Maybe the Conference of Catholic Bishops knew what it was doing when it put Justice Anne Burke on the pedophilia case. Once she was on the National Review Board investigating child abuse she overcame Norman Augustine’s Law XXVI*. This law states that once enough management layers are imposed on top of one another, disaster is not left to chance.
The laity and some Bishops in the American church were trying to get the Vatican to understand the scope and seriousness of child abuse and pedophilia. The Vatican, understandably suspecting that the mainstream media was using the scandal to make the church look bad, was not getting the message through channels. Correct information was being stopped by intervening layers.
Justice Anne Burke, an Irish grandmother, went to work.
Here is the sequence of events as reported Saturday by NYT writer Laurie Goodstein.
“When the scandal was snowballing in 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger was among several Vatican officials who appeared to minimize the problem.
"In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type," he said in November 2002 during a visit to Spain. "Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated - that there is a desire to discredit the church."
“But the more accurate picture may have been that Cardinal Ratzinger and other Vatican officials were simply woefully out of touch, said Anne M. Burke, an appeals court judge in Illinois.
She and a panel of prominent Catholic laypeople were appointed by the American bishops to serve on a national review board to examine the causes of the sexual abuse and come up with recommendations, and she served as acting chairwoman of the board.
The board tried to contact Vatican officials through the papal nuncio, the Vatican's representative in Washington, but he never responded, she said.
So Judge Burke searched the Web, found the fax numbers of 10 relevant Vatican offices and sent them each a strongly worded request for a meeting. She heard back from seven offices, and in December 2003, she and two other board members traveled to the Vatican for a series of meetings. When they returned to the United States, she found a fax from Cardinal Ratzinger, inviting them back to Rome to meet with him.
On Jan. 25 last year, she and two other review board members - the Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett and the publishing executive William R. Burleigh - returned to the Vatican.
The three Americans told Cardinal Ratzinger and five staff members how extensive the scandal had become in the United States, and shared information that she says the cardinal had never heard from American bishops, though she refused to specify what it was.”
Cardinal Ratzinger was also behind the re-opening of the investigation of the sexual abuse case against Rev. Marcial Maciel Degolado, the founder of the Legionaires of Christ.
In the first reading for today (Acts 6:1-7) we learned that the Apostles discerned that it was necessary to appoint deacons. They presented their proposal and "The proposal was acceptable to the whole community." Justice Burke persisted until she convinced the successors to the apostles that serial child abuse is not acceptable to the community.
As I wrote on Thursday, one of the things that I hoped to see from Benedict XVI was a willingness to hold church leaders to an ethical standard that is at least as high as that of the United States Air Force. Today’s news is hopeful in this regard.
*Norman Augustine is a former undersecretary of the Army for research and Development and CEO of Martin Marietta. His book Augustine’s Laws is a source of humor and wisdom in understanding the behavior of large institutions.
Herb Ely writes a "This World, This Day", a monthly column on Worplace spirituality for Spero News.