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Catholic Church in Turmoil

Four members of the church discuss the sex abuse scandal that is causing upheaval in the Catholic Church across the nation.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    To explore what this scandal says about and will mean for the Catholic Church, we turn to four members of the church: Bishop Joseph Galante of the Catholic Dioceses of Dallas is a member of the Bishops' Conference ad hoc committee on sexual abuse. George Weigel, senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; he's written a biography of Pope John Paul II. Margaret O'Brien Steinfels is editor of Commonweal Magazine, an independent biweekly journal of opinion published by lay Catholics. And Scott Appleby is director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.

    Welcome to you all.

    Professor Appleby, beginning with you, William Bennett, a conservative Catholic, has called this the greatest scandal… the biggest crisis, excuse me, the biggest crisis in the church in 30 years. Do you agree it's that serious?

  • SCOTT APPLEBY:

    Oh, I think he's right. This is a scandal that goes far beyond the terrible evil of sexual misconduct by a tiny minority of priests because it sheds light upon the mismanagement of some bishops over the scandal that goes from reappointing priests who they knew or suspected of sexual misconduct to pastoral ministry and also minimizing victims — some terrible stories of minimizing victims the stories about that pastor abuse, that sexual abuse.

    And also the question of financial settlements… in that there was not a great deal of transparency or accountability in how these settlements were reached, how much money was paid. The laity is ultimately paying this cost. Schools and other institutions may close down in order to pay them.

    So there's a suspicion there that there's at worse a failure in moral character on the part of some of the bishops and priests in the Church and at best a sense that they just didn't get it when the first wave of scandals hit in the 1980s and 1990s.

    When you erode the trust and the integrity of the Church and people have entrusted their children and their own spiritual and psychological health to the bishops and the priests, this scandal has eroded that trust and the bishops have to work very vigorously to restore that trust.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Bishop Galante, what's your view of this? What Professor Appleby is essentially talking about is a leadership crisis in the Church.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Yes, and I think all of the bishops will agree that for all of us there is the challenge of rebuilding trust.

    One of the things I discovered… I was ordained a priest in 1964, and I had a difficult time with the fact that I was immediately given trust and respect and a sense of dignity that I had not earned.

    And so I made up my mind as a very young priest that I could not just assume that, that I had to earn that trust. I think for all of us, especially bishops, we have to go back to earning the trust of our people not just assume that we have it. Yes, there have been mistakes.

    I think that one of the things though that we have to point out is that so many of the cases that have surfaced since the Boston cases are old cases that go back up to 50 years.

    And I think what we knew and how we dealt with things up through the '80s is very different beginning in the 1990s to now. And I think that we have in many cases learned bitterly from what we had done in the past.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    George Weigel, help us understand how we got to this point in your view that despite previous scandals about sexual abuse and about covering up, about the way it was handled, that at least until this scandal broke in Boston in January, there did continue to be the secrecy about it on the part of the Church leadership.

    What's your view of why that continued?

  • GEORGE WEIGEL:

    I think, Margaret, that this is in the first instance a crisis in the realm of the spirit. This is a spiritual crisis. It has legal dimensions, it has psychological dimensions, but it's first and foremost a crisis in the spiritual lives of priests– men who truly believe that they are what the Catholic Church teaches that they are. Namely, icons of Jesus Christ in the world, simply do not behave like this.

    If they are behaving like this or were behaving like this — and I think it's important to emphasize that there have been very few incidences of these problems reported from the 1990s when the reform of the seminaries was beginning to take hold — if they were behaving like this, then that was a problem of conversion. That was a problem of discipleship, and the silly season in seminaries, in the 1970s and 1980s, is a very serious part of the problem here.

    I think that's beginning to be corrected, but it is very clear that a much more rigorous teaching of chastity, a much more rigorous set of religious and moral demands has to be placed on candidates for the priesthood.

    This is not a problem you can simply hand over to therapists. It's a problem that has to be dealt with at its roots, which are religious, theological, moral issues of faith.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Margaret Steinfels, why do you think the Church got to this point in terms of the way it's handled these cases and that it's come to this point where it suddenly turned into this huge scandal?

  • MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS:

    Well, I think there are a number of issues, Margaret, and I'd take and second what I think everyone is implicitly said: Leadership, leadership, leadership.

    We saw Bishop Chaput tonight taking a proactive role and saying something to his own people about where the Diocese of Denver stood. But we haven't seen that kind of leadership from the Bishops Conference on a national level.

    If these cases are ten and 20 years old and if there is a new set of standards, it seems to me the Bishops Conference could get ahead of the news cycle by actually giving people real figures about how many cases were ever settled, how many priests were involved, what percentage of those priests were sent away, what number of charges were unfounded.

    It seems to me that the media frenzy — which I really think we are in the middle of — is based on the absolute inability of the Catholic Church in the United States to give any clear facts about the national scene.

    And that would certainly be something that I think they ought to begin to look at in a very serious and a very fast way.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Bishop Galante.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Do you think that's coming any time soon from the Conference?

  • BISHOP. JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Well, let me say this, that certainly beginning in 1992 the Conference issued a series of five principles to help bishops in dealing with cases of sexual abuse.

    Now, the problem is that the Conference has no legislative or coercive force over individual bishops in dioceses.

    However, I think with what has been happening of late, we certainly are working very, very strongly now to provide for our June meeting a national response to what has been happening and the committee… one of the committees that I serve on, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, is charged with looking again at those five principles, expanding them, if necessary, and taking other suggestions and presenting them in June to the bishops.

    I think very much our failures where… sometimes people say you act more like CEO's of corporations. I think our failures, where we acted particularly in this 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s like Church, which deals with forgiveness instead of recognizing that when crimes are committed that the civil authorities must and should be dealing with crimes, that we're not the competent authority always to investigate criminal actions.

    And I think we are bitterly learning lessons of how….

  • MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS:

    May I interject a point here?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Sure.

  • MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS:

    I don't disagree with what the bishop has said, but we're talking about facts and information.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS:

    And, June is a long time away. I think we are seeing here what I and others have called a media frenzy which will not wait till June.

    I know that the bishops are the princes in their own kingdoms and that anything that is gotten from them is voluntary…

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS:

    …but I certainly think that at this point in time it would behoove the Bishops Conference to ask for that kind of information and very soon and very quickly and make it available so that some kind of framework and context can be given to what seems to me a hysteria about this question.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Let me go to Scott Appleby if I could just to get our two guests back in here.

    Professor Appleby, first of all, what did you make of the way the Pope responded and the way many Catholic bishops have been responding in the last few days and secondly what do you think has to happen?

  • SCOTT APPLEBY:

    I, of course, welcome the Pope's condemnation of this evil but that's in a sense to be expected. I'm not sure that the Vatican knows how deep this crisis is because in order for the bishops to act uniformly and to implement policies that are binding, they have to get a signal from the Vatican.

    The problem has been… the reason we don't have a nationwide policy in place now and the reason that yesterday on Palm Sunday– I'm in New Orleans– there was no mention of this. Even if apologies are uneven.

    That's because on one hand, you have bishops who consider themselves to be autonomous answering only to the Pope so they can take the principles they want from the National Conference of Bishops or they can leave them.

    Then on the other side, the Vatican has been reluctant in the past to really give binding authority even on such matters that don't deal with doctrine or dogma, as this does not.

    The Vatican has to get behind the national conference to implement transparent policies that are accountable on this question, and I think also on the financial issue of how settlements are made and how the resources of the Church are spent.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    George Weigel, in our few remaining minutes there have been calls for a lot of changes just as Mr. Appleby was suggesting — more transparency and more accountability — and also revisiting other issues like whether or not to have married priests.

    Do you think this crisis will lead to reexamination of issues like that?

  • GEORGE WEIGEL:

    I don't think it's going to lead to reexamination of the discipline of celibacy in the Western church.

    This is not a problem of celibacy. It's a problem of men failing to live the celibate vows they have made.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    How about the transparency issue, the more accountability?

  • GEORGE WEIGEL:

    I think transparency and accountability are very important.

    Data is important, as Peggy Steinfels is saying, but also conversion is important.

    Bishops need to be talking to their priests about what it means to be a priest. Seminary rectors and seminary faculty needs to be talking much more vigorously about chastity as a way of life. There has to be to be much less winking and nodding at various forms of sexual misbehavior.

    In seminaries this has to be put in the context of the fact that for a priest to be an effective priest, he has to be first of all a thoroughly committed, converted disciple of Jesus Christ. That's the root of the crisis, and that's what we need to address as well as all these other issues of data, transparency, rules, guidelines and so forth.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Bishop Galante.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Your view on sort of the more long-range changes and whether this is going to call… this is going to cause changes in the way the Church leadership responds, first of all, to priests in their own ranks and also to the laity, to its members.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Well, I think in some respects and in some places it has created changes. In Dallas, there had been a very serious scandal a number of years ago. And beginning with 1997, there has been a safe environment program put into this diocese that is very strictly enforced that is monitored and even evaluated by an outside agency. That's one example.

    I think that has to be done across the board in every diocese. But also I want to say that one of the things that has happened over the last 15 years, Mr. Weigel was talking about seminary concerns, and I live at the seminary here in Dallas.

    But there has been ironically enough with the decrease in vocations, there's much greater scrutiny and supervision of seminarians now than there ever was when I was in the seminary. I was in the seminary – I entered in 1954 in Philadelphia. There were 525 seminarians. We got far less scrutiny, far less evaluation than seminarians are getting today. And it's important that we continue to do that.

    I agree very strongly with what George Weigel said. The kinds of formation needs… need to continue to deepen and to grow — to understand both human formation, which is the basis of a lot of the formation that in the formation documents that the Church issues, but also to integrate the spiritual formation in with the human — to help men to understand their psycho-sexual development, their intimacy — legitimate intimacy needs, but also to help them to understand what it means to be a celibate priest. Too often the attitude has been celibacy is a negation of something. That's wrong.

    Celibacy is a particular way of loving as Jesus loves. It has to be a positively accepted gift, which it is, that is given. And if it's only seen as a burden and negation, then people are not going to live totally and completely across the board that gift.

    And so, seminaries are working at this and have to continue to. We can't kind of ship our oars or rest on our laurels. We have to continue to deepen this whole process of formation and also with the ongoing formation of our priests. That is tremendously important and that has to continue. And also we have to listen to the people and we have to listen to the expectations that good people have for their good priests.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. Well, thank you, Bishop Galante, and guests all, thanks so much.

  • BISHOP JOSEPH GALANTE:

    Thank you.

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