Sed Contra: Watch This Closely

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2004

In the next couple of months, the National Review Board will issue two reports. On January 6, the board will announce the results of its diocesan audit that measures compliance with the charter the bishops adopted in June 2002 to protect children and youth. And on February 27, the board will release its survey—compiled by criminologists at John Jay College—of all the allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the past 50 years. This study will also contain a preliminary analysis of the causes of the abuse.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has already revealed that the findings are worse than predicted. Getting all the bad news out in the open can be helpful but only if we acknowledge clearly the causes and solutions for the breakdown in priestly discipline.

The problem facing faithful Catholics is how to keep dissenting groups from swamping the media with the message, “See, we were right all along. The only way to solve this problem is to eliminate celibacy, ordain women and more married men, and loosen ties with Vatican authority.” My sources tell me that Voice of the Faithful and Call to Action are planning to take full advantage of this unfortunate moment in our history.

Martha Burke, the acting chair of the National Review Board, was recently interviewed by Raymond Arroyo on EWTN’s The World Over. Several of the viewers who called in after the interview expressed skepticism regarding the upcoming findings of the board. Their concern, which I share, is how the data will be analyzed and explained. In other words, since data never speak for themselves, how will this data be made to speak, and by whom? Her inability to answer those questions directly did little to comfort the callers.

Data require context, comparables, and a sound viewpoint to be useful. The Church needs to know how its track record compares to other institutions with employees who staff positions of authority and deal with persons in vulnerable situations.

Another crucial distinction is the percentage of incidents involving children under and over the age of puberty, which will confirm whether the majority of these incidents stem from homosexuality (as I suspect they do). The Church needs to face squarely the number of sexually active homosexuals in its priesthood, how they got there, and why they’ve been allowed to remain.

Will the study distinguish between mere accusations and credible allegations—allegations leading to ecclesial action, to financial settlements, to criminal charges and prosecution? The Church should not overreact to the demand for transparency by treating any allegation sitting in the file over the past 50 years as worthy of reaching the public record. Priests, after all, value their reputations and shouldn’t have them besmirched needlessly in an effort at public self-flagellation.

At present, the board is under something of a cloud. Much has been made—rightfully—of the appointment of Leon Panetta, whose pro-abortion position is a matter of public record. Frank Keating resigned his chairmanship after some of his forth-right and colorful comments irked California’s, Roger Cardinal Mahony. Kathleen McChesney, director of the USCCB’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, works for the board as well and has made one too many trips to lecture among dissenters.

But I have one good reason to trust that the board’s work will turn out well: William Burleigh, the former CEO of Scripps Howard, is a member of the board and a man of impeccable character and commitment to the Magisterium. (Crisis readers may recall that his wife, Anne Husted Burleigh, was once a regular contributor.)

Burleigh has been vocal in rejecting attempts by the bishops to control the work of the board and was quoted in U.S. News & World Report as saying, “In adopting this posture, we hope we are not seen by you as hostile or untrustworthy. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a board we are united by our love for the church and a burning desire to see that her wounds are healed:’

Let us pay close attention to the reports of the National Review Board and receive them with open minds. Our job is to think through the data with the mind of the Church and be ready to confront those who will try to hijack the moment to spread their own ideology.

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