Philadelphia Story

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reactor.jpgcathedral.jpgCompared to what’s happening at the Fukushima Daiichi complex it may not amount to much, but the meltdown of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is still pretty toxic. Yesterday was the first court appearance of three priests and a schoolteacher charged with raping boys in the 1990s. Plus big fish Monsignor William Lynn, the secretary for clergy under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who has become the first ranking American church official to be criminally charged with covering up sexual abuse by a priest since the abuse scandal broke out in Louisiana a quarter-century ago.

Meanwhile, Rocco reports that the laity, voting with its feet, stayed away in droves from last Friday’s annual penitential service at the cathedral. And the man in charge, Cardinal Justin Rigali, began a round of meetings with his priests, an historically docile crowd who are now off the reservation big time.

Simply put, Rigali and company are now revealed to have flouted the zero tolerance policy adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002 and approved by the Vatican. A year later, they even cooked up a form for those reporting cases of sex abuse to sign, to prohibit the archdiocese from reporting such abuse to law enforcement. Now, wasn’t that special?

Under the circumstances, you’d think that the USCCB might perceive a need to issue some kind of judgment on the situation. After all, the revelation that zero tolerance didn’t mean anything in one of the nation’s largest archdioceses tends to raise questions about how things are being handled elsewhere. So far, however, there’s been nary a peep out of the organization or its usually garrulous new president, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Yes, here and there a bishop has publicly vouchsafed that he is troubled, disturbed, or embarrassed by what’s happened in Philly. But the rest of them are apparently crouched under their desks, praying that the thing gets resolved before their next semiannual meeting in June.

Which brings us to His Tarnished Eminence, Cardinal Rigali. He’s a big inside player in Rome, sitting with that other Tarnished Eminence, Cardinal Bernard Law, on the Vatican congregation charged with overseeing the Church’s bishops. As Juvenal asked, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Fortunately for him, Rigali happens to be 75 years old, which means he’s already sent in a letter of resignation to his boss–who, I’m willing to bet, will allow him to twist for a few more weeks and then announce that the resignation has been accepted. A new archbishop will be appointed to deal with the mess (not that the American bench has a lot of clean-up artists like Sean O’Malley), and the powers-that-be will pretend that the criminal and civil cases now only have to do with the way things used to be.

You wonder how much tolerance the people in Philly’s pews will have for that scenario. Maybe zero?