"Framed Within a Genuinely Catholic and Ecclesial
WASHINGTON, D.C., 1 MARCH 2004 (ZENIT).
George Weigel thinks the U.S.
bishops' National Review Board has turned out a report that is a "real
service to the Church" as Catholics face the question of genuinely
Catholic reform in light of the John Jay study of clerical sexual abuse.
The papal biographer and Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy
Center shared his views with ZENIT in a recent e-mail.
Q: Why do you think the National Review Board's new report is a service to
Weigel: For a number of reasons. First, because it's framed within a
genuinely Catholic and ecclesial sensibility.
The report makes clear that the Church is episcopally led, by the will of
Christ; that the priest is far more than an ecclesiastical functionary;
that celibacy is a great gift to the Church; that Catholic doctrine isn't
and hasn't been the problem, but rather the failure to teach and live the
truths of faith; and that what is needed in the Church is authentically
turning the Church into something it isn't.
The report also squarely faces the two dimensions of the crisis
that is, sexual misconduct and episcopal misgovernance
proposes that both of these aspects of the crisis are reflections of a
deeper crisis of fidelity and spirituality.
Third, the report, rather than calling for "power-sharing," calls for far
more assertive episcopal leadership, including far more fraternal
challenge and correction within the body of bishops
thus recognizing that the "overseers"
original Greek meaning of "episkopos," or "bishop"
must be their own "overseers."
Fourth, the report acknowledges the overwhelmingly homosexual nature of
the clerical sexual abuse of minors over the past 50 years, without using
clinical terms that can serve as evasions
in a sober way that cannot be reasonably interpreted as "scapegoating" or
Fifth, the report frankly describes the massive failures of seminaries in
the late 1960s and throughout the '70s, stressing failures of spiritual
and ascetic formation, and thus sets the framework for accelerating the
reform of seminaries that's been underway for some time.
Sixth, the report decries the many occasions in which psychiatric and
psychological categories trumped theological categories and available
canonical processes in the way sexual malfeasants were handled.
Seventh, the report delicately suggests that "zero tolerance" is too blunt
an instrument to be an instrument of genuine justice.
Eighth, the report warns against First Amendment encroachments into
internal Church governance that can and will happen when there are
failures of episcopal headship.
Q: What does the report show about the way lay people handled the
responsibilities given them by the bishops?
Weigel: The report demonstrates that lay people can take on a task of
great complexity and delicacy in the Church and do it in such a way that,
for all its legitimate criticism of the hierarchy, in fact reasserts the
divinely ordered structure of the Church and calls the episcopate to a
more assertive exercise of its legitimate authority.
Q: Is this report worth the serious attention of Rome?
Weigel: There are particular recommendations in the report with which it's
entirely possible to disagree
But I think it's very important that people in Rome understand this report
for what it is: a) a very useful contribution in itself, and b) an
implicit challenge to those whose idea of Catholic reform is to turn the
Church into another liberal Protestant denomination.
It's much more important at this stage to concentrate on the many, many
things the NRB got right than to focus immediately on this or that
recommendation which may or may not be imprudent or inappropriate or in
And it wasn't just the report on paper that was impressive; it was the way
the members of the board handled their press conference. Anne Burke, the
board chair, began with a tribute to bishops and priests. Robert Bennett
was thrown a very raw-meat question by a CBS reporter, who asked why, if
the board was so critical of the stewardship of some bishops, it didn't
call for their ouster; to which Bennett replied that that wasn't the
board's job or the laity's job: that was a judgment for the bishops
themselves and for the Holy See.
Q: What's the next step in this process?
Weigel: I hope everyone who cares about authentically Catholic reform in
the Church reads the report and thinks about it seriously. The bishops of
the United States have been given an analysis of the problem
a call for leadership
that should merit their very careful consideration. ZE04030122