The Credibility of Bishops

Hartford Courant [Hartford CT]
June 17, 2003


When the nation's Roman Catholic bishops gather in St. Louis this week for their semiannual meeting, they will face a new credibility test regarding their year-old effort to confront the church's sexual abuse scandal.

Last year the bishops pledged to deal forthrightly with a crisis involving allegations that many of them had failed for decades to take action, although they knew that priests were abusing children. The bishops created a non-clerical National Review Board headed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating to assess the extent of the problem and audit how well they complied with higher standards of accountability they set for themselves.

But Mr. Keating recently committed a gaffe by publicly comparing uncooperative bishops to the mafia. Some of his fellow panel members quickly distanced themselves from the remark and Mr. Keating resigned Monday, which is understandable, given the uproar he has created.

It would be tragic, though, if the bishops replaced Mr. Keating with a person less determined to get at the truth and vigorously monitor their behavior.

Some bishops have instituted procedures to protect children and investigate complaints, but others have dragged their feet.

Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore posted on a website the names of 56 priests credibly accused of abuse and urged anyone with information about abuse to come forward. In contrast, New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony seem determined to continue covering up sexual abuse.

The two are not alone. Of 195 dioceses, only 134 had responded by last week to a survey authorized by the bishops on the extent of the problem. That, in part, led to Mr. Keating's understandable frustration. In his resignation letter, Mr. Keating said, "The humiliation, the horrors of the sex scandal must be a poisonous aberration, a black page in our history that cannot ever recur."

The bishops ought to heed his words. They will win back respect only if they address the scandal with complete candor. Covering up invites more cynicism.


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