What a mea culpa is worth

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Earlier this month, the big dog in the Catholic hierarchy, Tim Dolan of New York, told
NCR’s John Allen that church leaders needed to project a “sense of
contrition” if they are to recover their pre-scandal credibility.

“What we have to do, and the bishops have to lead it, is one big fat mea
culpa,” Dolan said. “We can’t get tired of that, and we have to mean it.”

it’s interesting that it was not Dolan but Sean O’Malley of Boston, the
other American hierarch on the Vatican’s team looking into the Irish
church, who made
the big fat mea culpa two days ago. In a Dublin cathedral, O’Malley and
Diarmuid Martin of Dublin washed and dried the feet of eight victims of
clerical sex abuse. As Martin put it, “”For covering up crimes of
abuse, and by so doing actually causing the
sexual abuse of more children… we ask God’s forgiveness.”

for Dolan, most of what he had to say to Allen had to do with his
grousing that the American bishops went too far in adopting a zero
tolerance policy for priests accused of abuse. It was no longer the
case, he claimed, that the vast majority of accusations are accurate,
implying that he would like to do away with the policy of automatically
suspending a priest when a credible but unsubstantiated allegation is
made. The problem? “[Y]ou can’t remove a guy without people jumping to

So what? If an investigation proves the accusation
false, you put that out there, and lift the suspension, and get on with
business. That’s what you would do with a teacher or a prison guard or
anyone else in a position of authority. Dolan’s complaint shows how
deeply entrenched the clericalist mindset is in the Catholic church. And
why big fat mea culpas won’t do the trick unless there’s credible
evidence that those responsible for the cover-ups have been and will be