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About the book and author


Catholics at a Crossroads 
Coverup, Crisis, and Cure

by Eileen P. Flynn, Ph.D.

Paraview Press, 2003
ISBN: 1931044465
Current Affairs, 168 pages
Trade paperback, $13.95
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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 action.

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 insufficient.

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 crisis.

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 staffing needs.

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



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