By Phil Lawler | February 01, 2013 4:38 PM
Electrifying? Yes. Exhilarating? That too. But above all encouraging. ”Finally!” I shouted to myself when I heard the news from Los Angeles. For more than a decade, since the explosion of the sex-abuse crisis, American Catholic bishops have been issuing apologies, promising changes, instituting procedures—but never directly acknowledging the damage done to their credibility by their own negligence and malfeasance. The Church was badly damaged by revelations that priests had molested young men, but far more seriously damaged by the revelations that bishops had protected the molesters. The bishops had apologized repeatedly for the former, but not the latter. The American hierarchy had implemented policy after policy to address the problems created by predatory priests, but never taken a step to address the wider problems caused by negligent bishops. Until now.Now at last—a decade overdue, but better late than never—we have the first clear public example of fraternal correction. One prelate has held another to account. This is the Year of Faith, and the Holy Father has emphasized the need for preaching the essentials of Christian doctrine. But preaching and evangelization require credible witnesses. A Church leader who has dissembled, who has sheltered criminals, who has abided with iniquity, can never be accepted as a credible witness or respected as a moral guide. Archbishop Gomez has not suspended Cardinal Mahony, nor banned him from ministry. (He does not have the authority to do so.) But he has indicated that with the latest revelations about his handling of sex-abuse complaints, the cardinal’s standing is so badly damaged that he can no longer function as a public representative of the Los Angeles archdiocese. The archbishop’s decisive statement is encouraging in itself, but there is another reason to see it as a sign of more good things to come. It is difficult to imagine that Archbishop Gomez could have taken such a dramatic step without first consulting with Rome. So we can safely infer that Pope Benedict—who has taken a tough line on sexual abuse since the beginning of his pontificate—supported the action. We might even hope to see other bishops making similar announcements. Finally, a much-needed reform is underway.