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Will bishops address sexual abuse scandal?

Archbishop William E. Lori has a bully pulpit in the Catholic Church and easy access to one in the public media (“Baltimore archbishop outlines path toward reform and renewal in the Catholic Church,” Nov. 9). Victims of clerical sexual abuse have neither. It would be more helpful and healing if they had the space to inform bishops what needs to be done and by when. Powerless, they have to beg to be heard in limited venues.

Sadly, his is a promotional piece of what is going to be done — yet again! The sex abuse scandal has been in public view for over 30 years. How much time do bishops need to get it right? The bishop’s playbook is that they didn’t understand pedophilia and relied on therapists to determine whether priest predators would be recidivists while moving them from parish to parish without informing parishioners or the public. Priest predators are a threat to American society altogether. Bishops, not informing the public, providing anonymity, allowed them to prowl without restraint.

Archbishop Lori acknowledges Catholic bishops are convening in Baltimore for “discussions about the relevance and impact of Catholic faith in American society.” Unfortunately, Catholic bishops failed American society in looking first to Canon law rather than American law. What they should have known clearly is that raping a child is a violation of American law. This is culpable ignorance on their part for which they did not take responsibility and American law needs to hold them accountable.

Catholics historically have been the object of discrimination because they were perceived having allegiance first to a foreign power in Vatican City. Archbishop Lori would substantiate this claim as he recently declared, “I thought if I committed a crime against a young person or in any serious way violated my responsibilities that the Holy See would step in and take me out of office.” First, he defaults to the Holy See to decide if in violation of U.S. law, relinquishing personal and civic responsibility. Even more troubling, his statement reveals following American law does not take priority. Bishops look first to adhere to the Vatican’s Canon law. He is not singular.

When the bishops passed the 2002 Dallas Charter they exempted themselves from “zero tolerance,’ noting “they weren’t trying to escape responsibility. They just assumed that the Vatican would punish bishops for serious transgressions.” Putting Canon law first before American law impacted the vulnerable of American society.

The clerical sex abuse crisis has caused the pope’s approval rating to plummet with growing skepticism of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical malfeasance within American society. And the hemorrhaging of members lies primarily at their thrones. Archbishop Lori is at the vanguard of the hierarchy’s “Fortnight for Freedom,” a response to a perceived government attack on religious liberty. Would that he galvanized an end to statutes of limitations against child sexual abuse!

Any substantial change must first be submitted to the Vatican where “zero tolerance” was recently rejected. Now the eleventh hour intervention by the pope not to vote on bishops’ accountability with his nuncio charging “the responsibility of the bishops of this Catholic Church is ours” hamstrings the bishops. They now cannot can’t even submit proposals, nor independently determine how to make prelates accountable to American law first. Bishops are left to rearrange deck chairs of the barque of Peter.

Emmett Coyne, Manchester, N.H.

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