Random and incoherent mulling about the Norms

A friend of mine tells a story about the gay 30 year old guy in his neighborhood who came on to him when he was a minor. The guy showed up in his basement during a party at the neighbor’s and did the “I’m an expert in muscle therapy” schtick, offering to rub his neck. My friend thought it was weird, but being a kid, thought he should be polite and not be confrontational. So the guy rubbed his neck. Then he made his move and tried to get my friend to lie down and let him do a backrub. My friend balked and told him to leave. He did. Then my friend told his parents.

My friend’s question is: why aren’t more families going to the cops about abuse? I think I know part of the answer. Kids (especially younger ones) are ordered by the abuser to keep quiet and they comply. In such cases, unless there is another witness (and this does happen occasionally, to the everlasting shame of silent priests who know but don’t talk), then there’s no way for anybody to know. But in cases where the kid does talk, it’s gonna come out to the parents before it comes out to the bishop. The bishop will know because the parents tell him. So my basic question is, “Why wait for the bishop to do something? Why not just go to the cops?” I sure as hell would if a priest harmed my son. Do the norms make it more or less likely that a bishop would obstruct civil investigation? It appears to me that they are saying the bishop is to cooperate with Caesar as he does his job here, but it appears that Fr. Doyle thinks otherwise. I’m still not clear why he thinks so. Lucidity without polemics, please, if you are inclined to reply here. I’m trying to get clarity, not win an argument.

With respect to lay review boards, I’ve always been ambiguous about them, because at the end of the day, the task of governance falls to the bishop. Complaints that the bishop remains the final voice in governance are, so far as I can see, complaints about the way Jesus chose to constitute the Church. Being the final voice is not the same thing as being the *only* voice, but it is very problematic (I think) for the bishops to have hastily slapped together this National Review Board, because it raises expectations in American hearts that the structure of the Church is going to be “democratized” in a way it can’t ever really be.

Another point which occurs to me as well is that it seems to me to be exceedingly unrealistic to think that our mediocre American episcopacy is going to appoint people to their “Stop Me Before I Misgovern Again” board who are anything besides mediocre. Look at the Board: Clinton’s lawyer (Bennett), another Clinton sycophant and acolyte of partial birth abortion (Panetta). A few other people of dubious fidelity and theological knowledge. Look at the Dallas conference: who did they have address them for theological input? Basically a bunch of people from the dissenting left wing of the Church. Where was George Weigel and other serious Catholics who were a sane voice of rebuke for episcopal misgovernance, but who did not also reject central tenets of Catholic faith and practice?

This peculiar tendency of our bishops to seize on “experts” who dissent from the Church’s teaching is a curious, and apparently long-standing pattern. It concerns me, because this frankly worries me about Fr. Doyle’s recommendations as well. Because, in addition to his very sound pastoral advice and his noble work in the trenches with victims, it seems to me that he too shares an ecclesiology that seems to be uninterested in some fairly important aspects of Catholic teaching that are not negotiable, such as the bishop as the final voice of governance, or the immorality of abortion (if the stuff I’m seeing about his apparent involvement with CTA or CFFC is accurate–and please correct me if I’m wrong.)

So all that leaves me where? Well, I don’t know. I’m pleased that Rome is not being stampeded into giving the American bishops carte blanche to just leave their priests high and dry on the slightest and most unsubstantiated accusation, in order to cover their own sorry asses. I believe, however, that bishops should be *forced* to comply with Caesar when there is reasonable cause to think that a priest is harming a minor. This is not, I think, negotiable. The bishop and the priest is not above the law. Caesar has his proper sphere and when a priest has committed a crime, it is not the bishop’s place to obstruct justice. If there is anything in the new norms that makes that possible or, God forbid, encourages it, then it is wrong. My question is: do the norms do that? I’m not enough of a legal beagle to really know. If Pete Vere or some other canonist can help, I’m all ears. And remember, my friends: Light, not heat, if you’ve a mind to comment here.