Thursday, February 21, 2008

Church Self-Policing

A Sister's Opinion

In an email to members, CTA-NE reported that Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Victims' Advocate of New Castle, Delaware, disagrees with Andrew Greeley's recommendation for self-policing by priests. She wrote to The Chicago Sun Times, stating simply that "Priests Can't Self-Police." At:,CST-EDT-vox18.article. Sister Turlish ended her comments with:

The bottom line here is that no institution can or should be trusted to police itself. The responsibility to protect the common good belongs to the state.

My Opinion

Relying on my experiences when a lawyer, I remonstrated with Sister Turlish, showing that professional associations do police themselves. Many lawyers have been disbarred and doctors have lost their licenses to practice, because of the work of self-policing committees. My opinion was that professional associations must self-police and should not leave it up to law enforcement agencies and the courts.

The Professor's Opinion

Professor Marci Hamilton, Visiting Professor at Princeton University, is the author of "How to Solve the Appalling Problem of Child Sex Abuse: Why Catholic Priest Andrew Greeley Is Very Wrong to Suggest Church Self-Policing Is the Answer." At: She agrees with Sister Turlis.

Read Them And Think

Please listen to Sister Turlish and Professor Hamilton. Then, put Fr. Greeley and myself off to one side, on what has become the critical issue for the Roman Catholic Church: the inability of hierarchs to do much of anything helpful in bringing predator priests to justice, or in caring for helpless victims. This is a matter of justice. And there can be no justice without accountability.

The Professor's One Change In Public Policy

Professor Marci Hamilton is the best scholar and writer we have on matters of church and state, religion and the rule of law. Her most recent work is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law
(Cambridge University Press 2005) and her next will be published this spring, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge 2008). In her response to Fr. Greeley, Professor Hamilton writes:

Who cares what the Church has to say about child abuse, anyway? You don't see the hierarchy taking any steps to ensure that all children are protected or floating new ideas about how to transform all of society to make this a better place for children. The focus remains where Greeley's is - inside the institution. This navel-gazing is a distraction from the pressing need to protect all children now.

Even if the Church were to take care of every one of its victims perfectly (which will never happen), and were to never permit another child to be abused (ditto), it would have taken care of only a small percentage of the total number of children abused in this country. And even if it screened perfectly every priest on its doorstep, the problem transcends the Church.

Many more children are abused within the home, and plenty are abused in the schools. The breaking news is that there is a growing national grassroots movement for all victims of child sex abuse.

As I've written in previous columns such as this one,* and as I explain in my forthcoming book, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children, there is one change in public policy that will do more to protect children from future abuse and to bring justice to the millions currently suffering outside locked courthouse doors than any other: the simple fix of eliminating the statutes of limitations for child sex abuse.

The Church hierarchy is implacably opposed to such reform. Let me repeat myself - who cares?

*The Philadelphia Grand Jury's Report on Clergy Child Sex Abuse in the City's Archdiocese: A Lesson for All States," September 22, 2005, at:

The Last Six Years

It has been six years since The Boston Globe first exposed the horror of sexual abuse of children by clergy. Six long years of listening to the Episcopal Chant of Sacred Silence, as bishops refused to acknowledge accountability, focusing solely on the institution, heedless of great millstones, repeating three Ds of Dogma, Doctrine, Discipline. Alone, celibately so, in basilicas and chanceries, they wilfully chose to be separate and apart from the people of God, whom they were ordained to serve as the servants of the servants of God.

The people of the Church have sadly grown accustomed to her face in the daily news, gathered each day by Kathy Shaw in the AbuseTracker at Although shocked at first by the Church in court as a litigant, we have fallen into a soporific state over the misuse of our legal system by lawyers defending the Roman Catholic Church. The children, now growing or growing up, suffer still. The Church qua Institution continues as if nothing but a mild disturbance had taken place. While the Church struggles futilely to lift victory out of the black hole of defeat, its way of proceeding is to issue new edicts, exclude anyone who disagrees, or even asks a question, and crack down on dissenters. Hierarchs just do not realize that we have lost respect for their authority.

The Church is no longer as sacramental as it used to be in our youth, some 60 or 70 years ago. It has begun withholding the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. The Sacrament of Reconciliation seems long ago and far away, almost as if it were old-fashioned and out of date. Bishops in hiding rarely come out for Confirmation. Holy Orders, reserved exclusively for male celibates, is denied to women.

Our Church is closing down, clustering parishes, selling off real estate, filing for bankruptcies, hanging around courthouses as parties defendant, and watching the median age of its priests climb higher without enough seminarians to lower that number. The Church has even gone so far as to insult other religions and their churches as neither true nor holy. Its attention is focused on the city-state of the Vatican, where museums glorify a past of Dark and Middle Ages long gone into ancient history. Those who govern cannot come out of that past and are unable to live in the present to make way for any future yet to come.

The fall and decline of Rome and its Catholicism is like the collapse of a once bright and giant star into a white dwarf, after a long life of billions of years. The process is faster than the speed of light, as the dying star vanishes into a black hole. It is happening so rapidly in our own short lifetime, that it cannot be due to the uncovering of the sexual abuse scandal alone. The Church is dying from within due to the abuse of power, absolute power corrupting absolutely. It is as difficult to curb such power, as it is to reverse the plunge of the white dwarf towards the black hole, from which no light can ever glow.

Just One Change for Justice

Some thinkers try to toss off the sexual abuse of minors, whether by clergy or lay from any religion or institution, as merely an aberrant way of life for a very few. Not so. Not so. Those who harm little ones are monsters committing monstrous crimes against humanity. What they have done is not merely an issue for theological disputations of doctrine and dogma or the laying down of stricter discipline. Nor is our demand for accountability just a topic for discussion among reformers seeking change.

We seek justice, but not just as a rebellion against two thousand years of dictatorial governance of an institution claiming to be a Church. We know that the process of justice can begin with one simple change, as Professor Hamilton says: the abolition of statutes of limitations which bar accountability. With justice comes the healing of those abused and also a change in governance, so the institution can once again be Church. The Holy Spirit has the power to resurrect a star from a black hole by granting it light strong enough to overcome astronomical gravitational forces. She can do the same for hierarchs in the black hole of absolute power. We share in such power as the people of God. Those responsible must be held accountable. Those wounded will be healed. The Church can be Church again.

Professor Hamilton, aware that the core issue is that of absolute power, asks, "Who cares what the Church has to say about child abuse, anyway?" In the poem that gives this blog its title, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "Crying What I do is me: for that I came." And then, "I say more: the just man justices. "

After standing to speak truth to power, we will not fall back into our old, familiar posture of silent submission. We are taking take back our Church. Giving heed to professor and poet, we step forward from speaking truth to power to doing what must be done.

  • Let the statutes of limitations be repealed.
  • Let there be accountability.
  • Let there be healing for victims and for Church.

We do not care what the Church has to say about child abuse, anyway, crying What we do is us: for that we came. We say more: the just man justices.


No comments: