From An Open Letter to the American Bishops:
Some of you may recall that I was press secretary of your bishops’ conference from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. Those also were difficult times, and one reason was that the bishops of those days made things worse by usually refusing to admit the fact. Most of them were likable, decent men, yet they were overly fond of a form of euphoric rhetoric that I eventually came to think of as “happy talk.”
Faced with theologians who challenged Church doctrine, defecting priests, ferocious feminist nuns, growing religious illiteracy, and countless other troubles, many of those bishops chose to see such things as the growing pains of renewal. On the whole, they insisted, we were on the right track; everything would turn out for the best. Pope John XXIII’s words about “prophets of doom” profoundly shaped their thinking, mostly for the worse.
Looking back, I can’t help wondering whether the bishops of that era took the same resolutely upbeat view of priestly sex abuse. In any event, we now know that prophets of doom are sometimes right. And although the abuse scandal has pretty much driven euphoria from your own repertoire, something just as bad may be taking its place. I mean the suggestion that you may soon be able to put this nasty episode behind you and return to business as usual. If that’s the conventional wisdom in Denver, the crisis of American Catholicism will become even worse, even more destructive, than it already is. Business as usual isn’t the answer.