US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Sex abuse news gets worse for Mahony

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint |

It should be fairly obvious that there have been few "white hats" in the bishops' response to the sex abuse crisis, but as time goes by, one bishop, retired Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, seems to have no hat at all. Today's story at the National Catholic Reporter, detailing Mahony's rejection of the original forms issued by the John Jay researchers, notes that Mahony objected that the John Jay researchers had no understanding of "ecclesiastical culture"--by which he must have meant the deference expected by local bishops in running "their" dioceses.

We can hope that Mahony's objections, lodged 10 years ago, would not be repeated by current bishops, but recent news about a Joliet priest who had credible accusations of inappropriate behavior with a minor as early as 1986 but was not removed from ministry for a further 20 years, gives one pause. The claim made by Joliet diocesan spokesman James Dwyer that then-Bishop Joseph Imesch "did sit down with [the priest] and tell him sternly, 'This is wrong. You can't do stuff like this,'" is a sign of how out of touch the bishop had become. (The priest in question, William Virture [!!!], had taken a 10-year-old to an abandoned quarry, along with two six packs of beer; when police arrived, he fled, only to be arrested but released after the boy's mother had said she had given permission for Virtue to take the boy swimming. I'm glad the bishop was "stern" in his warning.)

The only true remedy for this intractable problem is the continuing rigid application of norms regarding the reporting of allegations of child sex abuse by clergy--including the use of review boards independent of the bishop--and standards of accountability that include the removal of a bishop from office if he has demonstrably failed in his duty according to those norms. Unfortunately, with convicted Bishop Finn still sitting in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, I doubt that kind of reform is coming soon.