Who should take the blame for the Newark priest scandal?

By Scott Alessi| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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After the latest chapter in the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey--which saw a priest who had been ordered by the prosecutor to be kept away from children somehow end up being involved in youth ministry in another diocese--someone had to take the blame. In an editorial last month, Newark, New Jersey's Star-Ledger called for Archbishop John J. Myers to step down after this latest failing. And in a poll today on NJ.com, as of this writing, 89 percent of respondents agree that Myers should resign. So guess who takes the fall?

If you guessed the archbishop, you haven't been paying close attention. Instead of admitting fault and stepping aside, Myers denied that he was to blame and instead pointed the finger at his vicar general, Msgr. John Doran, who has resigned as a result.

Of course, we don't really know how much Myers knew about the actions of Father Michael Fugee, nor do we know how much blame Doran actually deserves for what happened. But Myers has come out and said there are "vulnerabilities in our own systems" and that the failings of the archdiocese need to be addressed. Yet he stops short of admitting these problems--and things like Fugee being given the position of co-director of the office of continuing education and ongoing formation of priests in the Newark archdiocese--happened on his watch. Nor does Myers' account of the shortcomings of their efforts to protect children include even a hint of an apology.

Maybe Myers believes he wasn't to blame for what happened. Maybe he honestly didn't know what Fugee was up to. But as the archbishop, shouldn't he take some measure of responsibility? Don't all of these faults he described ultimately show his own failure as a leader and a shepherd? And wouldn't it be a great act of humility for him to take the blame upon himself, rather than passing it on to a member of his staff?

If Myers were to come forward and resign his post as archbishop, it would be a very powerful statement on the failings of church leaders, even all these years after the church had promised to put new protocols in place to protect children and remove abusive clergy, religious, and lay leaders. But until that happens (and I won't hold my breath), Myers' promises that the archdiocese will try to do better just ring hollow.