THE CHALLENGE OF THE PENNSYLVANIA GRAND JURY REPORT
Statements from Bishops all over the country will continue flooding Diocesan and local newspapers, expressing their “deep regret” and “overwhelming sorrow” over the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report detailing the sexual abuse of children in the six Roman Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania. Bishop Dewane’s statement of August 17th stated that “the recent revelations of profound evil cause me deep distress.” Sexual abuse is “criminal and evil,” Dewane states, and he goes on to say that some Church Hierarchy “failed to do as they were obligated to do” and it is “utterly appalling and deeply disturbing.”
Bishop Dewane does what he and so many of his brother bishops are expected to do, and what most have done numerous times already: they express outrage and sadness. Surely it is a good thing that any statement is made, but the real challenge is to go beyond the outrage and sadness and address those issues which are at the heart of the problem. Nobody expects any bishop to get up and suggest clerical sexual abuse is a good thing. But to stop with expressions of outrage and not have the courage to go to the root of the problem will leave the Church unchastened and unchanged. Some have suggested that the majority of bishops are happy that the focus is on McCarrick or the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, “because they want to escape scrutiny – real scrutiny – themselves.” An article in the Catholic Herald by Christopher Altieri, posted on the same day as Bishop Dewane’s statement, suggests that the Church’s hierarchy are truly frightened: “The U.S. bishops… are scared – terrified – of losing their power, their privilege, their place. They are unable to countenance the fact that they have squandered and wantonly trifled away the trust of the faithful and cannot earn it again.”
The challenge facing the Church is to take ownership of the problem, something that has seldom been done by any member of the hierarchy. Bishops are quick to express outrage and speak of sympathy for the victims, but they are loath to suggest that the very structure of the Church that they have created and protected is the source of numerous problems presently afflicting the Church. Indeed, it is the very “culture” of the Church which bestows miters on men who should never have been made bishops. It is the culture of the Church which creates arrogant kings, not shepherds, in numerous Dioceses who insulate themselves from any criticism and distance themselves from the very people they are called to shepherd. It is the culture of the Church which enables bishops to point fingers at others while never taking the time to scrutinize their own appalling behavior.
As an example, let us look at our own bishop, Frank Dewane, who has carefully distanced himself from the sexual abuse of minors, but who seems incapable of distancing himself from abusing countless individuals who were entrusted to his care over the last decade. Fr. Christopher was not the first person “abused” by Bishop Dewane, and he surely will not be the last if Bishop Dewane is allowed to remain in his position of Bishop. Virtually from the start of his “reign,” dozens of letters were sent to the Apostolic Nuncio and to Rome, detailing abuses of power by Bishop Dewane. The letters were from priests and lay people, all pleading with the Hierarchy of the Church to stop the abusive behavior of Bishop Dewane. Those letters to Rome over the years have filled files to the point of bursting, all speaking of behavior that is dramatically unlike that of a shepherd. The number of those letters would be even greater were it not for the numerous and expensive confidentiality agreements that are a favorite weapon in Bishop Dewane’s arsenal.
This brings us to the serious challenge that our Church faces in a post-McCarrick world. The issue of episcopal oversight. The countless numbers of people referenced above who wrote letters to Washington and Rome regarding Bishop Dewane’s behavior were all blindly searching for someone to listen to their pleas. Since Rome often feels under no obligation to acknowledge the receipt of letters, most people are unsure whether their letters were even read. Those writing to the Nuncio in Washington received polite responses acknowledging their letters and informing them that the Nuncio’s position is a “diplomatic position,” which has no oversight over local bishops. So where does someone, priest or laity, turn if they have a serious problem with their bishop? There is nowhere to turn!
All of this becomes even more complicated when the customary internal structures of a Diocese are manipulated in such a way that they only exist to further the absolute control and power of the Bishop. What is needed in the Church is some mechanism for genuine episcopal oversight, both locally and globally. Such a mechanism will demand that bishops surrender their “boys’ club” mentality, and open themselves up to the critique’s of their flock and their brother bishops.
As parishes are required to have Finance Councils, so Dioceses should be required to have Presbyteral Councils which exist and operate independently of the Bishop. Diocesan Finance Committees should be structured in such a way that they take advantage of the gifts and talents of lay people as well as clergy, and they should not be allowed to consist only of Bishop-appointed members whose sole purpose is to do the bidding of the Bishop, concealing or hiding what the Bishop desires to keep hidden. Those Finance Councils should operate with full transparency, and should be subject to the scrutiny of many. Within the region or statewide, positions need to be created that are easily accessible to anyone with a complaint about their Diocese or Bishop, and they should be staffed by extraordinarily pastoral people, clerical or lay, who can be sensitive to the needs of persons who have been “abused” in any way. To the extent that it is possible, problems or complaints should be resolved in a timely manner so as not to cause further undue pain and suffering.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Church is to create some thorough form of episcopal oversight. It is the lack of any oversight which has enabled Bishop Frank Dewane to cause so much pain and suffering to countless individuals, including Fr. Christopher. Bishop Dewane has also caused unnecessary pain and upset to dozens of parishes throughout the Diocese. He has clearly demonstrated that he is unfit to be a Bishop, and as painful as it could be for the greater Church to admit that his appointment was a mistake, it should remove Bishop Dewane as Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida for the spiritual welfare of the flock. Bishop Dewane, in his own words, “has failed to do as he was obligated to do.”
“The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley recently stated. “Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us.” Restore our trust! Be deserving of our respect! Do what is right for the Church, St. Isabel Parish, and Fr. Christopher Senk, and remove Bishop Frank J. Dewane as Bishop of Venice!