Immoral authority

The Roman Catholic Church in America is currently embroiled in the most ominous crisis of its existence. Hardly a day goes by without new, startling revelations regarding the sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests, including 14 priests of the Sacramento Diocese. Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento believes it’s now time to move forward so that everyone who has been touched by the scandal can begin the healing process.

To that end, Weigand, along with more than 200 bishops representing dioceses across the country, attended the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops June 13-15 in Dallas to hammer out a new policy on the sexual abuse. While the policy arrived at by the bishops stops short of the “zero tolerance” sought by victims’ advocates, it was a first step in addressing this issue, and the Church leadership, Weigand included, is to be commended.

However, as much as healing is required for both the victims and the priests, we find Weigand’s call to move forward a bit premature, particularly in light of the Catholic leadership’s continuing denial of its complicity in this travesty. For example, Weigand’s recent op-ed in the Sacramento Bee was a masterful piece of Orwellian double-speak, obfuscating the primary reason the Church is enduring its present crisis, a failed policy that used the Church’s moral authority and enormous financial resources to hide hundreds of abusive priests and pay millions in hush money to their victims.

In the dark cloud that has descended upon American Catholicism, Weigand has somehow found a silver lining for all of us, writing that the current abuse scandal has brought “a new awareness by all of society of the need to fight the scourge of child abuse,” taking credit where no credit is due, as if the brutal rape-murders of Polly Klaas and Megan Kanka, which brought unprecedented public and legislative attention to the issue during the past decade, had never happened.

Moreover, Weigand played what is turning out to be the Church’s latest hand in its bid to retain its moral authority: When in doubt, blame the media. “[T]he secular media don’t get every single fact right or omit fact, with the result being a less-than-balanced story,” he writes, neglecting to mention that Church leadership could have come clean decades ago and avoided the extensive media exposure. The same “blame the media” tone is struck in the latest issue of The Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Sacramento Diocese that lists Weigand as its publisher, with an article, “News media makes 10 big mistakes.”

It’s this sort of blaming the messenger and muddling that causes us to question the sincerity of Catholic leadership. That is why Weigand’s call to move forward is premature. It’s not time to move forward. It’s time to get to the bottom of this, once and for all. Then, and only then, can the healing really begin.