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KELLY: Life In An Ivory Tower

November 14, 2018

Dear Pope Francis,

Hi, Pontiff! How are you? How are things at the Vatican? It must get boring living in an ivory tower where your every whim is served and no one dares disagree with anything you do or say. Heavy is the head that wears the diamond-encrusted mitre.

I’ve read a host of stories about you sneaking out of your palace to mix with the poor and wretched. I respect that, but at the end of each day, you lay your head on a bed the world’s wealthiest men covet. Being pope is among the most demanding jobs on the planet, but even you must confess the perks are otherworldly.

Please don’t take my informal tone as disrespectful. For all its faults, the Catholic Church has done great good all over the world. Also, I am a big fan of Jesuits, and you are the first of them to hold the top post in Rome.

Rome is almost 5,000 miles from Scranton. Papal authority is global. Your decisions echo in places that are invisible from an ivory tower, places faithfully populated by generations of Catholics who entrusted priests and bishops with the one treasure held more dear than their souls.

These people gave the Church their children. Many now regret the sacrifice.

You know this.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting this week in Baltimore. You know this, too. On Sunday, the Vatican (you) told bishops to delay a vote on how to hold bishops accountable for failing to protect children from sexual abuse.

Alone, this news would have been hard for the faithful in the Diocese of Scranton to accept. Paired with an Associated Press photo of former Bishop James C. Timlin at the conference, your call for further delay is too much for any of us to stomach.

Bishop Timlin defended, hid and quietly reassigned priests who preyed on children, according to an August statewide grand jury report you surely have read. Timlin is the Catholic sexual abuse scandal made flesh. He should shy away from sunlight, let alone flashbulbs.

Yet there he was, apparently in good standing with the rest of your representatives abroad.

The Most Rev. Joseph Bambera — who on Aug. 31 permanently banned Timlin from representing the diocese — told The Times-Tribune he asked Timlin not to attend the conference, but had no authority to order him to stay home.

The current bishop of the Diocese of Scranton can command the faithful from the pulpit, but can’t keep a disgraced priest from attending a national gathering of church hierarchy.

Pope Francis, how can this be? That Timlin had the poor judgment to show his face is not surprising. He seems oblivious to what he did wrong, and determined to defy justice on this side of eternity. It’s inconceivable that Bambera couldn’t bar Timlin from the Baltimore conference.

I was part of the Times-Tribune team that covered your 2015 visit to Philadelphia. The city was on lockdown. There were ID checkpoints, heavily armed soldiers and armored vehicles blocking streets. No one who planned on doing harm could expect to be granted entry.

This week in Baltimore, your representatives abroad granted entry to a former bishop who did immense harm in the name of God.

Would Timlin be welcome in your ivory tower? I doubt it.

CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, still loves Jesuits. Contact the writer: kellysworld@timesshamrock.com, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at blogs.thetimes-tribune.com/kelly.

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