The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Absence of moral authority: The clergy's failures are beyond the shame that they bring down on the church

By Dennis Byrne

March 27, 2006

For many Roman Catholics, the latest round of disclosures about pedophile priests in the Chicago archdiocese is the end of their patience with an institution that is incapable of or unwilling to change.

For other Catholics, it is further confirmation of a sad reality that has frustrated their attempts to wake up a hierarchy that is too deaf, smug or self-serving.

For non-Catholics, the failure to move against men who still victimize children, years after allegations against the clergy became widely known, is as much of a mystery as an outrage.

For Catholics who have tried to deny these sins of their fathers, it's time for them to examine their own consciences.

Here we are, years after church leaders promised reforms, and a new report surfaces accusing the archdiocese of, as the Chicago Tribune put it, "botching" the job of protecting children from clerical pedophiles. The independent and expert report, commissioned by the church (at least give it credit for that, as well as hanging its dirty linen out in public), enumerated shocking failure after failure:

Not watching suspected priests closely enough, not requiring them to report their activities daily, not imposing consequences on priests who fail to report, not adequately training monitors, not being alert to misconduct of seminarians before ordination, insufficiently following up on allegations of misconduct, and so on. Just one incredible example: One accused priest last year took three minors on a Labor Day weekend trip in the absence of another priest assigned to monitor him.

And this: failure to properly inform civil authorities, as the law requires, when the evidence is sufficient to believe a crime may have been committed. Normally, the practices of a religion are beyond fair game for secular columnists. But pedophilia is a criminal offense, and all of us are entitled to wonder why more of these perverts aren't behind bars.

For Catholics, these sins are a direct assault on the community of the faithful called the "mystical body of Christ." This violates Christ's injunction: Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.

Cardinal Francis George is showing proper remorse and seems now to be doing what is necessary. But why should he be believed? How many times does an institution get to say it is sorry before its words have no meaning? The clergy knows what I'm talking about, from administering the sacrament of reconciliation: How many times can a penitent ask for forgiveness for a constantly repeated sin before his sincerity becomes suspect and absolution is withheld?

The recommended reforms are precise, so there can be no more excuses. But they are procedural only; the abuses have been so persistent, it's reasonable to ask if they are the result of something systemic about the church. Here the church must be willing to look at fundamental questions that are empirical, not necessarily theological, in nature: Are clergy more prone to child abuse? Are they more prone to same-sex abuse? Do other denominations have this problem and to what extent? If they don't, is there something specific about the Roman Catholic priesthood that leads to greater incidence of child sexual abuse? Is the something related to the vow of celibacy? Does it have something to do with the priesthood's male-dominated environment? Is it an institutional problem, flowing from the authoritative, hierarchical structure of the church?

The church hierarchy has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that issues of celibacy and female priests have anything to do with these questions. (We're told that "church tradition," not theological certainty, already has provided answers.)

Maybe so, but the lay members of the mystical body of Christ--in the face of such resistance--have a moral obligation of their own to pursue these questions to their logical conclusions.

For the many of us who were born, raised and educated Roman Catholic, the failures of the clergy are beyond the shame they bring down on the church; beyond even the horrible damage they have inflicted on children.

For many of us, it is reminiscent of a church that may have ignored the evils of the Holocaust. This has gone far beyond whether the church effectively adopts some procedural changes recommended by a consultant. It is whether the church still has the moral authority to speak for Christ.

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Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Campaign 2006: Is this all there is?

By Dennis Byrne a Chicago-area writer and consultant

March 20, 2006

If you want to discover how a perfectly healthy pink state turns into a lastingblue one, look no further than Illinois.

For years, Republicans often won statewide and federal elective offices. But thanks to a bungling party "leadership" way out of touch with its constituency, Tuesday's primary election to select a GOP nominee for governor presents voters with indecision, disappointment or disgust. Among the candidates, "I don't know" has made a strong showing.

We columnists have raked this field of candidates to the point of tedium, butwhy not? Why should Republicans be forced to choose among marginal, inexperienced, unqualified or downright deplorable candidates?

State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka is a nice lady, which is exactly what corrupt Illinois government doesn't need right now. I had expected more, but she has done nothing in the campaign to demonstrate that she won't be eaten alive by the greedy pals of both parties who constitute what Tribune columnist John Kass calls the "combine."

Ron Gidwitz, Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside, has been an insider for years, but now vows reform and independence. Judging by his low poll numbers, voters don't buy it, despite an expensive, lengthy TV ad campaign. Sad for him, OK for us.

Conservatives, of course, are engaged in their usual dance of death. They can't agree on a single candidate, so they're forced to choose between two and dilute their strength as a voting bloc. Jim Oberweis, as usual, is running second, but still has the best chance of beating Topinka. For me, he's also best on the issues. Bill Brady, a younger and attractive candidate, can wait
his turn.

Mention must be made of another candidate, the scary Andy Martin (a.k.a. Anthony R. Martin-Trigona), because if I don't he'll probably sue. So, I've mentioned him.

A certain number of dissatisfied Republicans will reject them all and pick up a Democratic primary ballot, motivated by the knowledge that they can get better government by voting for two challengers, Forrest Claypool for Cook County Board president and Edwin Eisendrath for governor. The Claypool vote is especially important because a comatose county Republican Party makes the election of a Democrat nearly certain.

And Republicans in the west suburban 6th Congressional District can do a service by crossing into the Democratic primary to vote for Christine Cegelis, the more likely of two candidates to beat a shameless interloper, Tammy Duckworth. In an incredible act of arrogance, she was imposed on the district by Democratic money man Rahm Emanuel and outsiders who think they know better than the voters who should represent them.

But why should Republicans be forced to play in someone else's sandbox? Why do loyal Republicans have to choose among second stringers? Where are the candidates who stand out because of their superb leadership, integrity, experience and wisdom?

The answer is to be found in a party establishment that is more interested in feathering its nest. The GOP leadership would rather see a Democratic ("someone we can work with") win than an independent Republican.

It wasn't Republican Peter Fitzgerald's conservatism that caused his party's establishment to nix his second term as a U.S. senator. It was his determined independence. He represented his constituents and their interests, and not the interwoven and lucrative interests of Illinois' unitary establishment party. It's why the party opposed him in his 1998 primary race against Loleta Didrickson and tried to undermine his nomination of the fiercely independent Patrick Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney. Peter Fitzgerald, of course, enjoys lasting revenge as Patrick Fitzgerald tracks corruption all the way to the offices of the governor and mayor.

The GOP "leadership" (the ones with the money and power) wants us to believe that they back "moderates" on principle. Hogwash. They don't care about principles, only about keeping power. They'd back Larry, Curly and Moe if they thought they'd win. They need to be reminded that our last Republican senator was a conservative. They'll respond that Fitzgerald "lucked out" because his Democratic opponent was the underqualified and ethically challenged incumbent, Carol Moseley Braun. The GOP establishment will say that the next candidate won't be so lucky in the run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

Oh, no? Independent and conservative Republicans will have a better chance of winning--if they start planning together now--against the most extreme and obnoxious senator of them all, Dick the Lip.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant

E-mail: dennis@dennisbyrne.net

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune