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Bishop Wilton Gregory discusses sex abuse crisis in Catholic Church

MR. RUSSERT: But first: Joining us now, the man who presided over the meeting of the Catholic bishops in Dallas, Texas, Bishop Wilton Gregory.

Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT: For the laymen to understand what happened in Dallas, if a young Catholic boy, 14 years old, altar boy, goes to his parents and says, "Mom and Dad, a priest touched me improperly," what happens under the new guidelines? What do the parents do? BISHOP GREGORY: The parents should immediately inform the civil authorities. They should contact the diocese, the bishop or the diocesan office that is already in place or will soon be in place to handle these events to report that allegation. But first, they must inform the civil authorities. And then the diocese will cooperate fully with the civil authorities, will remove the priest and begin its own procedures to handle this horrible event.

MR. RUSSERT: When you say remove the priest, what happens to the priest? Where is he removed to?

BISHOP GREGORY: Well, obviously each diocese will do this somewhat differently. He will leave the parish, take off the collar, not be permitted to celebrate the Eucharist publicly, be taken out of the context in which he could harm another child.

MR. RUSSERT: The so-called ministry...


MR. RUSSERT: ...but he will still remain a priest. He will still be called father.

BISHOP GREGORY: Tim, at the very beginning, you were describing what happens at the beginning. I described the initial steps. There will be subsequent steps. The bishop might very well ask this man, "Did you do it?" If he acknowledges that he did it, the bishop will probably request that he, the individual, seek laicization himself. The bishop could also...

MR. RUSSERT: Be defrocked as a priest if you will.

BISHOP GREGORY: Be defrocked. Lose the clerical state, but all of those things will immediately begin in process.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you confident that the Vatican, Rome, will accept these guidelines as enunciated and adopted by the US Catholic Church?

BISHOP GREGORY: Tim, I am as confident as I can be at this time. I've been in conversation with the officials in the Vatican. We've talked about it. They've seen the draft document. They know the seriousness of the matter. They have expressed their overwhelming desire to assist us. Can I sit here and presume that they will approve it without any modification? No. But am I absolutely confident that they are going to work with us? I am.

MR. RUSSERT: Ultimately, this is the pope's decision?

BISHOP GREGORY: Well, it is the Holy Father's decision, but by his very direct involvement in this, he's demonstrated that he expects his Vatican officials to work carefully and closely and collaboratively with the bishops.

MR. RUSSERT: There are anywhere from 800 to 1,200 priests who have been accused of sexual molestation. What happens to all them? Where do they go? How are they housed while they're going through this process of determining whether or not they did what they're accused of having been accused of doing?

BISHOP GREGORY: Tim, that number--what's the time frame that you are using for that number? The last 30, 40 years?


BISHOP GREGORY: Many of those men are dead. Many of those men have already left the active priesthood. Many of those men are retired. So it's difficult to say where all of them are. But what we know now is none of them will be in a position to harm children. None of them will have a public office. None of them will be able to present themselves as priests, those that are still living, those that are still listed in their diocesan books of personnel.

MR. RUSSERT: When critics say, "But they'll still, some of them, be allowed to be called Father; we can't accept that," what do you say to those?

BISHOP GREGORY: My response is: Those men who are still living have lost their license to practice, if I can use that example. They are no longer allowed to identify themselves as a Catholic priest. They are like lawyers who have no license. They have been disbarred. They are like doctors who have lost their ability to practice. Now do people still call doctors who are without their license doctor? I suppose they do, but they cannot legitimately legally act as doctors. And these priests cannot present themselves to the public as ministers of the church.

MR. RUSSERT: About one-third of the 45,000 Catholic priests in the United States are members of orders--the Jesuit, the Franciscans, the Dominicans. Are those orders of priests now also obligated to come forward in the diocese in which they reside?

BISHOP GREGORY: Right. Tim, you may recall that in the communique that came from the Vatican at the conclusion of the meeting of the cardinals and the bishops, that communique called for the religious superiors of religious men's orders to be in conversation with the bishops and, in fact, they have. So now that we have our policy, we will be in dialogue with all of the religious orders of men to make sure that they conform to these principles. In fact, most of them do, but we need to make sure that all of the I's are dotted and all of the T's are crossed.

MR. RUSSERT: On the Vatican, the National Catholic Reporter has been talking to people in Rome, and these are some of the comments we hear coming from the Vatican: "'Zero tolerance is going to have a hard time here,' one Vatican official told National Catholic Reporter. 'The church is about reconciliation. Its highest priority can't be driving out the pedophiles,' [another Vatican official said.]" That has to be troubling to hear those kinds of comments.

BISHOP GREGORY: It is troubling, but it is not surprising. It's not surprising that people who do not live in the United States under a British common law set of legal standards that they don't understand all of the realities that we as Americans live with. So I'm not surprised that they don't appreciate all of our legal problems, and I'm not surprised that they want to remind us about reconciliation-conversion. However, we also are about the responsibility--must be about the responsibility of protecting children. The priests who may have offended have been forgiven. Many of them have made their peace with God. But there's a consequence to their behavior, and that consequence says that the bishop cannot risk that they will harm a child in the future.

MR. RUSSERT: One cardinal, particularly, has made some comments that caught our attention, as being members of the media, and I'll show you. This E.J. Dionne wrote a column that "Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Martiaga of Honduras...accuses the American media of acting with 'a fury which reminds me of the times of Diocietian and Nero and more recently, Stalin and Hitler' and declares: 'The Church should be free of this kind of treatment.'"

"...he goes on to insist that 'the newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe' are 'protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against the church.'"

Do you believe the American media has persecuted the church?

BISHOP GREGORY: The media didn't create the story, Tim. This is a story that has its roots in church activity. The media is obliged to cover the story. The media is obliged to inform the people, and to the extent that the media has paid strict attention to this, many victims have found the courage to come forward. And in truth, the church has--we've had our feet kept to the fire to respond, which we have now responded. What will be important for us--and I think what will be the real test of the media--is how they cover what we do from this day forward. If there is a fair, clear, and equally serious coverage of our actions in the future, then, I think, we will have seen both sides of the media's responsibilities.

MR. RUSSERT: The Dallas Morning News did an analysis that two-thirds of the Catholic bishops have allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to continue working in their diocese. The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, a paper you know well, said, "Bishops meeting on sex abuse find they're now main target. Critics say they're like Enron, too compromised to lead."

Will the bishops be held accountable, bishops who moved an abuser from parish to parish and allowed him to continue to be in contact with children?

BISHOP GREGORY: It seems to me that this moment--Dallas was a graced moment, because I think the Conference of Bishops realized that we, as a body, have to be responsible to our people, have to be more transparent, have to be more vigilant, but we also have to be responsible to each other. It seems to me that some of the great sorrow that this moment brought was an anger among the bishops that some of us, and the behavior that we followed, caused a great sorrow for all of us. So this has to be an ongoing conversation. How are we responsible to one another? That a bishop has certain jurisdictions within his own diocese, but he doesn't live on an island, and his behavior is not limited by the diocesan boundaries.

MR. RUSSERT: But should a bishop who tolerated or enabled sexual abusers be allowed to remain as bishop?

BISHOP GREGORY: The question of the removal and the transfer of bishops is a very important one, and it is one that involves the pope himself, because the pope is the one who appoints bishops. And I believe, in my heart of hearts, that, as we continue this conversation about accountability, we need to make sure that we share our discussion with those who have the direct responsibility for making those decisions.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe some bishops will resign?

BISHOP GREGORY: I don't know. Given the harshness of this moment, some bishops said early retirement looks more and more attractive. This has been a hard time for bishops in the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: The Catholic Church has paid, estimated, over a billion dollars in legal claims to aggrieved young people across the country. Will there be an opening of the church's books, of the church's finances so laypeople can know exactly where their money went and where future contributions may go?

BISHOP GREGORY: I think one of the results of this tragic moment is that we are going to have to work much more closely with our laity and be much more transparent in our stewardship. For example, about two months ago, I had a full disclosure of the costs of this event for my own local diocese. Back 10 years when we began this moment, they know now what we spent and where it came from. I think more and more bishops are going to have to do that in order to establish--to re-establish and to strengthen their credibility.

MR. RUSSERT: Homosexuality--a few months ago you made a comment which got a lot of attention about homosexuals in the priesthood, and I'll show you exactly what you said and give you a chance to respond to it. I think we have it there on our screen. "It's most importantly a struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men." Explain that.

BISHOP GREGORY: One of the things that I think that this moment calls for is that the church must look carefully at the caliber of priests that serve us, and the caliber of candidates who seek to enter the priesthood. It's a call for holiness and integrity of life. And that statement was made in that context, that this is a moment of purification and introspection. We need healthy, holy priests, who live the promises that they make with integrity.

MR. RUSSERT: Can a homosexual be a healthy, happy priest?

BISHOP GREGORY: I think we have some who are. I think we have men who have embraced the promise of celibacy irregardless of their sexual orientation and they've lived it with integrity.

MR. RUSSERT: The pope's spokesman, Navarro-Valls, had this to say, and I'll put it on the screen for you and our viewers. "Pope John Paul II's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, questioned whether ordination of gays were even valid. 'People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained,' Dr. Navarro-Valls said." Do you agree with that?

BISHOP GREGORY: I believe that that statement was perhaps more expansive than the tradition of the church. It seems to me that the church has spoken about living a holy, integral life in a much broader context than that and I've never--I asked people about the question of validity of orders. That does not seem to be a part of our tradition.

MR. RUSSERT: But the fact that 90 percent of the abused children in the church were teenage boys, does that trouble you that there may be a disproportionate level of behavior by homosexual men towards teenage boys?

BISHOP GREGORY: It certainly troubles me, but that--the fact that any of our kids are harmed troubles me. The percentages are startling, but the total issue is a cause for great sorrow.

MR. RUSSERT: Luke 17:2, "It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." Is that the fate that awaits priests who have corrupted young children?

BISHOP GREGORY: It seems to me that the Gospel passage that you just cited is a clarion call for the church at this moment. Priests who have harmed children have done a great--it's a crime; first and foremost, it's a crime. They've taken the innocence of a young person and most likely caused a lifelong path of sorrow for an individual. It's because of that, that I don't believe we can risk having an individual do that to another child.

MR. RUSSERT: Bishop Wilton Gregory, we thank you for sharing your views this morning.