Chapter Twenty-One: Conclusion

"…Bishop Dupre … is not an evil man. He is being forced, I believe, to do evil things…"

[Scahill Deposition, Oct. 29, 2003]

Separating the sinner from the sin is just as important today as it was in late 2003, when the sexual abuse crisis in the Diocese of Springfield was coming to a head. We want to believe that people, including bishops, can change. But, when mistakes are made, there is a thirst for justice which can only be slaked by a day of reckoning. We need to ask: how much has really changed, over the last six years or so?

On its face, the $8.5 million settlement is an attempt to settle, once and for all, sixty year's worth of claims leveled against the personnel of the Diocese of Springfield. "Settle" means to fix or resolve conclusively. This suggests finality, if not an outright absolution. So, does the settlement fit this definition?

I believe it does, in the legal sense. There are unlikely to be further court proceedings from the 46 who settled in 2004, or the 59 who settled in 2008. And, if the claims against employees are resolved, any reservations about supervisors become moot, because there is no one to press the claims and no way to prove them.

However, there's an aspect which I believe the settlements do not address. And that, perhaps surprisingly, is the moral one.

The Diocese would like us to believe that this satisfactory conclusion in the legal arena carries with it a moral stamp of approval. And we know this from their press releases and editorials. For example, on July 2, 2008, Attorney John Egan claimed that the settlement proved the innocence of the Diocese, once and for all. A church editorial on July 11 asserted that mediation was the best available method to achieve justice.

Again, on Nov. 27, when the arbitration awards were finalized, Egan stated that full participation was a tribute to the fairness of the process. And, Bishop McDonnell said that the diocese reached out to victims from a sense of moral responsibility. Clearly, the settlement is believed by the Diocese to carry highly moral overtones.

I disagree with these assessments because I don't think they are supported by the facts. Two themes stand out: policy, and money.

From the beginning, the policy of the Springfield Diocese toward sexual abuse allegations has not been shaped by justice, fairness, or a sense of responsibility. The policy has been to avoid them, to flee them, and when cornered, to fight them. A review of the record (close to 100 news articles and over 100 legal papers over the last 10 years or so) shows this without question.

The subtext of the church's declarations is that since the victims have what they want – money – the problem is solved. But, when you look at what victims actually asked for, you find that money was the least of it.

Instead, they wanted compassion and understanding. They wanted the perpetrators removed from our midst, quickly. Accountability to this degree never happened, and it remains elusive. The implications of this failure are not clear. But, it is clear that we cannot ignore it.

As we've discussed, the Diocese of Springfield is really two things. The canonical one is a particular church founded in 1870, and the legal one is a corporation sole created in 1898. This composite is not easily described. Every analogy falls short, but this one conveys some truth:

For convenience and protection, the Diocese of Springfield wears a suit of armor (corporation sole). But, the canonical Diocese of Springfield is the beating heart within the body.

The pre-trial hearings of the insurance dispute confirmed beyond any question that church officials must uphold the law of the land while operating under corporation sole. They are not allowed a pass. This gives us a starting point for the difference between the canonical Diocese and the legal one.

But, this very distinction raises concerns: If the civil Diocese, the legal one, has been found accountable – judged to have a moral duty to our fellow citizens – can the canonical Diocese be any less moral than the legal Diocese? Aren't we, the body of Christ and the communion of saints, supposed to reach higher than the civil standard?

Maybe past bishops and their legal advisers put all the eggs into the corporation sole basket with the firm moral conviction that it was the best way to serve the canonical Diocese. One can agree that self-preservation is a powerful and often legitimate motive. But, the legal strategy that works to protect the civil corporation should never be allowed to work against pastoral responsibilities.

When I began this study, I said that "…even when the interests of civil and religious society seem most opposed, the hope and belief is that they can yet be reconciled..…" I still think that. But, I have to admit that I am sobered by the Diocesan attitudes I have identified, and the challenge ahead.

For example, laity and clergy are supposed to be part of the same body and the same family. And yet, chancery officials have never bothered to explain their legal strategy to the laity, much less ask for advice, despite ample opportunity to do so. I find this insensitive, to say the least.

The laity are the loyal faithful who make all the good works of the Diocese possible. What could be more important than consulting with us, and confirming and explaining what the official Diocese is up to?

It seems clear from this study that church officials in Springfield do not encourage expression of ideas within the church. If they did, we would have seen a lively debate about these critical settlement issues in both church and public forums, instead of a moral vacuum in which individual voices (whether from priest or laity) are systematically stifled. From the evidence, the Diocese of Springfield does not just dislike free speech; it hates and fears it.

These ideas are so far from the ideals of Catholicism, and so far tilted toward an unhealthy and outmoded centralization doctrine, that I doubt even Bishop McDonnell would defend them. And yet, it seems from his action (or rather, from his inaction) that he considers control to be more important than communion.

Many more stumbling blocks come from Attorney Egan. He's still fighting the court case, except that the litigation has moved to the court of public opinion. He continues to misrepresent the facts of the case. This may be a justifiable, and even a winning strategy in court. However, in the canonical and moral sense, it is a grave failing. The Diocese deserves better.

We need to solve these problems, because we need to restore the beating heart to the place of honor.

-- the end --