If bish­ops fail to re­form church, some­one else will. Hous­ton may be proof

Star-Telegram - - Opinion - BY CYN­THIA M. ALLEN [email protected]­gram.com

This week in Hous­ton, state pros­e­cu­tors in­ves­ti­gat­ing a case of sex­ual abuse by a Catholic priest searched the of­fices of the lo­cal arch­dio­cese. They were seek­ing em­ploy­ment and dis­ci­plinary records for Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who stands ac­cused by two peo­ple of fondling them two decades ago when they were teenagers.

“This is not a search war­rant against the Catholic Church,” said Mont­gomery County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Brett Ligon, who is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The arch­dio­cese says it has been co­op­er­at­ing, and was quick to con­tend that this was not a raid.

But watch­ing footage of gun-tot­ing law en­force­ment of­fi­cers walk in and out of the Arch­dio­cese of Galve­ston-Hous­ton head­quar­ters, it sure felt like one. And even I — some­one who has pre­vi­ously called on sec­u­lar au­thor­i­ties in Texas to in­ves­ti­gate the Catholic Church, as sev­eral states are al­ready do­ing — felt un­easy and heart­bro­ken watch­ing it.

This is not what so many Catholics want for their church. But it is what decades of fail­ure and ap­a­thy by Church lead­er­ship has come to.

The Catholic Church in Amer­ica is still in the thick of a ma­jor sex­ual abuse scan­dal — the se­cond in as many decades. Like the cri­sis of the early 2000s, this scan­dal in­volves malfea­sance within the ranks — not just abuse by priests, but cover-ups, and much worse: the con­tin­ued pro­mo­tions of known preda­tors.

A meet­ing ear­lier this month of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, the gov­ern­ing body of the Amer­i­can Catholic Church, was sup­posed to have ad­dressed all of this. In­deed, faith­ful around the coun­try were await­ing the bish­ops to agree upon and be­gin im­ple­ment­ing con­crete so­lu­tions that would ad­dress the rot in the Church hier­ar­chy.

But an eleventh-hour direc­tive from Rome, in­struct­ing the bish­ops to de­lay any con­sid­er­a­tion of two pro­pos­als that would have formed the Amer­i­can Church’s sub­stan­tive re­sponse to the cri­sis, abruptly aborted any at­tempt at re­form. The Vat­i­can, it seemed, re­served the right to ad­dress the sex­ual abuse cri­sis at its own synod next year, as per­haps it should; but should that be mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive of the U.S. bish­ops’ ef­forts to take ac­tion now? I think not.

And so the USCCB meet­ing lost its rea­son for be­ing and de­volved into a hap­less event — a lot of sound and fury sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing. Or as Fort Worth Bishop Michael Ol­son aptly summed it all up, com­plain­ing about the body’s fail­ure even to pass a res­o­lu­tion urg­ing the Vat­i­can to re­lease doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lated to the Car­di­nal Theodore McCar­rick in­ves­ti­ga­tion: it “ap­pears like we’re do­ing some­thing when in fact we’re not.”

In a sense, the de­bate over how to re­form the Church is not un­like our na­tional de­bate about im­mi­gra­tion — which, al­lowed to fes­ter for too long, gave rise to Trump- like pop­ulism. When re­spon­si­ble lead­ers fail to ad­dress an is­sue, even­tu­ally less re­spon­si­ble ones arise who do.

To date, at least seven states’ at­tor­neys gen­eral have opened crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Church. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Penn­syl­va­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral, con­cluded over the sum­mer, es­sen­tially forced into re­tire­ment one of the most pow­er­ful Car­di­nals in the United States: the Arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Don­ald Weurl, for­merly the Bishop of Pitts­burgh.

Many faith­ful Catholics worry about what hap­pens when sec­u­lar au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gate the Church. I worry, too.

And many lead­ers in the Catholic Church, in­clud­ing Ol­son, have taken tan­gi­ble steps (and com­men­su­rate ac­tions) to com­bat abuse.

For their part, all of the Texas bish­ops have agreed to make pub­lic a com­pre­hen­sive list of priests who have been “cred­i­bly ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing mi­nors by the end of this com­ing Jan­uary.”

These ef­forts at re­form de­serve recog­ni­tion.

But for a church in cri­sis, it will hardly be enough.

Make no mis­take: If the Vat­i­can and U.S. bish­ops don’t act to fix this, some­one else will. And they may not like the so­lu­tions.

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