Dallas Meeting

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

May 1, 2002



            The meeting of the Cardinals in Rome in April failed to assuage the anger at the Church or to heal the hurt of the current clergy scandal. The bishops will have one more chance to set things right at their June meeting in Dallas.

Their response in Dallas will probably include a national policy on child abuse.  But their response there must go beyond a policy statement.  They will need to demonstrate that they have heard and understand the anger and pain of the victims.

We do not need the response of lawyers or corporate executives.  We need the response of pastors.  For what it is worth, I have a few suggestions.

If they call us “Father,” act like fathers.

            A good father of a family protects the children.

            One father in my parish said, “These priests and bishops are all worried about reporting this stuff to the police.  If anybody ever did that to my kids, they better hope that the police get to them before I do.” 

            We need to have that same sense of outrage and a desire to protect our children.

Acting like fathers means we should not use every legal technicality to avoid liability.  It means not shifting the blame for what went wrong in the family to the children.  Being a father means worrying less about money and more about healing.  When a father has an injured child he does not count the cost of the healing.

Listen to the victims.

The agenda needs some forum for the victims of clergy child abuse to be heard.

These people have good reason to be angry.  Sexual abuse of children has horrible consequences.  It can cause severe depression, sexual dysfunction, drug and alcohol addiction, sleeplessness, nightmares, despair, and even suicide.

 As part of their meeting in Dallas, the bishops could hold a public penance service.  They could assemble in the Cathedral.   They should sit in the pews.  The victims, from around the country, could address bishops.

Such a public airing of the effects of sin would have a cleansing effect.  Perhaps victims would feel that they had finally been heard.  Perhaps these listening sessions could be repeated in each diocese with priests in the pews listening to the victims.

Be sacramental.

            We should draw on our tradition of sacramental signs.

            Perhaps at the end of the listening session in the Cathedral, the bishops could admit their collective guilt.  They could then come forward and symbolically ask the victims for some sign of forgiveness.  This action could be repeated with priests in cathedrals around the country.

            Our Church’s greatest strength is its sacramental sense.

            Bishops and priests with their heads bowed in penance in front of the victims would speak much more powerfully than any 10,000-word document.  It takes humility but it would show our faith in the power of forgiveness.

            Be prophetic in tone.

            How would Amos, Micah or John the Baptist respond to this scandal?  What would the Jesus who chased the money changers from the temple do in this case?  

            If we are really angry about the injury done to the children of the Church, we should be no less forceful than the Lord, who said that anyone who gave scandal to children would be better off if a millstone was tied around his neck and he was cast into the sea.   

Talk to the whole church.

            Clericalism is dead.  This crisis concerns the whole Church, not just priests and bishops.  Any statement should be addressed to the whole Church, indeed to the whole society, not just to bishops and priests.

The meeting in Dallas in June will be the last chance to heal the damage of this scandal.    What is at stake is much more than an institution.  What is at stake is our family of faith.