Tom Roberts at the National Catholic Reporter reflects on the failure of the hierarchy:
Danneels was generally seen as one of the last of the Vatican II generation who knew that council intimately and supported its reforms. He would be, for lack of a better term, a liberal by many of today’s ecclesiastical measures. But it doesn’t matter. So was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, and his handling of some abuse cases was notoriously callous, and in his own attempt to hide a homosexual liaison he saw fit to lift nearly a half million dollars from archdiocesan coffers without telling anyone.
By contrast, Cardinal Anthony Bevelacqua of Philadelphia was a noted conservative, one of those who could be described as leading the reversal on Vatican II reforms. The Philadelphia Grand Jury report on his role in hiding sexual predators and using the law to avoid accountability is deeply disturbing reading. So are the documents in which Cardinals Bernard Law and Edward Egan are depicted overseeing the handling of abuse cases in their respective dioceses. Both are staunch conservatives and would be considered by many as protectors of a traditionalist approach to ecclesiology and church teaching.
Wherever members of the hierarchy are on the political, theological or ecclesiological spectrums, they meet first as brothers in a unique culture of celibate men who have sworn oaths of allegiance to the papacy and who have repeatedly acted to protect the institution while shunning the plight of thousands of child victims of abusive priests.
“I came to think that the problem was in some way cultural,” wrote Australian Bishop Mark Coleridge of the sex abuse crisis. “But that prompted the further question of how; what was it that allowed this canker to grow in the body of the Catholic church, not just here and there but more broadly?”
Coleridge does not provide a magic answer in that pastoral letter prepared last spring for Pentecost. However, he raises a number of issues – inadequat seminary training, the church’s “culture of discretion,” seminary training that creates “a kind of institutional immaturity, “a certain church triumphalism,” and the church’s tendence to see things in the light of sin and forgiveness rather than crime and punishment – that deserve far wider discussion and examination.
He includes in that list “clericalism understood as a hierarchy of power, not service.” It is one of many influences that caused so many in the hierarchy to confront the abuse crisis in ways they now say they regret. Perhaps it ought to be at the top of the list. Danneels is merely the latest sorry example, though a current one, demonstrating that for so long the actions of many of the community’s leaders were drastically out of step with what they were preaching.
Roberts identifies clericalism as the attitude that caused bishops to protect abusers. Even more disturbing, and Benedict has touched on this in his remarks on repentance, is a distortion in Catholic attitudes and teaching on sin, repentance, punishment, and expiation. Unconditional forgiveness is preached: God forgives unconditionally, we are repeatedly told (without our repentance?) and therefore victims must unconditionally forgive their abuser and oppressors, even if the abusers and oppressors remain unrepentant and unpunished. There is something seriously wrong with this, as the first word of the message of the Gospel is “Repent,” but it needs someone more learned in doctrine and history than I am to sort out what went wrong.