Bishop Gregory: Church Must Not Be Silenced by Abuse Crisis

The Catholic Telegraph [Belleville IL]
Downloaded June 11, 2003

BELLEVILLE, Ill. - Like parents who do not stop being parents because they have made mistakes with their children, the U.S. bishops cannot allow their moral voice to be silenced by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville.

The bishop, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the comments in an interview marking the first anniversary of the bishops' formal response to the crisis.

He spoke about a wide range of issues raised by the scandal in a June 3 interview with Liz Quirin, editor of The Messenger, Belleville diocesan newspaper.

"There are clearly people, groups that would like to say this moment should silence the Catholic Church," he said. "It cannot and will not. There are concerns that belong to the demands and dictates of the Gospel and the church's faith that we must speak to irrespective of the mistakes that have been made.

"For example, parents make mistakes, but no parent can cease their responsibility as a parent simply because they've made an error in judgment," Bishop Gregory added. "The church ... must speak to the critical moral and political justice issues of our time even though some bishops have made errors in judgments in other areas."

The interview focused on the year since the bishops approved their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" last June 14 in Dallas.

That year has included the creation of the National Review Board and the bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection, as well as the establishment of diocesan policies and bodies aimed at protecting children, helping victims of abuse to heal and making church processes more transparent.

"The climate has improved over what it was a year ago because I think we see a focus and we have a direction," Bishop Gregory said. "It's been a year of implementation, whereas a year ago, it was a year of design."

The USCCB president praised the Vatican for working with the U.S. bishops "in an extraordinarily timely fashion" on their response to the crisis and said he had experienced "support, understanding, collaboration, cooperation, a willingness to make it work" on every trip to Rome.

"As we look back, is it possible to say, could we have done this differently, could we have designed a better mousetrap?" he asked. "Yes, with time, but we didn't have the luxury of time."

Bishop Gregory said one effect of the clergy sex abuse scandal has been that bishops and priests now have to earn people's confidence and respect.

"The bishop's authority in a diocese comes by papal appointment, but our moral authority must be earned," he said. "Many of us have never experienced such a universal demand to earn moral authority."

Recalling his first parish assignment as a new priest in the Chicago Archdiocese, Bishop Gregory said he was "granted immediate trust, certainly because I was a priest. Now, priests must earn that trust.

"Sacramental ordination gives us the ecclesiastical position, and sacramental authority, to serve people, but we must earn the confidence of people," he added.

Asked whether the costs of payments to victims and other spending related to the sex abuse scandal had "irreparably harmed diocesan finances," Bishop Gregory said no and cited Bishop Daniel F. Walsh of Santa Rosa, Calif., who recently conducted a capital campaign that raised $16 million.

He said Bishop Walsh had taken over the diocese in 2000 at "an extraordinarily painful moment in that local church" when Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann resigned after admitting a homosexual relationship with one of his priests.

"The faith of the people is deep, and it can be re-energized with good, honest, forthright episcopal leadership," Bishop Gregory said.

"Can the church recover? Yes," he added. "Will the church recover? Yes. Are bishops caught between the good news and the lawyers? No more so than other times. This is a unique moment but not the first time we've had to make sure Gospel values and the civil situation in which we live were brought into dialogue."

Bishop Gregory said healing would come slowly.

"Any experience of pain and suffering takes time," he said. "We do so with slow steps. The bishops do so by following through on what we promised."

Looking back over the year, the USCCB president said he was most saddened by "the discovery of so many situations that were not properly handled and the people who have suffered."

"Dallas was frightening because it was so intense, but on the other hand I believed then and believe even more so today that Jesus is in charge of his church and that we possess the Holy Spirit and this is a moment of sorrow and pain and suffering," he said.

But, Bishop Gregory added, "The church has faced sorrow and pain and suffering before, and come out of those episodes strengthened and more purified." - CNS


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.