Gaillardetz says U.S bishops exhibited “a horrible moral failure”

A Toledo, Ohio-based theologian gives the U.S. bishops high marks on the “by and large very positive document” they approved in Dallas to protect children from clergy sex abuse. But he marks them down on three points.

Richard R. Gaillardetz is the Murray/Bacik professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo. He is the author of five books, including three on the magisterium and church authority. Gaillardetz, a systematic theologian, says the document rightly stresses protection of children and “a preferential option, as it were, for the concerns of the victims of clerical sexual abuse.” He also lauds the document’s call for diligence in cooperating with civil authorities and the creation of a national review board. (Bishops offer tough policy on abuse.)

However, Gaillardetz said the bishops exhibited “a horrible moral failure” in advocating a policy of zero tolerance and in not addressing the need for punitive measures directed at themselves.

His other criticism is that the bishops uncritically support the proposal to have American seminaries investigated for their treatment of “chastity” in priestly formation.

He acknowledged that the bishops were in a difficult position in Dallas, due to the pressure from the media and the strong public opinion that deluged them. “These voices created a kind of interpretative template for assessing what the bishops were going to do. By that I mean the success or failure of the bishops’ meeting–even before they met–was going to stand or fall on whether they went for so-called zero tolerance.”


“This suggests that this whole problem is to be laid at the feet of seminaries or is to be reduced to individual moral failings,” he said.

“A far more fruitful investigation would explore the ways in which current church structures and policies have artificially limited the pool of candidates for the priesthood and have sustained and encouraged a clerical culture that inhibits the accountability of priests and bishops to the whole people of God.”


Is it proper for an American theologian to accuse the U.S. bishops of exhibiting “a horrible moral failure”?  I must say, Dick, that’s a bit harsh.  Even I, who am not exactly on the “A list” for the episcopal champagne circuit here in Canada, wouldn’t say such a thing in regards to a legitimate pastoral judgement call…especially one that errs on the side of caution.  A horrible moral failure for zero tolerance?  Maybe a little too zealous in their desire to protect our children, but hardly “a horrible moral failure“.  You have to wonder what Gaillardetz is going to say about the episcopal gay porn scandal here when he skips town and starts spilling the Canadian beans back in Toledo.

Oh, and by the way, notice what Gaillardetz says about his idea about the priesthood?  How the pool of candidates have been “artificially limited”?  What do you suppose he means by that? I’m sure he didn’t mean expanding the pool to include women priests or married priests.  No. Never.

When Gaillardetz speaks to the bishops in Cornwall, I believe the topic of his talk is going to revolve around the relationship between priests and bishops in some fashion.  Above, you kind of get a glimpse of where he is coming from. Notice what he says?  He complains about “current church structures [which have] sustained and encouraged a clerical culture that inhibits the accountability of priests and bishops to the whole people of God.”  There’s nothing wrong with moral accountability to the laity, of course. But structural accountability is a completely different matter, and suggests a radical departure on how the divinely instituted hierarchical nature of the church is instituted.


Our church desperately needs more theologians who are informed by the best insights in contemporary theology and can present those insights with passion and enthusiasm in ways that affirm and enrich ordinary believers.I regard the remarkable popularity of Michael Himes, a frequent presenter at pastoral conferences, as a confirmation of the hunger of many ordinary Catholics for solid Catholic theology. Himes draws thousands of Catholics wherever he speaks because his presentations are broadly informed by our Catholic tradition and delivered with humor and passion, and they exhibit a generosity of spirit that reflects the best of the Catholic theological heritage. I think of some accessible books on Catholic theology by Monika Hellwig, Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., and Richard P. McBrien. These are works by capable and respected systematic theologians who are not afraid to engage in what might be disparaged as haute vulgarisation in service of the needs of the church today. We need to encourage theologians not to forsake the church in their legitimate desire to direct the fruits of their scholarship to the academy and society at large. As long as theologians are content to lecture only in university classrooms and limit their publications to scholarly pieces in academic journals, the theological community will continue to cede the stage to those who offer a narrower and more rigid appropriation of the Catholic tradition but are willing to bring the Catholic theological heritage to the people and provide them with the substantive “meat” for which they yearn. (Source)

Those are some A-1 theologians that Gaillardetz cites as “respected systematic theologians”, for sure!  Richard McBrien?  There’s not much that needs to be said that hasn’t been said already.

Gaillardetz has a very lofty view of the theologian.  In fact, it’s very convenient for his opinion on Church governance that he happens to be one of them.  That’s why he thinks he can question the infallible nature of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

The Pope, you see, needs to consult him and his colleagues like Richard P. McBrien.  Toledo, you know, must be consulted. After all, don’t you all know that St. Augustine didn’t mean to say that “Rome has spoken, the matter is closed.” He really meant to say, “Toledo has opened the debate, let’s talk about it!


Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the retired auxillary bishop of Sydney Australia is so liberal that even Cardinal Mahony banned him from speaking in LA.  Still, while Gaillardetz has some criticism of his views, he doesn’t criticize others so much:

Robinson’s analysis of the Catholic Church’s attitude toward sexual morality is also filled with the practical insight of an experienced and sensitive pastor. He laments the way the role of conscience has been obscured in much official church teaching. The church’s teaching office ought to see itself not in competition with the exercise of conscience but as dedicated to the proper formation of conscience through moral guidance, careful study and respectful dialogue. Robinson suggests that the magisterium would enhance its authority if it were to honor rather than dismiss the complexity of many contemporary moral issues.“If the church acquired a reputation for putting the arguments against its own views as powerfully, clearly and honestly as they can be put, its credibility would soar dramatically.” The author offers a careful reading of the complex biblical traditions regarding sexual morality, identifying problematic purity and property ethics that coexisted uneasily with a personalist sexual ethic embodied in Jesus’ free and liberating treatment of others. On this basis he invites church leadership to consider a more balanced and open discernment regarding the adequacy of church teachings on the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and artificial contraception. He even wonders, provocatively, whether some forms of premarital sex might be morally legitimate.  (Re: Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, John Garrett Publishing.)

Remember what I said about “the passport which sows dissent and doubt in the Church”, folks: 

I didn’t say it. Bishop Robinson did.”

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