Another man the church may want to protect is President Bush, who seems more interested in Catholic voters these days than in Catholic victims. When Bush went to Rome last month, he brought along a Virgin Mary medallion for the pope, but did not publicly insist that U.S. bishops comply with sex crime prosecutors. Nor did he repeat his spurned invitation for the pope to visit Ground Zero (God forbid John Paul should have to face a crowd of angry American sex-abuse victims).
More than anything, the church seems to want to hide the scope and value of its institutional power. Even corporations are subject to scrutiny by board members and the SEC, but the pope enjoys a kind of autonomy that American CEOs would die for. Since 1929, the Vatican has been recognized as a sovereign nation, which means the pope and his circle are immune from legal claims filed in this country. (So far, anyway.) As further protection, the U.S. Catholic Church has set up parishes as individual corporations, which prevents dioceses from being sued. Civiltà Cattolica recently put forth the argument that bishops are not morally or legally responsible for the crimes of the priests who report to them. With all these built-in dodges, how can the new Dallas policy be anything but a simulacrum of accountability?
If the U.S. bishops want better PR, their first step should be to stop demonizing the media. Then, tell the truth about the abusive priests and let the victims do the same. Finally, start looking for a new pope who will give priests more sexual freedom and end the culture of secrecy. As Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."