Justice Anne M Burke
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Good evening. Thank you for that kind introduction and welcome.
I am delighted to be here in Cleveland – a local Church of
deep faith and nobility.
I am honored to have an opportunity to speak in the context of
this forum on Future Church. “Future Church” is a concept
of singular Catholic necessity, born out of those things that always
seem to refine the spirit of the Church – historic adversity,
ecclesial mayhem and the fear that the ground on which we stand
is wearing away.
I hope that everyone here this evening has enough of a grasp of
Catholic history to recognize the fact that we have faced trying
periods of heartbreaking difficulty in the past and survived. The
good thing is that we are always transformed by the process. I
am beginning to think this is how the Spirit of the Lord really
engages the Church.
Forty years ago, the Bishops and theologians gathered at the Second
Vatican Council recognized that the glorious ideas and fresh understandings
that were thick in the Roman air at that time were unleashing a
new era of change – a true revolution of thought. Being so
close to the issues of surrounding this change – whether
that was something about the nature of the Church, or the style
of the liturgy, or our understanding and use of the scriptures,
or the role of the clergy and laity in the Church – I think
their nearness to those issues introduced a certain intellectual
comfort about what change entailed. I am beginning to think that
the real change has taken forty years to surface.
As demonstrable and effective as those intellectual changes were
following Vatican II, I think that when we look at the condition
of the Church today we see the need for a new expression of change,
a further revolution. Given the dire consequences surrounding the
recent scandal involving the sexual abuse of minors by members
of the Catholic clergy, we are just beginning to understand the
need for change on a wide and sustaining basis in our Church. Perhaps
as you reassess the causes that brought about that scandal, and
the institutional ineptitude of Church leadership in covering up
the long list of criminal acts involved, you may agree with me
that change is no longer an intellectual issue, but rather a practical
necessity to prevent future moral, financial and legal destruction
in the Church. If we want our Church to have a future, some things
need to change. I believe that we need a fresh accountability from
the hierarchy in this nation. We need a furthering of their commitment
for transparency, truthfulness and a commitment to the American
legal system. We need a deepening of responsibility of the treasure
of our Church, fiscal accounting about our ecclesial economic future.
What is presently underway in our nation makes any concern for
Social Security pale in comparison. The fallout from issues unearthed
by the abuse scandal will be with us for a long time. We are in
this together, you and I - and the American hierarchy. I think
both our faith, and our human reason, necessitates a new sense
of partnership that can sustain a future for us all.
I will be honest with you. After two-and-a-half years of non-stop
efforts with my colleagues on the National Review Board of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, retirement from that
board has its distinct advantages. Contrary to what you might suspect,
the minutiae of Catholic-centered issues was never my cup-of-tea.
The more distance I get from the nuanced intricacies of ecclesiastical
agendas and Episcopal intrigues, the better I like it. I say that
so you might appreciate my reasons for accepting your invitation.
There is enough going on in my life in Chicago to provide me with
all the drama I need (my husband and I have a nine year old at
home who is a handful and his Third Grade Math is beyond us).
Over the 30-plus months during which I served on the NRB, I expended
far more time than I would have ever dreamt possible working on
the issues pertinent to our board’s investigations and reports.
But after all that time, if I have come away with one clear unequivocal
certainty about the Church in our nation, it is this – the
Church needs to be reborn and it needs the heroic service of the
laity of our nation to do it.
I believe with all my heart that the gut-wrenching issues unearthed
in the scandal around the sexual abuse of minors by members of
the Catholic clergy are just one expression of the need for change.
They are a symptom of larger issues. Issues, I suspect, we all
believe will not go away. So! This is why I have come – to
engage you with these issues. It is worth the trip from Chicago.
It is worth the full force of the journey that discipleship entails.
If I were to write a book about my experiences concerning my
tenure on the NRB, I think I might call the book – Asleep
at the Switch, or maybe, Who’s Running this Joint?
The cataclysmic failure of responsible leadership more than any
other single issue is the real culprit behind this crisis. Of course,
the sexual abuse of minors by adults vowed to protect them is the
civil and canonical crime here, but those awful individual episodes
of abuse would not have continued, for the most part, if worn-out
strategies of self-protection and institutional arrogance had not
first created an environment in which the worst of sins became
indulged for the protection of the institution over the well-being
of the most vulnerable young people in our midst. I do not think
there is any reason to mince words. Bad leadership, institutional
malfeasance and a disjointed understanding of human sexuality all
combined to create a permissive climate in which the intolerant
were tolerant of the unimaginable. It was pervasive. It was ineffective.
It was wrong.
The most serious crisis in the history of American Catholicism
flowed from the top down. It was not a result of permissive thought
on the part of the laity. It was not the product of the errors
of heterodoxy. It was not the product of too much reform. It was
not the failure of the faithful laity to live up to their responsibilities
or commitments. It was the refusal of institutional authority to
act with justice. It was the failure of many bishops to defend
the laity - their families, children and homes. It was the failure
of the hierarchy to know how to act rightly and, ultimately, to
be the stewards they are meant to be.
I say this without prejudice. I have no ax to grind in the affixing
of blame. That day is done. When dioceses are filing for bankruptcy
and church property is at risk because of the hundreds of millions
of dollars spent on legal actions and settlements thus far, the
issues become concrete.
When the details of individual cases of clerical sexual abuse
are examined, as you can imagine, it is a highly emotional experience
for all involved. Dead archbishops can offer a meager defense to
history. Living ones have little ground on which to make a defense.
In the face of the crimes, the cover ups, the humiliation of victims
and their families and the secret negotiations to silence the scandal,
the institutional Church - represented by individual dioceses and
archdioceses – has still come away from the experience un-chastened,
Of course, that is unless they have hundreds of millions of dollars
to pay out, teetering on the edge of financial ruin. Just ask the
people in Los Angeles, Boston, Portland and Tucson; or the Diocese
of Santa Rosa in Orange County. It appears that the human damage
is less easy to understand than the cold reality of financial ruin.
As awful as the effect of this scandal has been to thousands of
families and young people, it is less visually concrete to the
eye than the closure of churches and schools and the wearing away
of the patrimony of hard-working immigrants from the last century
who shaped the physical contours of the Church in the United States.
I would like to believe that the contrite words of present-day
members of the hierarchy are trustworthy when they say they are
dedicated to ensuring that this will never happen again. And I
do believe many of them. But I have also experienced first hand
the Byzantine intrigues of others who, no matter how contrite they
might appear, remain worried that this whole episode should be
done with by now so that they can return to a style of authority
and control that for my money hatched the scandal in the first
The news media, of course, always examined the issue of the scandal
in the context of its sexual nature; but that is only partially
true. It is merely one dimension of it. The sexual issue is easier
to identify, and even change, than the less obtuse nuances of Episcopal
authority, diocesan leadership, the quality of Episcopal appointments,
financial accountability, lay involvement in diocesan affairs,
collaboration of the laity at the local level beyond the rubber
stamp and the real nature of the demoralized state of American
Catholic clergy today.
In addition to everything else, the American clergy is in crisis.
I have always felt compelled to say a special word about the priests
of our nation, the truly good priests, who are also victimized
in this scandal. At best, many of them feel abandoned by their
bishops and misjudged by their people. I have heard many say that
after a lifetime of work and service, they feel despondent over
the shattering of confidence among the laity. Local bishops, I
have been told, are unable in many instances to adequately respond
to the hurt and disillusionment experienced today by many priests.
When was the last time you honestly heard a bishop address the
truth of this issue? What does this tell us about the future of
our Church when our leaders remain in a state of denial? I think
this is an area where, once again, only the laity can restore a
sense of health, dignity and respect. I hope each of you here will
you do something to touch the hearts of these valuable men who
serve in our parishes and other ministries. They need your care.
All of this is a morass out of which, I fear, sometimes, we may
never come. That’s the bad news!
On a more positive note, I also believe, that to even know this
much information is itself a healthy sign of maturity and hope.
Another way I have come to see this is – it’s not the
bishop’s Church; it’s not the laity’s Church;
it’s Christ’s Church. So, there are grounds for hope.
Or as someone else once stated – “If you want God to
laugh, just tell him your plans.”
Now, lest you think I have come away from my experience jaundiced,
cynical or just ready to throw my hands up into the air, let me
spend a moment telling why I think I am still a hopeful American
Catholic – and by that I mean something besides my wild Irish
madness that got me into all of this in the first place.
I do believe that when faced with the trauma of the abuse crisis
back in 2002, the bishops meeting at Dallas did find themselves
at a rare juncture in American Catholic history. And I like to
think that it was one of those moments when people do something
for one reason and set in motion, at the same time, a whole series
of inevitable secondary causations that are really more important.
Let me say something about Dallas. The adoption of the Charter
for the Protection of Children and Youth – a document that
I believe is a cross between the Magna Carter and the Rosetta Stone – did
something that will have consequences for the life of the Church
in our nation for many years to come. By their acceptance of that
Charter, the bishops opened the doors on a fresh spirit of uncompromising
I say it’s a Magna Carter because it truly is a declaration
of liberty for American Catholics; because it is, first and foremost,
a binding agreement for transparency and justice in how the instances
and accusations of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy are to
be dealt with. It catalogues a policy of uniformity for the entire
nation, every diocese and archdiocese.
I am no Church historian, but I learned this much during my tenure,
there are very few nationally binding agreements among the dioceses
of America. Each one – each bishop and diocese- is sacrosanct.
Bishops have always been free to opt in or out of any non-doctrinal
piece of legislation adopted by the bishops’ conference.
There was, however, no opportunity to opt out of the Charter. It
remains binding on every local bishop in the church in our nation.
But let’s be honest. Even as we speak, there are those bishops
who would gladly let this document die a quiet death. This cannot
happen. And it will only happen if you and I permit it to.
I also call the Charter a Rosetta Stone because I believe that
through it we are beginning to come to understand a new way of
communicating within the Church. The minute the Charter was adopted,
it needed the laity to make it real. The bishops alone could not
have brought about either a deeper understanding of the issues
in the sex abuse scandal - specifically what brought it about or
what the full extent of the damage had been. To really get to the
bottom of the causes and context of the scandal, only an independent
group of lay Catholics could have any real credibility. The bishops
may not have wanted us, but they knew that they needed us. And
there are larger lessons to be learned in this.
Our board relied heavily on the Charter for our mandate. It was
the source of our authority to investigate the scandal and hopefully
construct a process through which we could ensure it would never
happen again. In a power structure that was almost exclusively
hierarchical and clerical, the independence of the laity, ironically,
was the last best opportunity of attempting to bring about some
reconciliation in light of the horror of the scandal. I still find
the level of national outrage mind-boggling. When I think that
it ultimately brought about the resignation of Bernard Cardinal
Law of Boston, I think I am still in a state of wonderment.
Ultimately, for me, the true measure of the significance of the
Charter can be found in the work of the NRB. Two remarkable areas
of effort are miraculous as far as I am concerned. First, we interviewed
over a hundred of people across the country in an attempt to discover
how this crisis came about. We spoke to Cardinals, Archbishops,
Bishops, chancery officials, attorneys, victims, victims’ families,
perpetrators, law enforcement officials, and even high ranking
members of the curial congregations of the Holy See.
On a very practical level, we established the Office for Child
and Youth Protection at the USCCB in Washington. We interviewed
extraordinary people to lead it, ultimately selecting Kathleen
McChesney, formerly the number three in leadership at the FBI.
Dr. Kathleen McChesney brought with her into this work the former
FBI Deputy Director of Counter Intelligence, Sheila Horan. Both
Sheila and Kathleen have recently left their posts. A search is
presently underway to fill those posts. They were outstanding professionals
and did not let much get by them. I can only imagine what their
presence was like for some of the un-reconstructed members of the
American hierarchy. It makes you proud to say you’re Irish!
Through Kathleen’s efforts, National Review Board set in
motion a historic first, the first of a series of on-going audits
of every diocese and archdiocese in the nation, measuring the effectiveness
of child protection and safe environments in the local church.
I might add that the audits were conducted by teams drawn from
some 55 former members of the FBI who actually did the interviewing.
I always say, the FBI knows how to ask a question and get an answer.
With the audits now a continuing process, “business-as-usual” will
be harder to bring back in the administration of any diocese. But,
I will have to be honest and say that some bishops are more responsible
than others. Could you even imagine that a small cadre of bishops
was actually conspiring to see to it that the second set of audits
would be done away with before they even began?
Just this past week, I have read the results of the 2004 audit.
And though it was thorough and far reaching, I still have concerns
when I see that dioceses remain slow to act in rectifying areas
of concern unearthed by the audit. In one major Archdiocese, for
instance, the same issues and concerns raised in 2003 appear to
be unmet. Though failing to fully implement a safe environment
program and expedite background checks on clergy from outside dioceses
working in this large Archdiocese, as well as training of local
priests and deacons on issues of safe environment, the local Archbishop
was able to avoid serious chastisement by finally beginning the
necessary process (some two years late) which then permitted him
to get a pass on the violation. He was able to wiggle around the
issue. What does this tell you about his commitment to the spirit
of the national policy?
Late last year, when our board members discovered some chicanery
was afoot among some of the Episcopal enemies of the audits, those
who were attempting to “deep six” the future of the
audits, we had a very frank discussion of nuclear proportions with
USCCB leadership. We drew “public” attention to the
fact that failure to bring about the second series of audits would
be the final nail in the coffin of any trust and credibility the
bishops might still have among the laity. Most bishops were horrified
at the behavior of some of their Episcopal colleagues and saw to
it that the audits went ahead. But you and I know what this kind
of consistent road-blocking means. Perhaps they will be more successful
next time. What can be done? – raise some hell for a start.
Be vigilant. Be outspoken. Demand transparency. Know the Charter.
Another part of our work as a board that without question was
of incalculable significance was the findings of the study that
we commissioned conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice
in New York. This was the first-ever statistical analysis about
the scandal from within the institutional Church. The John Jay
people gathered their own vast collection of data from each diocese;
data I should say had never before been collected on a national
Their study looked at the nature and scope of the scandal and
required detailed interviews of microscopic proportions. We met
with both welcome and reluctance in this endeavor – sometimes
perplexed when we realized we were often running up against the
bad faith of the very people who asked us to take on this responsibility
in the first place.
I say this tonight because I do not want you to think that we
were somehow engaged merely in some intellectual exercise or feel
good Church rehab project.
Quite honestly, I must also say that in the more than two-and-a-half
years that I was involved in the work of the NRB, I have been
transformed. I believe that engaged in the struggle to get to
the bottom of this crisis, I have had a life altering experience. “No
more passive Catholics,” is my mantra now.
When this journey began for me, I had only a very meager acquaintance
with the clergy abuse issue. It was something that, on occasion,
sparked my legal interest – something about a certain case
in the news, or some incident of which others may have spoken.
But, by and large, I had no involvement.
Beginning in June of 2002, however, that all changed for me.
As a result, I think I can say that today, I have come to understand
the Church in a whole new way. I have come see the Church’s
leadership through a new prism. And most importantly, I have come
to a whole new understanding of the critical role that the laity
must play in helping the Church to be all that it can.
During the two-and-a-half years since the Dallas 2002 meeting
of the American bishops, the NRB set out to quickly put in place
the strategic resources necessary to combat the effects of the
abuse tragedy. Among those was to commission a study on the causes
and context for the crisis. For the NRB this meant that we had
to better understand the issue, therefore this meant interviewing
people across the country – victims, perpetrators, bishops,
Archbishops, Cardinals, chancery personnel, experts-in-the-field
and concerned Catholics.
Our three initiatives – the two studies and the establishment of the
Washington office, involved the members of the NRB in very concrete ways. On
one level we had a great deal of personal time with people. We had time to
speak to many members of the hierarchy. We had time to intimately interface
with the institutional Church. We encountered many people of good will, especially
among the hierarchy.
At the same time, we also observed at close hand, the less than
up-front demeanor of others. I witnessed, personally, individual
members of the hierarchy who were angered by our presence, resentful
of our mandate to investigate; and others who were fearful of what
we might discover.
I also came to know Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops who are
deeply grateful for the sacrifice made by each member of the NRB.
Often they were the individuals who felt the deep pain of abuse
victims and grieved at the way in which their predecessors bungled
the incidents of abuse in the past. I encountered holy men, heartsick
at the extensive damage that people have suffered and angered at
the arrogance of those who contributed to the scandal.
One man who has become a symbol to me of how good Episcopal leadership
can be the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, John D’Arcy who
is a leader in the battle to create safe-environments for young
people in the Church. You may not know that Bishop D’Arcy
was a priest and, later, auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of
Boston. And I don’t think I am telling tales out of school
to say that he shined a light over 20 years ago on the scandal
that ultimately erupted in Boston. His concerns went unheeded by
those in power and he eventually watched in horror as all that
he had exposed finally saw the light of day. He is a champion for
justice in my book. And in the Diocese of Fort Wayne South Bend,
he has taken wide leadership in ensuring his diocese is doing every
thing it can to be transparent and responsible. He is a great and
gentle soul and a friend. For me he was a breath of fresh air in
a choking environment, often keeping me from discouragement at
times. I really believe it is important to recognize such essential
I have to say that I also endured the suspicions of some other
bishops, and the downright vengeance of others, who continue to
see leadership in the Church as both exclusively male and clerical.
Ironically, though, some of our biggest critics eventually turned
out to be our staunchest defenders once the results of our data
I would be less than candid if I did not admit how deeply this
experience touched the hearts of each member of the NRB. I am certain
it has left deep fissures on my soul. Like most of life, it was
an opportunity to see great virtue and great sin.
Initially, I must say how uncomfortable the issue of the abuse
itself made me. It was not a subject anyone relished discussing.
It was also too much at times, particularly when we were confronted
with the details of much of the abuse. At moments you doubted your
own sanity, so incongruous did the entire topic of abuse seem in
the context of ministry and the Church.
There was no end of sadness. Pain abounded. But, there were also
expansive expressions of virtue displayed, particularly by lay
Catholics. In the continuing commitment of believers, the true
grace of God could be seen.
But on another level, nothing – and I will say this again
- nothing could have adequately prepared me for the encounter with
the politics of the institutional Church. And I say that having
a husband who has been an elected public official in the Chicago
City Council for the past 36 years. I am no wallflower. I have
been around Chicago politics for a long time. I have known Chicago’s
most colorful politicos, as well as national political leaders
from the White House to the State Department. But the machinations
we encountered in the ecclesiastical version during this period
of fear, perplexity and suspicion were at times medieval.
But, amazingly, on two separate journeys to the Holy See, in meetings
with at least four curial cardinals, an archbishop and several
Monsignori of the very highest level – let me be clear, these
individuals were easy to engage. I found them willing to listen;
sharp-eyed; courteous, deeply concerned; willing to act, and most
of all, open-to what we came to discuss. They were far more open
than some members of the American hierarchy even to this day. I
was recently heartened to learn of the Holy Sees planned visitation
of American seminaries in 2005, a recommendation made by the NRB
in our report.
I speak with interest in the pragmatism of the Curia not to annoy
you, or anger you, but to perhaps give you hope. Maybe it is the
steady diet of pasta “al dente” and good Frascati,
but those curial cardinals we encountered at the Vatican demonstrated
a willingness to confront the scandal and understand it that was
At no time during our work did anyone from Rome attempt to pull
the rug out from under us or attempt any behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
But there were plenty of moments when members of the American hierarchy
were deliberately less than candid about their reactions to our
work. Some, sought to neutralize our efforts, others sought to
disparage us, personally, while others sought to stonewall our
investigations and ensure that our commitment to end “business-as-usual” would
be thwarted at the first opportunity.
So how did we survive? I think the answer is a lot more old-fashioned
than anyone might guess. I believe it was the virtue and valor
of people we encountered that always sustained our hope. And I
also believe that each member of the NRB brought great virtue with
them to the harsh tasks we were given. My colleagues were seasoned
professionals, whether in the White House, the highest levels of
academic life, legal life, judicial life and business life. Each
brought to our work big hearts, redemptive humor, high skills for
organizing and most importantly, an abiding faith and love for
the Church. And at every juncture we reminded ourselves of this.
When confronted by an angry member of the hierarchy or a devious
bureaucrat, a punctilious monsignor, or an incompetent administrator – we
reminded each other for whom our work was being done – the
young people of the Catholic Church. Safe environments and zero
tolerance might sound like buzz words, but for us it was a strategy
rooted in Gospel faith.
I think we not only survived, but we have thrived, the NRB and
the Church. I believe that this two-and-a-half-year process has
been a critical juncture in the life of the laity in America.
None of us deluded ourselves into thinking that we were not being
used to reverse the effects of a grotesque moment of history in
the life of our Church in America. We knew that it was precisely
our personal national reputations that were so appealing and valuable
to the members of the USCCB. And to be blunt, once the studies
and audits were published at the start of 2004, just a year ago,
many bishops appear to have felt that they had successfully dodged
the bullet and they could go back to the way things used to be
--NOT ON YOUR LIFE!
In the final months of my service on the NRB, my colleagues and
I conducted strenuous dialogue with the board of the USCCB. We
could not have been more direct in our criticism and concern that
any return to the procedures of the past would be a national disaster
for Catholics in our nation. I believe that when these concerns
were understood by groups of laity around the country, their reaction
was both emphatic and resolute – things cannot be as they
I hope this is a message that the bishops understand. People will
not tolerate the ineptitude and the criminal behavior that fanned
the flames of this abuse scandal.
In another way, this has been a spiritual journey for me. It
has been my own “call to action,” a reexamination of
the way in which I see myself as a lay Catholic. For me, the days
of passive Catholicism are over. This is not so much a political
reaction as a spiritual reaction. I have seen first hand the disaster
that came about because the hierarchy made decisions affecting
the life of the Church that were not only ill-fated, financially
ruinous and un-Christian, but they were also criminal in their
None of the horror of the scandal would have gone on unchecked,
if the laity had truly a seat at the table. Not only is this a
place denied, it is largely unasked for. The laity need to rethink
It is Baptism that gives us the right and the grace to live out
our discipleship. There are not two Churches, one for the hierarchy
and the other for everyone else. I cannot imagine what is going
through the mind of the Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, having
filed for bankruptcy. And the latest figure placed on the anticipated
financial cost to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is now estimated
to be $1.9 billion. This is beyond anything we could have dreamed
up. The most die-hard, unreconstructed member of the USCCB has
to realize that when you are in jeopardy of loosing your cathedral,
and all your financial resources, it is time to look for a new
way to operate. The old way does not seem to be cost effective
or rational, let alone the loss of reputation and trust with our
clergy. All these legal and financial problems raise serious issues
of civil authorities control over a Diocese. There’s lay
involvement of a new kind.
As sad as this experience has been over the past two-and-a-half-years,
it has also been liberating. As a lifelong Catholic, I know that
I cannot permit the errors of the past to happen again. This is
not peevishness, but grace. This is the life of God working through
us, all of us who are nourished by the sacraments. Is this not
what the sacraments are to do for us, connect us to the life of
Christ in the world? I believe all the sacraments are important,
not just Holy Orders. And while the grace of that sacrament confers
an indelible character, it does not always bring enlightenment.
I introduce the evidence of the last 50 years, the nearly 11,000
recorded instances of the sexual abuse of minors by members of
the Catholic clergy, as “Exhibit A.”
We will get the Church we deserve. But, are we are called to do
great things in the world – feed the hungry, care for the
sick, defend the vulnerable, shelter the homeless and make peace
real. There is no mandate to hide the abuser of minors or keep
him near the defenseless. We will live for the rest of our lives
with the damage from this scandal. But we can also alter the terrain
and wider the opportunities for redemption. We must make room for
everyone at the table and listen to those for whom the light, not
the darkness, is the goal of our journey.
The past two-and-a-half-years have been very spiritual for me.
I am grateful for the opportunity that brought this about. Truth
is always a virtue. And the Church is always cleansed by such virtue
and made strong again by our commitment to the truth.
One hundred sixty years ago, in the tragic aftermath of the American
Civil War, Father Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers
set out to transform the spirit of American Catholicism in a moment
of national brokenness. The mission he set out to accomplish sought
to heal and reconcile America. You may know that he was a convert
to Catholicism. Faith for him was a long journey with many twists
and turns along the road, not just a text with all the right answers.
The impact he struggled to make was among the best and brightest
of his generation of Americans. It was something that he had already
experienced in his own life. He was a gift to the lay Catholics,
especially thinking Catholics.
“The Catholic Church is my star,” Father Hecker wrote, “which
will lead me to my life, my destiny, my purpose.” What more
could any of us ask?
My friends, I believe that the Catholic Church can be a star for
all of us. If I did not I could not stand here tonight and look
you in the eye. If I did not believe that, I could not have endured
the past two-and-a-half-years as a member of the National Review
Board. If I did not believe that the Catholic Church was “my
star,” I am quite certain I would not have consented to get
to the bottom of the most hurtful and disheartening crisis in the
history of American Catholicism. You know I am not exaggerating.
We have come a long way from debating the use of English in the
Mass, or the appropriateness of guitars in church – can you
remember when these were big issues? Now in the time we have been
given, we are challenged to resolve darker issues and darker hearts.
Somewhere in it all abides the Advocate, the very breath of God’s
Spirit. It is the Spirit who stirs up within us the resources we
need to sustain one another. Remember, when things are at there
worst, we are at our best.
It is vital that Catholic organizations, like FutureChurch, Voice
of the Faithful and the Call to Action, insist on expanded roles
of significant leadership for the laity within the Church in our
country. We are, after all, a people who believe in the on-going
mystery of grace, the life of God at work in human history. In
spite of the long litany of horror that has befallen the Catholic
Church, we believe that grace will transform the terror of the
present, not by magic, but by our willingness to engage the truth.
For ultimately, what the Church has been engaged in these past
thirty-plus months since Dallas is the embrace of the truth – the
often times frightening reality of what humans are capable of creating
The work of embracing the truth is also affirming, enriching and
life-giving. I hope that despite the shame, shock, pain and anger,
you judge us, the past and present members of the National Review
Board, by what we do and say. Only this can free all of us from
being prisoners of the past, its paralysis and its failure. We
can change things, once we are willing to know them – heartache
and all. Thank you for your willingness to listen.