Bishop Joseph A. Galante, coadjutor of Dallas, Texas, remembers
exactly when the enormity of the clergy sex-abuse crisis hit home
for him. As a member of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual
Abuse, he has had the opportunity to listen to numerous stories
of victims and their families.
One couple talked about their son who had been abused and committed
suicide in his early 20s. "Altogether there were five young men
who had committed suicide—all of whom were victims of the same priest,"
Bishop Galante says. "The horror of that, the pain that the families
had experienced—that's mind-boggling."
"Horror" is a word Bishop Galante uses repeatedly to refer to
the sex-abuse crisis. And he should know. As head of the U.S. bishops'
Communications Committee, a position he has held since November
2000, Bishop Galante has had a front-row seat for the national fallout
from the crisis. He has also served as a spokesman for the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, working to help get the message
out on how the bishops are responding.
In addition to those two committees of the bishops' conference,
Bishop Galante, who has a doctorate in canon law, also serves on
the Canonical Affairs Committee. That committee is helping to set
up the tribunals mandated by the Norms passed last November
and made Church law for the United States the following month. All
cases of credible accusations of abuse must be reported to the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. The Congregation will then
decide whether or not they will judge the case themselves or refer
it to the diocesan tribunals. The tribunals will determine whether
an allegation of sexual abuse is true. If the allegation is found
to be true, then "the offending priest or deacon will be removed
permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal
from the clerical state" (Norms #8).
In mid-March, Bishop Galante spoke with St. Anthony Messenger
about the crisis, the media coverage of it, the priesthood and what
it will take for the Church to move forward.
Work Is Progressing
Bishop Galante says the implementation of the Charter for the
Protection of Children and Young People and the accompanying
Norms "is progressing." He points out that just that morning
he had had a conference call concerning the training sessions held
in Washington, D.C., for those involved in setting up the Church
tribunals to hear abuse cases.
"There's a real commitment to deal in a canonical, juridical way
with these cases and situations," he emphasizes.
Also in March, the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection
announced that diocesan safe-environment programs to protect children
and youth should be in the planning process by June 20, and fully
implemented for the 2003-2004 school year. The adoption of such
programs was called for in the Charter.
Not a New Issue
The issue of clergy sex abuse is not a new one for the U.S. bishops.
They have been addressing it as a conference, in one way or another,
for about the past 15 years.
In June 1992, the bishops established the Ad Hoc Committee on
Sexual Abuse, which is currently overseeing the bishops' response
to the current crisis, and of which Bishop Galante is a member.
At their November 1992 meeting, the U.S. bishops adopted five
principles for dealing with cases of sex abuse. But as Bishop Galante
pointed out to the Catholic Press Association in May 2002 in Minneapolis,
"They were voluntary. And sadly, a number of bishops didn't follow
Those guidelines were:
Respond promptly to all allegations of abuse where there
is reasonable belief that abuse has occurred.
If such an allegation is supported by sufficient evidence,
relieve the alleged offender promptly of his ministerial duties
and refer him for appropriate medical evaluation and intervention.
Comply with the obligations of civil law with regard to
reporting of the incident and cooperating with the investigation.
Reach out to the victims and their families and communicate
sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being.
Within the confines of respect for the privacy of individuals
involved, deal as openly as possible with the members of the community.
Bishop Galante became a bishop in 1992 when he was ordained as
an auxiliary bishop in San Antonio, Texas. Two years later, he was
named bishop of Beaumont, Texas. In 1999, he was appointed to his
current position as the designated successor of Bishop Charles Grahmann
What's different now about the bishops' response to the problem?
Bishop Galante thinks, "What's been different since the early '90s
has been a greater awareness of the problem."
He notes that the conference has repeatedly had discussions and
reports on the problem of clergy sex abuse throughout the '90s.
"So much of what came out over the past year and a half was very
much centered around abuse that happened before the '90s. There
have been some since then, but the bulk of so many of these cases
that came out go further back." He says he thinks the bishops have
become "far more sensitive and aware for the last 10, 11, 12 years."
He does not, however, overlook the fact that mistakes have been
made. During the past year he has been quoted as saying that "secrecy
has killed us"; a number of criticisms made of the bishops "have
merit" and the fact that some bishops reassigned abusers cannot
'They Reported What Was'
Since the latest round of this crisis started making news in January
2002, some Catholics—and many bishops—have chastised the media for
its reporting. And reporters, as was evident both at the June 2002
meeting in Dallas and at the November 2002 bishops' meeting in Washington,
D.C., have struggled to understand the intricacies of canon law
and Church procedures.
Bishop Galante is quick to point out, "The media didn't create
the problem, they reported it," but notes that their extensive reports
did not always make it clear that so many of the cases were from
the past. But, he reiterates, "I don't see the media as the villain.
The media reported what was."
As for the media's struggle to report on Church issues, he chalks
that up to individual perceptions and a lack of understanding of
how the Church works. Numerous times during press conferences at
the June and November 2002 meetings, Bishop Galante helped explain
to reporters what his fellow bishops were struggling to make clear.
"We all tend to interpret things on the basis of our own experience,
of our own perceptions," he says. "Oftentimes the interpretation
of the Church would be the same interpretation as any large corporation.
The problem is the Church isn't per se just a corporation,"
The fact that the story continues to make headlines is, in a way,
"a left-handed compliment, because it says priests are still held
to a higher standard—to the standard that we profess we are called
to live," he says. "And when we don't live it, then that makes news."
Understanding of the Priesthood
A big issue that Bishop Galante believes has contributed negatively
to the current crisis and must be addressed is a sense of privilege
and entitlement that has been associated with the priesthood and
episcopal leadership. He first spoke to the issue last June during
the bishops' meeting in Dallas.
"Ordination to the priesthood brings about an interior, spiritual,
theological change in a man," he notes. "However, what it should
not grant that person is privilege and entitlement in a social setting.
"The Second Vatican Council talked about the fundamental equality
of all the baptized. And within that community there are different
roles and offices that are distinct. The priesthood is one of those
"But when we lose sight of the mission, the calling to be a servant,
be someone who is a guide, then we become self-centered and self-absorbed.
We don't live out that vocation to which we are called. If [priests]
see it as entitlement to special privileges, that's very unhealthy.
We really need to reestablish that to be a disciple—a disciple of
Jesus in the priesthood—is to die to self. It is to take up the
cross each day and follow Jesus."
True Meaning of Celibacy
Celibacy is another issue he thinks needs to be focused on as we
move forward. No, he doesn't think it should be done away with,
as many have suggested since the crisis broke. Rather, he believes
there needs to be a greater understanding—by clergy and laity—of
exactly what priestly celibacy means and represents.
"Too often priests and people think about celibacy in terms of
just not getting married. That's not it. Celibacy is a positive
orientation to life—to live and to love as Jesus does. It is a gift
from God to enable us to love others as Jesus loves—without selfishness,
without exclusivity, without keeping them for ourselves.
"A corollary to that gift of celibacy is that, because we're called
to this kind of love, we can't devote ourselves exclusively to one
other person, to a spouse. And also, we willingly make the sacrifice,
if you will, of sexual activity in light of loving others in the
way that Jesus loves others. It's not a negation. It's a positive
orientation to life and that has to be more and more understood
and appreciated first by celibates and then by our people."
On a more personal level, Bishop Galante says he has dealt with
the crisis "with a profound sense of sadness, and even—it may not
be too strong to say—horror at the damage done to victims. That
distresses me, disturbs me to no end." He says he also feels sadness
for the perpetrators, and is determined "to see how we can prevent
these things from happening in the future."
As for where the Church goes next, he believes this can be a "graced
time" for the Church. "We always need to reform ourselves. Hopefully,
this crisis gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves as Church,
to look at our relationships in Church, to look at the meaning of
the experience of the priesthood," he says.
A key component to that healing, he says, is for the clergy and
laity to work together, adding that the laity are "very integral
to the life of the Church."
The laity's role in the healing of the Church will be to "call
the clergy to fidelity, at times challenge us and to interact without
mythologizing the clergy," Bishop Galante emphasizes. "We have to
see one another as brothers and sisters."
Bishop Galante knows that the healing process for the Church from
this crisis will be a long and difficult one. He likewise realizes
it will take time for the bishops to regain credibility. But he
believes both will happen through "prayer, the acknowledgment of
mistakes or faults, repentance for those faults, a firm purpose
of commitment that this won't happen again—and also time.
"I think a lot of it has to come about by our interaction as bishops,
by our commitments to safeguarding the children, by our visibility
and our presence to the community and by just our commitment to
be good shepherds. We've got to be shepherds."
He is realistic, though. "It's not going to come overnight. We
shouldn't expect it to come overnight. We bishops have to work to
have trust and respect. But we always should have to work for it."
At the end of the bishops' meeting this November, Bishop Galante
will step down as chairman of the Communications Committee. He says
he would love to continue serving—on that committee and others—seeking
ways to address the crisis facing the Church.