The U.S. National Catholic Bishops Council met in Dallas, Texas June 13-15 to try and bring changes to the U.S. Catholic Church that would solve the problem of sexual abuses committed by the hierarchy of the church.
On Tuesday, June 18, upon his return from the National Bishops Council meeting, Bishop Robert Brom of the San Diego Diocese notified the local media of a news conference to be held at the diocesan offices to present his “Pastoral Letter.” This letter would be a reading to the “faithful” and a report on the conference. Bishop Brom would be “Speaking from the Throne.” No questions were permitted, no discussion allowed, the laity had no say, and you were to unquestionably believe every word that the Bishop uttered. Perhaps this was acceptable in the past, but with the recent disclosures of how frequently the bishops and cardinals betrayed their parishioners in order to protect themselves and their fellow priests, this attitude can no longer be tolerated.
The fact that the Bishop would call for a press conference was surprising to the local media. Bishop Brom is well known for his lack of openness to the media. La Prensa San Diego received such an invitation to attend the “press conference.” It was the first such invitation from the Bishop in 12 years.
Aware of the significance of the outcome of the National Bishops conference, La Prensa San Diego was prepared to attend. The Diocesan offices were called and we inquired as to the format of the event. We were informed that the Bishop would read from a prepared script (A Pastoral Letter to the People of God in the Diocese of San Diego). La Prensa San Diego asked if we would be able to question or interview the Bishop. The editor was told that any questions that we wanted answered would have to be submitted 24 hours in advance, and that perhaps the Bishop might answer them. As a matter of professional integrity, we refuse to submit questions in advance to anyone we interview. We seek not standard, canned answers, but truth in any and all statements that are made. We are bound TO SEEK THE TRUTH! It is not within our profession to blindly trust what is said based on faith.
We are appalled that in this time of dire stress for the laity and the hierarchy, that the Bishop would seek to gain credibility for his Pastoral Letter by manipulating the press. Unfortunately, it appears that the Bishops of America are intent on continuing the cover-up, of keeping the laity from participating or engaging in dialogue with them to seek the ANSWERS TO THE VERY SERIOUS PROBLEMS FACING THE CHURCH. Thus, the Bishops render themselves unable to resolve the issues that are tearing apart the church. Change must come.
We repeat, in part, from our editorial of June 14, 2002 as to why the Bishops are incapable of solving the problems facing the North American Catholic Church:
“… the hierarchy has shown an inclination to treat the problem in an episodic manner i.e., to treat the issues in terms of concrete instances and events committed by certain individuals, rather than see it as a systemic breakdown within our church. The mainline media has brought public pressure on the Catholic Church by reporting the stories in an episodic manner. This perspective leads to solutions such as ‘Zero Tolerance,’ wherein individuals are punished, but no changes are made in the Catholic structure to prevent a reoccurrence of the problem.”
However, the issue confronting the church requires a broader context. The issue has to be examined in a thematic frame in order to uncover and eliminate the general, systemic problems that are inherent within the modern day Catholic Church.
A general analysis of what needs to change in order to resolve the problem is required. Punishing the individuals is certainly necessary, but this, alone, will not correct the flaws that have led to the breakdown in the operation of the Church. There are many options that are available, such as allowing priests to marry, making celibacy an option and allowing women to become priests.
The U.S. Bishops do not have the powers vested in them to bring thematic solutions to the problem. This is the province of the Pope. Nothing less than a convocation by the Pope of the body of cardinals and bishops for the purpose of seeking systemic change can provide hope that the Church will institute the structural changes required if the Church is to survive. The Holy See should step in and take action before these self-inflicting wounds destroy all that we hold dear.”