Catholic Bishops Facing New Public Relations Crisis

In the wake of the fresh sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the US bishops are scrambling to contain the fallout. For years now, they’ve touted their efforts in responding to the priest abuse scandal. As a group, the bishops implemented a “zero tolerance” policy concerning priests who’ve abused in the past as well as those who abuse in the future. They’ve created diocesan review boards that are supposedly independent of the bishops’ control or influence.
Yet these policies have failed miserably in Philadelphia. Bishop Blaise Cupich, head of the diocese of Spokane Washington and chair of the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, pledged to work harder to implement the policies of the Charter that’s supposed to protect young people. Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the US Catholic Bishops Conference had a similar response.
What both bishops fail to consider is the possibility that the entire system is flawed. Bishops remain the sole arbiters of how review boards work within their own dioceses. Bishops are the ones who decide who reviews the priest personnel files and the bishops are the ones who have the sole responsibility for taking action in these cases. That’s the problem. There is no real independent review. The very structure of the church doesn’t allow it. That’s why the Philadelphia situation should come as no real surprise to any of the bishops.
Words won’t fix this problem. Promises won’t assuage disillusioned parishioners. Perhaps someone should state the obvious-if a bishop fails to implement policies that truly protect children, the bishop should be removed and held liable for his actions or lack of action. Take the Philadelphia example as a case in point. Cardinal Rigali is past the normal age of retirement. He’s already submitted his letter of resignation to the Pope (which he’s required to do upon his 75th birthday). Rigali doesn’t fear any real consequences for what happened in Philadelphia. I suspect the Pope will accept his resignation in a matter of months without any mention of the harm caused by his lack of leadership in Philadelphia.
These scenarios aren’t limited to Philadelphia either. Look at how the priest abuse crisis was handled in other major metropolitan cities like Boston and Los Angeles. Cardinal Law was allowed to resign and transferred to Rome where he lives quite comfortably in charge of a major basilica. Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles retired in similar fashion, years after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles faced hundreds of lawsuits and criminal probes from the District Attorney’s office.
The Catholic Church’s policies concerning the protection of young people look nice on paper but don’t work because the people who should be held accountable for enforcing the policies aren’t held to any level of accountability. Unless and until there’s a serious level of accountability that holds bishops and cardinals responsible for this crisis, it won’t end.