Friday, June 20, 2003

E.J. Dionne on This Week in Catholic History

But Keating's resignation reflected his differences with most of the board over strategy. The board is hoping that cooperative bishops will persuade the rest to join them, and it sees public fights with the hierarchy as, for the moment, counterproductive. The board holds a powerful hammer over the bishops: It will produce a report next year, and some board members have made it clear that they will name the noncomplying bishops.

Oddly, Keating's resignation may strengthen the board's hand by making it crucial for the bishops to reaffirm its independence. Precisely because of Keating's credibility with the angriest Catholics, the bishops can ill afford another resignation or more charges of recalcitrance..

But beyond the internal politics is a problem of spiritual leadership. "We're in month 18 of the most serious crisis in the history of the American Catholic Church," says Scott Appleby, a Notre Dame professor of religious history who, along with Steinfels, addressed the bishops last year. "And we have yet to hear from leading figures in the church about how we should make moral, ethical, theological and spiritual sense of what happened.".

Steinfels argues that much of the responsibility for doing this now falls on the lay board: "They have to write a final report that's not just numbers and statistics, but also explains to people why this happened -- and tells the truth." The truth may not protect bishops from lawsuits, but, as the New Testament says, it could make them free..