Let’s use our imaginations. A couple of fairy tale characters.
One: A hard-hearted scheming bishop. He hates some of his priests. He wants to see them suffer. So he includes their names in a published list of sex abusers.
Two: A princely, zealous, loving bishop. He longs for the faithful people of his diocese to live in open, pure chastity. Free of sexual abuse.
The princely bishop carefully studies all the clergy files, to determine if any contain information that would help the public. When he finds something against a priest, he gives the accused the chance to answer.
Then he publishes a list. It helps people heal. And it puts fear into the hearts of potential predators.
Trick is: How to tell these two characters apart, in real life? In a fairy tale, the one would wear a black cape and twiddle his fingers together maniacally. The other would look like Tom Brady in a Roman collar.
But we don’t have the luxury of type-casting. Here in the real world, we must seek evidence, in order to distinguish villain from prince.
The bishop of our beloved Diocese of Richmond summoned us priests to a mandatory meeting. Last week, his Vicar-General wrote us:
“Bishop Knestout will provide pastoral resources to assist in responding to questions and concerns relating to the release of a list of the names of priests who have served in our diocese and have a credible and substantiated accusation of sexual abuse of a minor.”
His Excellency himself did not attend the meeting today. Too busy.* He provided us with the “resources” via certain members of his staff.
If you’re like me, dear reader, you would arrive at such a meeting with questions, like:
When will the diocese publish the list?
What information will it include? Just names? Summaries of specific cases? Will any additional documents accompany the publication of the list? Legal proceedings, etc?
Why did His Excellency decide to publish this list? And why now?
Guess what? Nope. No answers to any of these!
Okay. So the prince won’t tell us: when, what, or why. How about: Who or how?
Who exactly is working on the compilation of this list? The Vicar for Priests? No.
Who then? Some skilled people.
Will the diocese’s list include only those clergymen tried and convicted in a court of law (or admittedly guilty)? Or will it include any priest accused by anyone ever? Or is there some clear criterion in between, which will settle the question of what names appear?
Does “sexual abuse of a minor” include “grooming” activities?
Will the diocese’s list correspond to the list already available at bishop-accountability.org?
Have we asked victims whether they want to see this list published?
Actually: Some victims say that publishing lists can help heal souls. Others say that it’s just a publicity stunt that only makes the victims feel worse. Do we have any evidence to go on, to try to settle that dispute?
…Dear reader, you may remember that our Virginia State Attorney General recently opened an investigation into the dioceses of Virginia. And he published a hotline for victims to call.
Has that hotline received calls? A lot of calls? Involving new cases or old ones?
Has the diocese even asked the Attorney General about that?
Answers from the diocese at today’s mandatory priests’ meeting:
…Now, the fact is: good people have already worked hard to give the public a great deal of information about sexual abuses that have occurred in our diocese. The bishop-accountability list I mentioned above has links to newspaper articles. And you can go to the “tapatalk” of the Survivors’ Network, and search the names on the bishop-accountability list. Lots of information.
But information is only as good as the trustworthiness of the person who provides it. Who can we trust? Do we have a supreme judge in our diocese whom we can trust to do the right thing? About criminal violations of the Sixth Commandment?
Forgive me for slipping into cynicism. But the entire exercise of today’s mandatory meeting, and the imminent release of the list–it all seems to me like a smokescreen, intended to divert attention from something else.
Our bishop came to us a year ago. In our cathedral, he sang the praises of his mentor, the prelate who had ordained him to the episcopacy. Donald Card. Wuerl.
Turns out: That mentor has participated in the on-going cover-up of Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians. Turns out that Donald Wuerl lies. Shamelessly. He lied to one of Theodore McCarrick’s victims two weeks ago.
We Catholics desperately want to trust our shepherds. We want to trust that they know what they do. And do it honestly.
But today’s mandatory meeting? I would sin against honesty if I did not report this: It consisted of morale-sapping groupthink propaganda. I left the meeting as dispirited and angry as I have ever been in my life.
This is “transparent?” If so, what does opaque look like?
* Bishop’s brother died today. May he rest in peace.