Weigel on the Report

Papal biographer and syndicated columnist George Weigel used to say that the U.S. bishops' National Review Board “doesn't make much ecclesiological sense.” But now that the board had released its report on sex abuse in the Church, Weigel calls its work “a genuine service to the Church and a potentially crucial step toward authentic Catholic reform.” He gives the following reasons why:

1) Because the report is set within a genuinely Catholic and thoroughly ecclesial framework. The report makes clear that the Church, by the will of Christ, is led by her bishops; that the priest is far more than an ecclesiastical functionary; that celibacy is a great gift to the Church; that Catholic doctrine didn't cause the problems the report addresses but rather the failure to teach and live the truths of Catholic faith caused them; and that what the Church needs is authentically Catholic reform.

2) Because the report squarely faces the two dimensions of the crisis — i.e., sexual misconduct and episcopal misgovernance — and suggests that both aspects of the crisis are reflections of a deeper crisis of fidelity and spirituality.

3) Because the report, rather than calling for “power-sharing,” calls for evangelically and pastorally assertive episcopal leadership, including far more fraternal challenge and correction within the body of bishops.

4) Because the report faces the overwhelmingly homosexual nature of the clerical sexual abuse of minors during the past 50 years without either euphemism or “scapegoating.”

5) Because the report frankly describes the failures of seminaries in the late ‘60s and ’70s, stressing lapses in spiritual and ascetic formation, and thus sets the stage for accelerating the seminary reform already under way.

6) Because the report decries the many occasions on which psychiatric and psychological categories and processes trumped theological categories and available canonical remedies in handling clerical malfeasants.

7) Because the report delicately suggests that “zero tolerance” is too blunt an instrument to be an instrument of genuine justice.

8) Because the report warns against encroachments by the state into internal Church governance while also warning that those encroachments can and will happen if bishops abrogate their responsibilities.

9) Because 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, reasserts the divinely ordered structure of the Church and calls the episcopate to exercise its legitimate authority. In this way, the report implicitly challenges Voice of the Faithful and similar organizations by showing that a diverse group of accomplished lay Catholics can agree on an analysis of the crisis and an agenda of reform that is authentically Catholic, not an exercise in “Catholic lite.”