality by people of whatever sexual orientation. It’s that abuse that needs to be addressed and not the orientation of the person.

RAY SUAREZ: Marianne Glendon.

MARIANNE GLENDON: Well, again, Ray, I think there’s really good news coming. I think we’re turning a corner on all these fronts that, in fact, we have turned the corner. Seminaries, religious orders for some time now have been engaged in a process of self-examination on sexual maturity — ability to understand one’s own sexuality and to act in a mature fashion.

I think that what will happen now is that those efforts will be stepped up, but meanwhile we see in the seminaries a new growth coming along — young priests who are formed in the heroic model of John Paul II, young priests who are like John Paul II, friends with the laity, comfortable with the laity, comfortable with women. And we have a new generation of laity coming along. You should not underestimate the effect that this pope has had on young men and women.

The young lay people that I work with, the young lawyers who will be leaders in their communities, they are inspired by this Pope to be an active, lay Catholic, faithful to the truths of the Catholic Church and living out lives of chastity and holiness.

RAY SUAREZ: Now this was a very high-level conversation after all — Princes of the Church of the United States talking to the head of the Catholic Church. This is also a process that is going to conclude here in the United States. Will the reaction in the pews, in individual parishes across the country feed into the deliberations of Bishops when they head to Dallas later this year?

DEAL HUDSON: Definitely. The grass roots are outraged. They agree with Marianne Glendon that there’s a lot of good news especially with the legacy of the Holy Father. But this is something that predates the Holy Father.

This was something that was buried under ground. This is something that had been fermenting for 20, 30, 40 years. So what happens in June in Dallas at the Bishops Conference is not going to instantaneously change it. But the process of healing has begun. There are seminaries like Mount St. Mary’s in Emmetsburg, Maryland, that are overflowing with young, wonderful seminarians. But I think this process will make that process of healing in the Church and strengthening of the Church happen a lot sooner I hope.

RAY SUAREZ: Marianne Duddy, does the laity have an avenue of response, a channel by which its input can even be heard by the Bishops in their local diocese?

MARIANNE DUDDY: I think that we the laity are learning how to create a channel of response. I think that this scandal has served as a wake-up call to us that we did not demand enough accountability from the leaders in our Church and that we will not stand for that kind of superiority and lack of accountability in the future. I think people will be watching very closely what happens in June and will either accept or reject the recommendations that come out of that meeting. I think that that will be very healthy for the Church, for the laity to be taking a more active role in Church policies and how they’re implemented.

RAY SUAREZ: Sister Maureen, you’ve been critical of this communique. Do they have a chance to get it right in June, in your view?

SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER: I think they have a chance to get it right but you know they’ve got to be creative with the process. It’s these folks in the pews — a couple hundred of them at least who represent a cross- section of American Catholics and include some of the victims need to be invited to Dallas.

That’s what I would like to see — to sit down, to talk to the Bishops — maybe with small group process — maybe with open hearings. So that they can really hear what the people have to say. I think the Bishops pick it up by the by. They pick it up in the media. They pick it up on visits to parishes, but there needs to be a formal process and a formal channel so that the American laity feel that they’re really a part of the decision-making of the Church.

RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you all for joining us.