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LA bishops must follow through on disclosure

Now they just have to mean what they say by following through with action.

Louisiana’s Roman Catholic bishops seem poised to implement a ground-breaking policy on dealing with sexual abuse accusations against clergy, religious, and secular employees. The new tack comes in the wake not only of increased national attention to the issue brought by law enforcement investigations in other states, but also with additional revelations in the past month of new abuse claims in Louisiana and of older ones that led to church legal settlements.

In St. Martin Parish, accusers have gone to court over the behavior of one long-time priest. In Orleans Parish, information has come out about a settlement over the behavior of Jesuit High School employees, including priests. In Jefferson Parish, abuse revelations surfaced about a layperson for decades employed as a teacher in New Orleans and River Ridge and who served as a deacon in Metairie.

Perhaps this has compelled Louisiana bishops to contemplate the release of names of credibly accused individuals, according to their de facto leader Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory Aymond. The Most Rev. Aymond has said his counterparts (minus one, with a vacancy in the Diocese of Shreveport) express a willingness to do so, but must work out details to ensure fairness to those accused.

Aymond has stated the dioceses follow the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, put in place nationally after revelations two decades ago – part of which involved immoral activity in a Dallas seminary corrected by now-Bishop of Baton Rouge Michael Duca. But he has faced questions over equivocating implementation of that and related diocesan policies in the recent Jefferson Parish case, and has claimed, because technically Jesuit comes under the overlapping jurisdiction of the Society of Jesus Central and Southern Province, in the Jesuit case he had no knowledge of that and, by implication, no responsibility.

That’s not good enough. By canon law, bishops have responsibility over education of the Catholic faithful, so it’s Aymond’s fault if he does not take an active interest in what occurs at Jesuit – or, for example, if the incoming bishop of Shreveport doesn’t actively oversee affairs at Monroe’s St. Frederick High School.

This avoidance also seeps into his comments about how the scandals have transpired. Aymond correctly notes that the behavior has dropped off sharply in the past two decades. The positive trend has come about because of efforts like Duca’s to reverse perverse cultures of “pink palace” seminaries that had become all too common in the post-Vatican II era.

But the problem today is too often the failure to admit mistakes made through insufficient corrective actions and the full disclosure that requires. This has been hampered by the legacy of the pink palaces, producing a “lavender Mafia” whose graduates came to inhabit some top positions in the church hierarchy – as the revealed through scandals perpetrated by the likes of former Archbishop Rembert Weakland and former Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who looked the other way regarding homosexual relations, and even excused pederasty, within the priesthood (besides their own homosexual liaisons and instances of sexual abuse).

Aymond trotted out some familiar excuses for past inaction, such as thinking that therapy could subdue deviant behavior. But as over 80 percent of such cases involved homosexual activity – deemed immoral by the Church’s own dogma – that should have sounded a claxon to discipline immediately instead of inconsistently applying “therapy” and shuttling around the miscreants. Unfortunately, sins of pride, if not outright complicity in some cases, hampered Church leaders from doing the right thing.

That’s why Catholics are upset and angry over all of this. To overcome this past blindness, Louisiana’s bishops must accept nothing less than rigid adherence to the charter, which demands immediate disclosure of credible cases, and full disclosure of all past credible incidences, no matter how embarrassingly and poorly it may reflect on the Church’s leadership. Louisiana Catholics need to have confidence in their spiritual leaders, and only this course will provide that.

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