Friday, June 27, 2003

Interesting words on the perils of clericalism in an Dallas Morning News article

New Mexico Archbishop Michael Sheehan partially blames the Catholic clerical culture for his being buffaloed by the Dallas Diocese's most notorious pedophile priest. "Rudy Kos was my wakeup call," said the archbishop, who was rector of the Irving seminary where Mr. Kos trained in the 1970s. "I learned that you can't just take the priest's word as gospel truth when an accusation is made." It's a lesson some bishops still struggle to absorb, he said, despite the enormity of last year's sex scandals, which have cost more than 400 accused priests and a handful of bishops their ministries. ....

....Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante said that when he was ordained a priest in 1964, he struggled with the special treatment immediately given him by virtue of his position – a favored status he felt he hadn't earned. "To make Holy Orders mean that I'm above others and entitled to special privileges not attached to my call to service is wrong, wrong, wrong," he said. ...

Archbishop Sheehan holds the dubious distinction of having admitted Mr. Kos to an Irving seminary that had previously turned him away. At the time, the archbishop was a Dallas priest serving as the seminary's rector. "That Rudy Kos was ordained a priest, then did all of these terrible things, may have been the saddest part of my priesthood," Archbishop Sheehan said. "I was completely fooled by him." After being duped by Mr. Kos, he said, he developed a "zero tolerance" policy for priests who molest children – long before U.S. bishops made that their national standard. He credits the approach with turning around the Santa Fe Archdiocese, which was awash in pedophile priest scandals when he arrived in 1993. He believes the same approach will work in the Phoenix Diocese, where Bishop Thomas O'Brien resigned last week after being arrested in connection with a hit-and-run fatality, just weeks after admitting to a county prosecutor that he'd shielded abusive priests.

Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, a prelate widely thought to be on the fast track to cardinal, said there was a time when clericalism was a "healthy part" of the church because strict expectations were placed on priests. "The priest was held to accountability by the way he dressed, how he lived and his social life," he said. "You had to wear your clerical collar so people knew you were a priest. It was much like the wedding ring that spouses wear so that everyone knows that they're committed. The Roman collar said that very loudly."

Utah Bishop George Niederauer said that no priest, bishop or deacon is immune to clericalism. It surfaces when clergy see people as existing to serve them. "Jesus calls us to be servant leaders, not self-serving leaders," he said. Defining clericalism is easier than identifying it, many clergy said. Those guilty of the behavior often don't see themselves as purveyors.

The only missing piece in this article regards clerics' knowledge of other clerics' wrongdoing. It claims that clericalism works to blind clerics to the possibility of each others' wrongdoing. Balderdash. Certainly, there are surprises and secrets, but the clericalism we've seen at work in these scandals, and the scandal that makes it, indeed, scandalous, is the fact that known behavior was covered up by both fellow priests and bishops.