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Reprinted From The Wanderer Newspaper June 21, 2007 . . . Dallas Charter, Five Years Later

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Editors Note: This was reprinted from The Wanderer Newspaper, the issue dated June 21, 2007, on the 5 year anniversary of the Dallas Charter. We will be featuring these reprints on a regular basis on our website.

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Five years ago this month, American bishops met in Dallas to address the scandal of clerical sex abuse and chancery coverups that had finally exploded into public view. It was a critical test for the bishops, as they confronted the greatest crisis in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Sadly, they failed the test. Instead of apologizing and getting their house in order, they initiated a “ Charter” that placed heavy burdens on priests and laity, but exempted bishops altogether. Avery Cardinal Dulles warned them that the charter created “a very adversarial relationship between the bishop and the priests,” but they ignored him, choosing instead to protect one another and insisting that the scandals were now “behind us.”

As a result of their intransigence, the bishops faced outrage and hostility from the people in the pews. Countless families of victims revealed that they had been browbeaten for years by bishops and chancery officials, threatened with nonexistent canonical penalties, even financial ruin, if they did not keep their silence and just “ go away.” The bishops’ own experts revealed that over 80% of the crimes committed by priests and bishops were “ homosexual in nature.” Yet the bishops stonewalled, ignoring their own charter’s requirement for transparency, and refused to address the role of homosexuality in the scandals at all. Their response was as predictable as it was disastrous. The newly elected president of the USCCB, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, declared bankruptcy and praised homosexual priests and bishops. Many of his brother bishops were quick to follow similar lines. A diocesan “ safe environment” director of Arlington, Va., implied that children were safer with homosexuals than with their own parents. In a like spirit, Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde required state and federal government criminal background checks, including fingerprinting, for any and all parents who wanted to participate fully in parish life.

Seeming to bear out Cardinal Dulles’ warning, Bishop Loverde has also dealt harshly with his priests. In 2001, he silenced and removed from ministry Fr. James Haley, who had warned him of homosexual activity and pornography collections among the clergy. ( Fr. Haley’s allegations proved to be true, and several diocesan priests had to leave their posts.) Meanwhile, however, homosexual priests in the diocese have not been doing the bishop any favors. Since 2005, two of Bishop Loverde’s longtime pastors have been convicted of sex crimes. One, a notorious dissident, was arrested in a federal child- porn sting. Another was arrested and jailed for soliciting homosexual favors in a public park. He even returned to his position as pastor for several months before the chancery even found out about his conviction.

(Last fall, confronted with the magnitude of the problem that Fr. Haley had warned him about five years before, Bishop Loverde finally issued a pastoral letter on the dangers of pornography.) The Skylstad and Loverde episodes are not unique. In fact, they have been repeated all over the country. In Los Angeles, Roger Cardinal Mahony, assailed by hundreds of lawsuits, has spent millions of diocesan dollars defying prosecutors ( as well as the charter’s demand for “ transparency”) in his effort to keep secret the records of abusers, many of whom committed their crimes on his watch. Earlier this month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholtz “ opened the door for punitive damages to punish the archdiocese for failing to protect Kreutzer’s victims,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

As with countless bishops all over the country, the specter of Cardinal Mahony’s stonewalling has created not only outrage among the laity, but financial liabilities that are likely to soar beyond a billion dollars in his archdiocese alone.

Is there a moral to this sad story? Consider: In Dallas five years ago, EWTN depicted bishops looking furtively at the camera as they voted to exempt themselves from their own punitive charter. Imagine a different scenario: Imagine those bishops falling on their knees in unison in front of the cameras, and begging the forgiveness of the laity, especially their victims and those whose children were abused for decades under the unwatchful eyes of those bishops and their predecessors.

Yes, even if, as late as 2002, they had expressed sincere repentance for their cooperation in evil; if those who had themselves engaged in coverups and facilitating criminal behavior had at least resigned their positions; if instead of blaming parents they had expressed real compassion for victims — then two things might have followed. First, they would have had to pay out far less in legal judgments. Second, they would have regained some measure of moral credibility so that, when they proclaimed Christ’s truth, more Catholics would have listened. But instead of repentance, they offered defiance and blame- shifting, in a crude application of Knute Rockne’s rule that “ the best defense is a good offense.”

Today, countless victims of clerical sex crimes complain that they have never received an apology — either from their abusers or from their bishops. Instead of apologizing, countless bishops fight to protect themselves, citing the statute of limitations, confidentiality, and, cynically, even the seal of the confessional. It should not surprise us that many of the victims hire hard- nosed plaintiff lawyers. And it should not surprise us that these cases will cost the American Catholic Church countless millions of dollars more before they are over — not to mention a loss of credibility so profound that the bishops find themselves mute when confronted with “ Catholic” public figures who openly defy the fundamentals of the faith.

Aristotle was a pagan. But even he recognized the duty, the virtue, of “ goodwill” that the civilized person owes his fellowman, even those not his friends. If the bishops had exercised even pagan virtues, and apologized in good faith, they would have spared themselves — and the laity whose donations they tirelessly solicit — this unnecessary and truly tragic loss ( and tragedy here is a term of art, for tragedy and hubris are inseparable).

Instead of following their own charter, the bishops have created a tidal wave of resentment and incurred untold millions in costs — that will be paid, of course, by the faithful. In tandem with that unhappy consequence, and possibly because of it, bishops have become mute on one of the most important moral issues of our time. That issue is the pompous parade of “Catholics” who support abortion in the public square, especially in political assemblies at the state and federal level.

The facts are clear ( but the motives are not). Cardinal McCarrick downplayed the Vatican’s guidelines for reception of the Eucharist, instead of distributing them to his brother bishops, as was his duty. His successor, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, allowed Nancy Pelosi, the pro-abortion, “gay rights” advocate who is speaker of the House, to celebrate her inauguration at a public Mass in Washington. Pro- abortion presidential candidates Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and John Kerry flaunt their Catholic faith and their right to receive the Eucharist.

The point was driven home quite plainly by another pro-abortion “Catholic,” Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. A reporter for The Hill newspaper of Capitol Hill asked Sen. Leahy about the Pope’s recent statement regarding receiving the Eucharist. The Pope had said that “ legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist,” and that politicians who favor abortion rights “ exclude themselves from Communion.”

Leahy wasted no words in his response: “ I’ve always thought also that those bishops and archbishops who for decades hid pederasts and are now being protected by the Vatican should be indicted.”

Any bishop reading that statement could be forgiven for cringing — big time. Who among them would fail to see the handwriting on the wall? For 20 years, they had watched Chairman Leahy savage pro- life nominees to the federal bench — many of them Catholics. Can you imagine any of our bishops today wanting to tangle with Chairman Leahy? Being called before the Judiciary Committee to explain the coverup? Or even merely mentioning to Leahy the unlovely but fundamental truth that pro-abortion pols should not receive the Eucharist? Sure, it is their anointed task to convey Church teaching, including the one so clearly enunciated by Pope Benedict, but this could mean their career! And did Leahy really suggest prison?

Whatever the proximate cause, the bishops have invoked, en masse, their right to remain silent. And as long as they are silent, Leahy will presumably find other matters to attend to. But he has sent a sharp and chilling shot across their bow — and, apparently, it has worked.

Unfortunately, the silence in the chanceries is not the only foul fruit of the ongoing scandal. Not only do some bishops ignore the Pope’s admonition, but they actually bend over backward to ally themselves with the Leahys, the Kennedys, and the other proabortion radicals on Capitol Hill. In fact, the USCCB endorses virtually every left- wing social and political policy that is advocated ( and often spearheaded) by these pro- abortion “Catholics,” ranging from global warming and amnesty for illegal aliens to the price that McDonalds pays for tomatoes. The USCCB often harmonizes its message with the left on many political issues, at times using even the same language as the pro- abortion leaders ( for instance, Sen. Ted Kennedy recently referred to opponents of his amnesty bill as “ the voices of hatred and bigotry”; the USCCB’s spokesman for the bill called them “ racists” and “ xenophobes.”) At their Dallas meeting in 2002, our bishops admitted that they had lost the trust of the faithful due to the scandals. Five years later, one might conclude from their silence regarding the pro-abortion politicians that they don’t yet believe they have regained their credibility. They certainly don’t want to be targets of Leahy’s savage attacks. Perish the thought.

But there is another possible cause, equally troubling, if not more so: the bishops’ silence on abortion and the Eucharist, coupled with their embrace of the left-wing agenda and its left-wing advocacy groups, including militant gays and feminists, has been accompanied by a flow from Congress of over $2 billion a year — taxpayer funds that are funneled by those same pro- abortion politicians to Catholic Charities, USA. As the recent Wanderer series demonstrated, the USCCB’s apparent political sellout has given the self- interested politicians on the left an offer they just couldn’t refuse: to take advantage of the bishops’ weakness and buy them off for a mere $2 billion a year.

If the bishops had done the right thing five years ago, they wouldn’t need that $2 billion, because a large portion of the lawsuits would evaporate and disaffected faithful would return in droves. And the bishops would have regained the moral authority and credibility required to tell it like it is to the pro-abortion politicians, announcing and defending the Pope’s teaching (and that of Holy Mother Church) — and bracing themselves prayerfully for the diabolic political attacks that would undoubtedly follow. But they would be standing upon the rock of Peter. Their hands would not be tied, and their tongues would be loosened. And the people in the pews would stand up and cheer.

But alas, events took another course. And in retrospect, whatever the cause, it has not been a good five years for the American Catholic bishops. Let us pray that the next five years are better. Alas, the scandals are far from over.

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Having watched the first session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops General Meeting, and that fact that the Pope has ordered them not vote on any action items, I have to ask, what is the point of this meeting? What is the point of National Bishops' Conferences?

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