FFRF Calls on Catholic Conference President to Step Down

Fox Guarding the Chicken Coop?

The U.S. Conference of Bishops lacks all credibility when its head is accused of being a child molester himself.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been monitoring “black collar crimes” since the late 1980s, is calling on Bishop William Skylstad to step down as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as bishop of Spokane, Wash.

The call was prompted after remarks by Bishop Skylstad, prefacing the disclosure late this week of the church’s 2005 “self-audit” on sexual abuse cases. Skylstad said he had both “a sense of progress” and a “great sense of the continuing impact of the sexual abuse crisis,” because his own diocese is in bankruptcy over sex crimes, and he himself has been accused of molesting a teenage girl in the 1960s. Skylstad denies the allegation.

“If these circumstances provide you with a ‘sense of progress,’ ” asks Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president in a letter to the bishop, “what would give you a sense of failure?”

Gaylor said the U.S. Conference of Bishops “lacks all credibility when its head is accused of being a child molester himself.”

“The Catholic Church has a track record of abuse and collusion within its ranks, often rewarding and promoting those who looked the other way or covered up crimes against children. The US Church is now headed by an accused pedophile whose name has not been cleared,” she said. “The least Skylstad could do it step down from his positions until that happens. What can anyone conclude but that the fox is guarding the chicken coop?”

She reminded the bishop of the warning by Rev. Thomas Doyle, which went unheeded for nearly two decades by hierarchy, that the Church appears to be “an organization preaching morality and providing sanctuary to perverts.”

The reason criminal predatory conduct within the Church remains “so out of control” is because it often “extends all the way to the top,” she pointed out. At least 22 bishops or archbishops have resigned over allegations of cover-ups of sexual abuse scandals or for being accused themselves.

The public only became aware in 2002 that the Vatican issued secret rules ordering that accused priests must be tried in secret church courts overseen from Rome, without advising whether civil authorities should be informed if a priest is found guilty. The Vatican is accused of cover-up in a current lawsuit over an Oregon priest abuse case. The current Pope was also named in a Texas case last year, although he was held immune from prosecution for conspiring to cover up abuse.

Pope John Paul II during his long tenure was silent on the crisis, until issuing a 1-paragraph apology in 2001 buried in a missive to Catholics in Oceania. Revelation after revelation finally prompted a slightly longer statement by the Pope in 2002, in which he said of pedophile priests: “A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains.”

The late pope rewarded disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston with a coveted ceremonial position in Rome. Law remains a cardinal. In January, Pope Benedict XVI named as a cardinal William Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco, who now, despite criticism of cover-up under his watch, serves in Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the second-most powerful position in the Catholic Church.

Gaylor wrote the first nonfiction book about the black collar crime scandal, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children. She edits the Foundation’s monthly newspaper, Freethought Today, which has carried a “Black Collar Crime Blotter” for nearly two decades, documenting the unending scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests and pastors.

“The shameful history of the church has been to cover-up, bribe, fail to act or knowingly pass on child molesters to unsuspecting congregations,” Gaylor added.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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