Thursday, October 2, 2003

Many Catholic bishops have not learned any lessons from the abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in America. Even worse, it appears that some prelates are escalating use of the camarilla tactics that have brought many dioceses to the brink of financial and moral bankruptcy. According to former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, he resigned in June as head of the review board investigating priestly pederasty partly because he was being personally smeared by high-ranking Catholic officials. This week, Mr. Keating made public that churchmen circulated a letter accusing him of adultery, a charge he insists is a lie.

During his time at the helm of the probe, Mr. Keating, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, maintained that the solution to the Church’s public-relations mess was to clean up moral problems in the clergy — and that widespread abuse in rectories must be treated as a criminal matter. A policy of zero tolerance had to be adopted. Today, he advises the bishops by quoting a 14th-century saint’s admonition to Pope Gregory XI: “Uproot from the garden the stinking weeds full of impurity and avarice and bloated with pride. I mean the evil pastors and administrators who poison and corrupt the garden. Use your authority, you who are in charge.” This message doesn’t sit well with many bishops, or with some of Mr. Keating’s former colleagues on the National Review Board.

What makes the socially conservative Mr. Keating’s forced departure from the panel particularly poignant is that he was replaced as chairman by Justice Ann Burke, who has ties to organizations that dissent from the Catholic Church’s doctrine on social issues. Next month, Justice Burke is speaking at the annual conference of Call to Action, a prominent dissident group which advocates that the Church “re-evaluate its positions on issues like celibacy for priests, the male-only clergy, homosexuality [and] birth control.”

Another one of the speakers at the Call to Action conference, Sister Jeannine Gramick, has been disciplined by the Vatican and ordered not to continue to publicize her pro-homosexual positions. The defensive title of the nun’s presentation is being advertised as “Scapegoating Gay Priests.” As an appointee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Justice Burke’s presence at the Call to Action symposium confers legitimacy on its heterodox agenda — whether or not she shares all of its goals. It encourages trends that helped create the current crisis.

The demolition job on Mr. Keating is the latest sign that U.S. Catholic bishops are not serious about cleaning house. As the former governor writes in the current issue of Crisis magazine: “Beneath the facade there is still a strong current of denial. Some [bishops] say the scandal is blown out of proportion.” One of the symptoms of denial is the unwillingness to go to the heart of the problem and address the growing network of active homosexuals in the priesthood.

Mr. Keating says that Catholics “are tired of being embarrassed by a Roman collar.” This isn’t going to change so long as dissent from Catholic moral teaching is treated as more of a valid reform option than a return to virtue. One of the first lessons young Catholics are taught in Sunday school is that forgiveness can only be gained when contrition is genuine and sinners pledge to amend their ways. Perhaps some in the hierarchy need to bone up on their basic catechism.

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