Wrong guy, wrong place, wrong time

John J. Hopkins May 1, 2010, 10:00am


Set in post World War II Los Angeles - the cinematic Hell Hole of corruption - the movie "True Confessions" is a tale of scandal, official misconduct and eventual redemption, all in the Catholic Church.

Starring heavyweights Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as second generation Irish brothers, one a cop and one a priest, it is not only a murder mystery loosely based on the true case of the "Black Dahlia," the film deals with the seducing effects of power, corruption excused in the name of a higher good, and finally salvation found in the exercise of a "true confession." With excellent supporting work by Burgess Meredith and Charles Durning, it a terrific piece of work, highly recommended if for no other reason as the time capsule of by gone rituals, and it serves as today's movie metaphor.
On the 20th of April, it was announced that the long awaited replacement for the departing Bishop of the Springfield Diocese had been chosen by the Vatican. Unlike our Protestant brethren, those of us who hold the Catholic faith are resigned to be mere spectators when the selection of the clergy is concerned. Such was the case with the new Bishop-Elect, indeed a most ironic title as I did not vote for him nor did any one I know.

Rev. Thomas Paprocki, current Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, is no doubt a scholar, a fine man and a good priest. The problem with his elevation is not the man, but what he represents. At this most precarious hour in Church history, he is the wrong man, wrong place, wrong time.

It is no exaggeration to say that the overwhelming problem still facing the world wide Church is the lingering effect of the clergy abuse scandals. It has drained the resources, the time and most importantly, the credibility of Catholicism.

Used an excuse for the already skeptical and a source of deep embarrassment to the steadfastly faithful, the mistakes made in the initial official reactions are well documented. It is no coincidence that complaints of abuse have largely dealt with the past, as opposed to a present day problem. Contemporary psychological profiling and pre-screenings of Seminarians have been properly mandated and implemented. Despite the changes for the future, the problem endures. It is the reaction that offends and in the case of the Rev. Paprocki, disqualifies.

According to reported accounts, the Bishop-elect, a canon lawyer and civil law school graduate, in 2007 postulated that the litigation spawned by the clergy abuse was "the work of the Devil."

Not the abuse itself, but the search for justice by the victims. He has also reportedly - again undenied by any source - proposed a return to the antiquated and discarded theory of total and blanket immunity for the Church, ignoring guilt or innocence but instead retreating to the Palace where the mob of peasants are barred from entering.

I have had some slight dealings with Canon lawyers, and many, many dealings with lawyers from Chicago. Even for such a group, the arrogance of such a position is incredible.

All Catholics are deeply affected by the scandals and the responses by the church leadership. Such reactions reflect upon the heart and soul of laity and clergy alike, setting a tone that will be either healing or antagonistic, productive or destructive. The time has long passed where a defiant defense posture is proper. It is now the time for a Pastoral approach, recognizing the pain that has been inflicted, and seeking in the most Christian of traditions, to soothe rather than inflame, to provide therapy to the victims instead of forcing a repeat of the abuse by litigation.

It is time to establish a mechanism of payment without the Courts, taking a page from the response to the various mass tort claims. An established system which fairly compensates the innocent and identifies the guilty is vastly preferable to the current range of unpredictability. Both sides can take solace in achieving their respective goals, and more importantly, the future is dictated not by resort to lawyer tricks, but a return to the mission upon which the Church was founded.

Everyday, all over the county, over 2.6 million students are educated in Catholic schools, at cost of over $10 billion. This saves the beleaguered American taxpayer more than $18 billion yearly.

The 638 non-profit Catholic hospitals account for 1 in 5 Americans receiving patient care. The status of these institutions and the public good they provide, are threatened by the ominous specter of unrestrained judgments, fueled in part by anti-Catholic bias.

On the other hand a blind eye cannot be turned to the plight of those abused by the very ones entrusted with their spiritual health.

Most importantly, the credibility of the Church, a truly Holy institution and the home of the Vicar of Christ, can be no longer be compromised by rank insensitivity at the top. If Rev. Paprocki views have been properly reported - his silence presumed as confirmation - then a new selection for Bishop must be made.

Changes in approach and reactions, especially the inclusion of the nurturing voice of lay and religious women, needs to implemented. It takes only the courage to step out of the shadows of the past and embrace the sunshine of the future.

Be not afraid.

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