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Carlson: Walking the plank

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Mike McGavick may be remembered by some as a charming, successful business executive who became the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006 in the state of Washington but nonetheless lost to the dour and oft-times petulant incumbent, Maria Cantwell. Others may recall his leadership in turning around Safeco Insurance which was headed for the rocks until he came aboard.

My perspective is different than most. When I listen and look at Mike, I see a conscientious and conscience driven businessman, husband, father and friend who is a deep adherent to his Catholic faith. He practices what he preaches though he lets his actions speak: he attends daily Mass, prays, pays and where doctrine does not conflict with his conscience, obeys.

One knows instantly, he thinks deeply, cares passionately and works diligently at unraveling mysteries and history. Hands down he is one of the best speakers one can ever hear.

Now the chairman of XLGroup, one of the world’s large reinsurance firms, he gave a compelling speech this past summer at the Bishop’s Annual Luncheon in Bermuda on the challenges facing today’s Catholic Church. It was a speech that was sorely underreported.

Near the end he talked about some factors in common to achieving a successful turn around, one of which has resonated with many – the need for accountability for the Bishops who looked the other way, often deliberately, as abuse of children went on right under their nose.

As Mike put it, someone has to walk the plank not only to demonstrate that the Bishops fully intend to hold all accountable, but for the sake of their own creditability to hold themselves accountable. He wryly noted that to the date of his remarks no Bishop had yet to take that short walk.

Sooner or later some Bishop, though, would be too blatant in his defiance to be ignored or too egregious in his conduct and someone somewhere would pounce. On October 14th, it finally happened.

The federal prosecutor in Kansas City gathered his evidence, impaneled a grand jury, presented the evidence and obtained an indictment of a sitting Bishop – the very conservative Robert Finn.

It looks to be open and shut: Bishop Finn long looked the other way at the activities of a parish priest whose antics with young girls had created warranted concerns of the parts of many parents. Surely most of the priests in that diocese welcomed the news.

For all too long many priests have watched with dismay as only priests and deacons, even those who had truly questionable accusers, nonetheless were “hung out to dry.” No Bishop, however, regardless of how clearly they knew they were “moving around” priests with serious allegations, was being called on the carpet by fellow Bishops.

This double standard was the source of discontent among the many decent, caring priests across many dioceses. Bishop Finn was one who mouthed the words about supporting the 2003 Bishop’s charter to protect children but his actions belied his words.

The vast majority of Catholic bishops takes the charter seriously and works diligently to enforce it. Spokane’s Bishop Blas Cupich (pronounced Soo-pitch) heads a Bishop’s subcommittee on monitoring enforcement. His predecessor, Bishop William Skylstad, was in the leadership of the Bishop’s Conference when the charter was adopted and spoke out eloquently and passionately on the need to reassure parents their children were safe while under supervision of Church personnel.

Unlike some, he advocated immediate reporting to civil authorities and full disclosure.

Idaho’s bishop, Mike Driscoll, became a zealous believer having learned the hard way to pay attention even to rumors when as Vicar General in Orange County, he moved around several priests against whom there were serious questions. He later profusely apologized.

One need only look to the immediate west, however, where in the diocese of eastern Oregon the last Bishop appears to have been moved out because of his refusal to adhere to the protocols of the Charter.

The Vatican’s apostolic delegate called Bishop Skylstad out of retirement to administer that vast diocese supposedly for four months. He is now approaching a year as the acting Bishop.

While Bishop Finn undoubtedly is the first of several who will end up walking the plank, there are two troubling questions that need to be answered fully. Why is the indictment just a misdemeanor and not a felony? Why is it that the first Bishop called to account just happens to also be a member of the ultra-conservative society, Opus Dei?

The many Mike McGavick’s who care deeply about their Church’s future need to know that Bishops too will be held accountable, but they also need to know there is no faint whiff of internecine politics tainting the process that leads to a Bishop walking that plank.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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