MARCH 29, 2004






The National Review Board sets forth
directions for authentic Catholic reform

By George Weigel

When attorney Robert Bennett asked me to testify before the “causes and context” committee of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board (NRB) to deal with the crisis of clergy sex abuse, I told him that, once the tape recorders were turned on, the first thing I’d say was that I didn’t think the NRB made much ecclesiological sense – but since it had been commissioned by the bishops, I believed it my duty to cooperate with their work.
I’m happy to say now that, in my judgment, the NRB report released on Feb. 27 is a genuine service to the Church and a potentially crucial step toward authentic Catholic reform.


First, because the report is set within a genuinely Catholic and thoroughly ecclesial framework.

The report makes clear that the Church, by the will of Christ, is led by her bishops; that the priest is far more than an ecclesiastical functionary.
It also makes clear that celibacy is a great gift to the Church; that Catholic doctrine didn’t cause the problems the report addresses, but rather the failure to teach and live the truths of Catholic faith; and that what the Church needs is authentically Catholic reform.

Second, because the report squarely faces the two dimensions of the crisis – i.e., sexual misconduct and episcopal misgovernance – and suggests that both aspects of the crisis are reflections of a deeper crisis of fidelity and spirituality.

Third, because the report, rather than calling for “power-sharing,” calls for evangelically and pastorally assertive episcopal leadership, including far more fraternal challenge and correction within the body of bishops.

Fourth, because the report faces the overwhelmingly homosexual nature of the clerical sexual abuse of minors over the past 50 years, without either euphemism or “scapegoating.”

Fifth, because the report frankly describes the failures of seminaries in the late 1960s and 70s, stressing lapses in spiritual and ascetic formation, and thus sets the stage for accelerating the seminary reform already underway.

Sixth, because the report decries the many occasions on which psychiatric and psychological categories and processes trumped theological categories and available canonical remedies in handling clerical malfeasants.

Seventh, because the report delicately suggests that “zero tolerance” is too blunt an instrument to be an instrument of genuine justice.

Eighth, because the report warns against encroachments by the state into internal Church governance, while also warning that those encroachments can and will happen if bishops abrogate their responsibilities.

Ninth, because the report demonstrates that lay people can take on a task of great complexity and delicacy in the Church and do it in such a way that, for all its (legitimate) criticism of the hierarchy, reasserts the divinely-ordered structure of the Church and calls the episcopate to exercise its legitimate authority.

In this way, the report implicitly challenges Voice of the Faithful and similar organizations, by showing that a diverse group of accomplished lay Catholics can agree on an analysis of the crisis and an agenda of reform that is authentically Catholic, not an exercise in Catholic Lite.

There are particular recommendations in the report with which reasonable people can disagree – and I do.

But at this point in time, it’s much more important to concentrate on the many, many things the NRB got right than to focus immediately on this or that recommendation which may or may not be imprudent or inappropriate or in fact inapplicable.

And it wasn’t just the report itself that was impressive; so was the way the members of the board handled their press conference on Feb. 27.
Illinois judge Anne Burke, the interim chairman, began the proceedings with a tribute to bishops and priests.

Bob Bennett was thrown a raw-meat question by a CBS reporter who asked why, if the board was so critical of the stewardship of some bishops, it didn’t call for their ouster.

Bennett replied that that wasn’t the board’s job or the laity’s job, that was a judgment for the bishops themselves and for the Holy See.

The National Review Board, created in part to appease an out-of-control media, declined to follow the media script.

Rather than proposing a dismantling of Catholic belief, structure, and practice, it produced a report which persuasively argues that the answer to a crisis of Catholic fidelity is – Catholic fidelity.

We’re in their debt.

(George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.)



Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?

By Julie McCarty

Tossing and turning in bed, I lean over carefully—so as not to awaken my husband—and look at the alarm clock. It’s 3 a.m.

I’ve been awake an hour, obsessing about a personal decision, weighing pros and cons, turning thoughts back and forth and inside out in my mind. I’ve tried every decision-making technique I know, to no avail. I’ve prayed and prayed about this issue. Still, no answer.

With exasperation, I fling a desperate prayer heavenward: “Why don’t You answer my prayer?!”

If you pray regularly, you may recognize the feeling. Although miracles happen, it sometimes seems God turns his back on us.

While our prayers may contain good motives, we also know that sometimes our prayers are riddled with self-interest. Most of us acknowledge that praying to win the lottery, for example, is probably not for the true good of our souls.
In other cases, I think God delays answering our prayers so that we will keep praying. This teaches us patience, perseverance, and trust in God. We learn to love God for his own sake, and not for the gifts he gives us.

Even so, there are other times we pray for something genuinely good and our prayers remain fruitless. We pray for an unemployed person to find work, but the months drag on with no job in sight. We ask God to heal a cancer patient, but she dies anyway. We plead for peace in war-torn countries, but the violence escalates. Innocent people suffer, despite our prayers.

Jesus went about feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, and healing the sick. He even raised Lazarus from the dead. So why doesn’t Christ answer my prayers to alleviate suffering today?

No mere newspaper column can begin to address adequately the complexities of suffering and prayer. However, one simple book that does a good job exploring this difficult topic is Father Daniel Lanahan’s “When God Says No” (Lantern Books, 2001).

Father Lanahan notes that suffering is an ordinary part of human life, whatever its cause may be. The goal of prayer is not to change God, but to allow God to transform us. Prayer helps us to become more aware of others’ needs, more compassionate, and better able to bear our own cross.

While reading this gentle yet honest book, I was particularly touched by a quote from poet Paul Claudel: “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with his presence.”

The Son of God left the comfort and utopian existence of heaven to enter into our limited, human condition. Jesus knows about hunger, exhaustion, illness, suffering, death—and joy—not as one who read about these things in some book or observed them coldly from a distant heaven, but as one who knows these things by experience.

Father Lanahan reminds us that Jesus knew firsthand the experience of unanswered prayer. On the night before he died, Jesus pleaded repeatedly with God to spare him the impending “cup of suffering.” In effect, God says “no” and Jesus is taken to the cross.

During the crucifixion, Jesus experiences inner torments as well as outer ones. Bystanders mock him, drawing attention to the apparent fruitlessness of his prayers, saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” They remark that he saved others but is unable to save himself.

His sense of rejection is so complete that he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

At the point of Christ’s death, all appears lost. God is silent.

But this apparent “failure” of Jesus is far from a failure in God’s eyes. In raising Christ from the dead, God answers another one of Jesus’ prayers, his prayer that all believers might become one with him always, seeing and experiencing the glory of the resurrection for themselves (see John, chapter 17).

Through Christ’s paschal mystery, it is possible for all people of all times to overcome sin and death, enter into new life in the Spirit, and enjoy Eternal Life beyond the grave.

Sometimes God answers prayers in ways that are better than we expect.

(Julie McCarty, M.A.T., is a freelance writer from Eagan, Minnesota whose syndicated column on prayer, “The Prayerful Heart,” appears in diocesan newspapers around the country. Contact her at



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