by Eileen P. Flynn, Ph.D.
|Paraview Press, 2003
Current Affairs, 168 pages
Trade paperback, $13.95
Excerpt from Catholics at a Crossroads
Few people are happy with the contemporary Catholic Church. Priests,
bishops, cardinals, and the pope may seem tranquil on the outside,
but they are crying on the inside. Progressives are unhappy about
the way the reform-minded agenda of Vatican II has gotten
sidetracked, and conservatives bemoan the disintegration of what
once was a proud, enviable institution. Collectively all Catholics
suffer from shame and the pain of watching the church lose its
credibility and sense of purpose.
The church is supposed to do Christ’s work in the world but today it
is not perceived as a holy sign carrying out that work. It is more
like a holy mess and a wholehearted campaign to recover credibility
is necessary to restore its image.
In view of the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, people
are reluctant to accept the standard excuse that in the past church
leadership did their best to protect children considering the
limited extent of knowledge then available, but, today, given
greater understanding, bishops promise that actions will be
different and children will not be endangered.
Most normal, intelligent people balk at reassigning a multiple
abuser who had committed abuse in more than one parish. They would
see repeated instances of abuse as a signal to exercise caution and
not put children in harm’s way.
Bishops need to stop trying to turn the tables on their critics and
accusing them of bashing the Catholic Church. It is dishonest to
say, "The church is fine but the bigots or sensationalists who do
not like us want to discredit us." People will not be misled by this
explanation. The media and the lawyers are not the problem; the
media and the lawyers have brought the church's problems to light
and we need to acknowledge this. Church hierarchy will not begin to
recover credibility until bishops acknowledge that they have been
egregiously negligent and they are willing to take appropriate
New awareness of cases of priest sex abuse of minors as well as
reassignments for abuser priests led to a consensus for the need to
open this matter to a thorough public airing. People became aware of
the inability of the Catholic hierarchy to administer the church
with credibility and implement defensible staffing policies. There
was no question that priests who sexually molest children are sick
sinners and sick criminals, but bishops who oversee these offender
priests are egregiously negligent and excuses made by them to defend
their lapses of judgment are not acceptable. Saying ‘sorry’ is
The year 2002 was a daunting time for the Catholic Church in the
United States. None of the news was good, and members of the
hierarchy could not deflect horrible publicity. The church was in
As we know, the church is dying, but it will not die. It will either
become more corrupt, become more irrelevant, acquire still more sick
symptoms, or it will turn a corner and begin to experience an
overall improvement in its condition.
Bishops need to admit to victims that they have been terrible
priest-personnel managers and to admit their negligence. At the
least, instances of continued abuse by reassigned priests point to a
serious lack of vigilance on the part of bishops. At worst,
offending priests who were reassigned may provide examples of
complicity by bishops who chose to minimize the horror of sexual
abuse and to disregard the nature of the crime in the interest of
Just as the American hierarchy has been woefully slow to react to
this crisis, so has the response of Rome been deficient. The pope
has been slow even to mention the sex abuse crisis and apparently he
has not come to grips with the underlying causes of the terrible
situation. In this, John Paul II has ignored what has been happening
and has not been a good shepherd.
No longer are Catholics willing to allow their pastors to exercise
unquestioned authority, nor are they susceptible to intimidation by
bishops. Further, the fact that clerics are losing power does not
disturb lay people; instead, they are distressed in knowing how hard
bishops are fighting to hold on to authority, prestige, and control.
The present is a time of transition in which lay people are
beginning to understand that they are entitled to answers and
dependable stewardship from priests and bishops.
If Jesus returned today, would Jesus recognize today’s reeling
church as the instrument destined to bring his message to the ends
of the earth? What would he say to the pope, cardinals, and bishops
about their stewardship?
© Eileen Flynn 2003