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The past Sunday, journalists from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe published a collaborative piece concerning the US Catholic bishops’ response to the sexual abuse crisis roiling the Catholic Church since the 2002 meeting in Dallas where they proposed the Dallas Charter, the blueprint for church reform to stem the tide of sexual abuse and cover-up in the church.

It’s significant that the journalist who researched and wrote the piece, published in both newspapers, were from Philadelphia and Boston.  The two northeastern cities were arguably the hardest hit by the abuse scandal which went all the way to the top of the church hierarchy in both cities.  In Boston, the Globe’s Spotlight investigation toppled powerful Cardinal Bernard Law and the City of Brotherly Love endured not one but two scathing grand jury reports that implicated Cardinals Krol, Bevilacqua, and Rigali.

The report did not present a rosy picture of the church in the United States after Dallas.  In fact, in many ways the situation has worsened.

“The analysis shows that the claims against more than 50 bishops center on incidents that occurred after a historic 2002 Dallas gathering of U.S. bishops where they promised that the church’s days of concealment and inaction were over. By an overwhelming though not unanimous vote, church leaders voted to remove any priest who had ever abused a minor and set up civilian review boards to investigate clergy misconduct claims.

But while they imposed new standards that led to the removal of hundreds of priests, the bishops specifically excluded themselves from the landmark child-protection measures. They contended that only the pope had authority to discipline them and said peer pressure — public or private shaming they euphemistically called ‘fraternal correction’ – would keep them in line.

It hasn’t.”

Post-mortem analyses of the Dallas Charter demonstrate that what was needed was strict oversight of the country’s bishops just as much as the priests.  This never happened and 2018 has demonstrated that the church is reaping the fruits of its inaction.

The article goes on to state,

“Bishop accountability has proved a contradiction in terms; resistance and indifference remain all too common. Even some of the bishops who wrote the 2002 reforms would themselves be accused of enabling or ignoring abuse. And the chairwoman of the new civilian board overseeing compliance with the reforms quickly despaired of the seriousness of the bishops’ commitment, saying, in a 2004 letter not previously reported, that their pledge to change ‘appears to be nothing more than a common fraud.’

In short: The price of reform has been paid, visibly, by parish priests. Their bosses, however, have been largely spared.”

The article is searing indictment of the hierarchy and their missteps and cover-ups since 2002.  Bishops are named and details are re-examined.  Answers are in short supply.

The problem is that no one is overseeing the overseers (episcopos, the word for bishop in Greek, means overseer).  Each bishop is accountable to no one, save the Pope who has sole jurisdiction of the world’s thousands of bishops.  The nation’s episcopal conference is not empowered to take steps to correct a wayward bishop.  The history post-2002 is eerily similar to pre-2002 where bishops cover for each other rather than providing any kind of rebuke or correction.

However, 2018 may be the tipping point.  Some bishops are beginning to speak out against their brother bishops.  Grand juries across the country are investigating dioceses.  Every diocese in the country has been told to maintain their records without destroying any documents.  The Catholic Church is at a crossroads whether the country’s bishops are able to acknowledge it or not.


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