At the sexual abuse trial in Philadelphia yesterday, counsel for the defense contended that Msgr. William J. Lynn, whose job it was to oversee the archdiocese's 800 priests, should not be held responsible for covering up abuse cases because his boss, the late Anthony Bevilacqua, was the "puppet master." Meanwhile, at the sexual abuse hearing in Kansas City yesterday, counsel for the defense sought dismissal of the coverup indictment of Bishop Robert Finn on the grounds that Finn wasn't the "designated reporter."
Lawyers do what lawyers are paid to do, of course, and in these cases it is to get their clients off the criminal hook. But it's hard to imagine a better way to drive Catholics further away from the church than by such denials and shifting of responsibility. Sure, over the past decade many apologies have been made and new rules and vetting procedures put in place. What's clear from Philadelphia and Kansas City, however, is that when push comes to shove, the apologies can turn out to be lip service and the rules are honored in the breach.
If the powers-that-be were really serious--and I'm thinking about the Vatican here--bishops would be ordered to report any suspicion of abusive behavior by a priest to the civil authorities automatically, and with as much dispatch as they would expect from, say, public school officials. And bishops who failed to do so would be cashiered--just as they would expect, say, public school officials to be. That would impress the wavering faithful, and maybe even keep them in the fold. But I'm not holding my breath.