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When the church’s chief interest is self-preservation

When the church’s chief interest is self-preservation

Earlier today, we ran an item on the Church of England apologizing to victims of clergy sex abuse. That issue has also been on the mind of Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, who recently took a hard look at the ways in which Catholic bishops are eroding the credibility of the church.


Bruni characterized a recent warning by Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, that Catholics should “prepare to be shocked” about revelations in his see, as “quaint” and “clueless”. He wrote:

Clueless because Listecki was referring to the rapes and molestations themselves, not to what has ultimately eroded many Catholics’ faith and what continues to be even more galling than the evil that a man — any man, including one in a cassock or collar — can do. I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.

I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.

The Milwaukee documents underscore this, especially in the person of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, previously the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009 and thus one of the characters in the story that the documents tell. Last week’s headlines rightly focused on his part, because he typifies the slippery ways of too many Catholic leaders.

In its handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal, theRoman Catholic Church has generally deserved the opprobrium it has received, but there is warning for every church in these words: “the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance.”

Let’s hope that our church is wise enough to hear them.

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