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Timlin’s Tone-deafness

November 17, 2018

Parish priests have spent the months since a devastating Pennsylvania grand jury report in August apologizing to congregants for the conduct of the hierarchy and trying to reassure the faithful that the Catholic Church has launched an era of reform. Amid that contrition and reassurance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, generally, and former Scranton Bishop James C. Timlin, specifically, have displayed a stunning level of tone-deafness. The grand jury report revealed up to 70 years of child sexual abuse by hundreds of priests is six dioceses statewide and, worse, inaction and coverups by bishops. All eight Pennsylvania dioceses now are under federal investigation. Timlin is accused in the report of not doing enough to protect young people from predatory priests, including a case in which he allegedly shielded and transferred a priest who had raped a teenaged girl and facilitated her abortion. In response, Bishop Joseph Bambera barred Timlin from representing the diocese. Timlin, along with former Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted in 2012 of failing to report an abusive priest, apparently do not recognize the severity of the crisis and their own roles in it. They compounded that crisis this week when they appeared at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Conference in Baltimore. The conference was supposed to deal with how to hold bishops accountable for failing to deal properly with abusive priests. Timlin and Finn were not alone. Pope Francis himself further called the church’s commitment into question by directing the bishops to postpone any vote that would subject bishops to discipline outside of his authority, until after a global conference at the Vatican in February. The bishops had been scheduled to vote on codifying standards of clerical conduct and the creation of a commission to review bishops’ alleged breaches of those standards. It’s one thing to ask Catholics for renewed trust. It’s quite another for individual bishops and the institution to defy measures that would justify such confidence.

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