In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a pledge of accountability and transparency to Catholics everywhere and, most directly, to all of the families and children who had fallen prey to pedophile priests.
John Paul II laid the groundwork for the work of the US Conference in April 2002 with his speech in Rome, in which he said: "People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young."
The Pontiff and the Bishops told us: "Trust us. We will take care of this."
Not a decade has passed, and now it is apparent that our trust has been violated. They did not take care of "it." The Bishops and the new Pope are scrambling to address the grim reality of new revelations of cover-ups of sexual abuse around the world. Sadly, it appears that the new Pope may have been an enabler himself.
You would think that these leaders would be exhausted, if not overwhelmed, by the need for constant prayer and diligence on behalf of thousands of children and families and the perpetrators and enablers in their midst.
And yet, the Pope had time to swing by Portugal at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima recently to denounce as insidious those women who seek abortions and same-sex couples who seek marriage. While he handled the messaging to the world outside the US, the insider lobbyists for our state-side Bishops were able to steal a moment or two in Washington and whack away at the dignity and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and of women who want choice in their lives regarding procreation and giving birth.
These church leaders not only had time away from the child abuse scandals, they had sacks of money with which to lobby. Best estimates are that they spent millions on insider lobbying to try to defeat health care reform in order to compel US citizens to accept their abortion agenda. How much, we will never really know, since churches and their affiliates are exempt from the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995, one of the loopholes in the law that favors religious organizations.
I fear that the U.S. Bishops and the Pope are too distracted to tend to the real insidiousness in our world. Pedophiles go free while Catholic priests are put on trial for disagreeing with the Church's position on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their relationships. Extremist radicals kill doctors who provide abortions, and the church's objection is nary a whisper. Innocent children still line up in Catholic schools and churches where the vetting process for leaders is ill-defined and inconsistently applied. There is much work to do and most of it must start with the Pope.
I doubt His Holiness will tune in to my minor voice, but perhaps I can suggest something U.S. voters can do to increase accountability and transparency for all churches. I have picked on the Catholics today, but there are plenty of other denominations in Washington lobbying about health care reform and abortion and same-sex marriage and Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- both for and against.
I believe that the public has the right to know what every religious denomination spends on lobbying as well as the target of the lobbying efforts. I think we should really evaluate the loophole for churches in the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995.
Allow me to lift up the words of Mercy Sister Sharon Euart, spoken on June 8, 2007 at the annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Los Angeles. She was addressing the issue of child abuse in the Church and said: "Lack of disclosure defies the genuine spirit of openness and transparency about finances, allegations, negotiations and settlements that should be the sine qua non for church leaders."
This sine qua non should apply to other abuses as well -- those directed at women about their choice in child-bearing, and those directed at same-sex couples and individuals who identify as "queer" in a "straight" world. The law should not "hide" the lobbying efforts of those called to heal when they choose to hurt instead.