The two main Colorado newspapers, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News, revealed this Tuesday the sharp rebuke Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote to the head of the National Review Board, who has accused bishops of dodging reforms adopted after the clergy sex scandal.
The Archbishop’s letter, which goes back to April 2, was made public by both newspapers after the independent weekly “National Catholic Reporter” revealed on Tuesday a heated, private exchange of letters between several Catholic bishops and Anne Burke, an Illinois Court of Appeals Justice and interim head of the National Review Board.
The NRB is a lay body set up by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002 to oversee sex abuse reforms.
The National Catholic Reporter quotes Burke’s letter to USCCB’s President Wilton Gregory in which she claims, “We find it more than disingenuous to have permitted our members to make their presentations to the Administrative Committee and never once bring up or mention the letters from some bishops asking to defer these matters until November.”
Burke wants the US bishops to approve mandatory annual audits of dioceses reviewed by the NRB, and that such determination should be taken this June, during the Bishops’ retreat that will take place in Denver.
“We believe that the work we have accomplished these past 22 months is perceived by the bishops as having successfully deflected extensive national criticism. In effect, they have ‘dodged the bullet,’ and they are anxious to put these matters behind them.”
“In effect, (the bishops) dodged the bullet, and they are anxious to put these matters behind them,” says Burke’s letter quoted by the National Catholic Reporter.
The Reporter, which has not revealed how it obtained the private exchange, briefly quotes a strongly-worded letter Archbishop Chaput and his Auxiliary, Bishop Jose Gomez, wrote to Burke in response.
Archbishop Chaput’s letter, nevertheless, has been more extensively quoted by the Colorado newspapers.
According to the Rocky Mountains News, “Chaput sharply questions Burke's complaint that a study about sex abuse causes isn't being done fast enough. He said the study is on course for discussion at the bishops' November meeting.”
In fact, the Archbishop’s letter says that “we welcome an appropriate discussion of the matters you raise in your letter at our June meeting. However, please note that the June 2004 bishops’ meeting is a quadrennial retreat. Its agenda already focuses on critical issues facing the Church. This in no way diminishes the continuing importance of the NRB, the Dallas Charter or issues relating to sexual misconduct scandal. But neither can we as bishops neglect other vital matters, including calls for a plenary council.”
In the letter, both Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Gomez explain that “our problems with your letter lie elsewhere:” “The matter of ‘fraternal correction’ among bishops has canonical implications that go well beyond the NRB’s competence. We understand and support your concern about right behavior among the bishops. Given your own legal background, however, we’re surprised that you would seek to hurry a matter that directly involves Church law.”
The Bishops also point out that the Dallas Charter “nowhere requires an annual national audit and the expense, staff and structure that it would involve.”
“We do not necessarily oppose such an audit. We do think it would makes more sense on a triennial or quadrennial basis. In any case, it is not the NRB’s duty to interpret the Charter. The NRB is an important advisory body at the service of the bishops. It does not and cannot have supervisory authority.”
The letter concludes: “Finally Justice Burke, we were embarrassed by the tone of your letter. It assumes the worst motives on the part of the bishops, despite the progress that has already been made. Your language is designed to offend and contains implicit threats that are, to put it mildly, inappropriate for anyone of your professional stature.”
“Whatever its goals, your letter diminishes the credibility of the NRB and invites resistance. We can’t imagine that this is what you intended,” the letter says.
The National Catholic Reporter gives no account of any response from Burke to Archbishop Chaput’s letter.