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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Chester Gillis

Aired June 16, 2002 - 07:07   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, American Catholic bishops returned to their diocese today with a new sex abuse policy they hope will lift a dark cloud that has plagued their churches. Will parishioners accept the new sex abuse policy and return to the fold, or stay away and demand a tougher stance by the church?

Chester Gillis, professor of theology at Georgetown University, joins us to talk about this this morning. Hi, Chester, great to see you.

CHESTER GILLIS, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Good morning, Kyra, nice to see you.

PHILLIPS: Well, first reaction to the proposal. Your thoughts.

GILLIS: Well, positive in general. I think that they made significant moves, but I think the bishops are a little bit caught between cultures, several cultures. One is the clerical culture from which they've come, where they have been priests themselves, the second is the episcopal culture, where they have supervision over priests, and the third is the culture of America where they are accountable to their own people and to the American people, and the fourth is the culture of Rome, which is sometimes quite different from the culture of America.

So they're trying to accommodate several different audiences and several different cultures, and I think they nuance things in ways that need further explanation to the American public.

PHILLIPS: Well, Chester, can these cultures blend?

GILLIS: Well, they'll have to blend. I think the one that they have to attend to most seriously at this point is the American culture. They have to recognize that unless the American Catholics give them confidence again and they have the restoration of their moral authority, then whatever they say won't go anywhere and won't be heeded. So that's the first culture they really have to attend to, but at the same time they have to be aware that they're accountable to Rome, that Rome has an internal mechanism of cannon law itself that might be somewhat different from the American normative structure, and so they have to be careful that they can please Rome as well.

It was a kind of a tightrope and balancing act, I think.

PHILLIPS: Will the Vatican accept this proposal?

GILLIS: I think the Vatican will accept the proposal, and I think if the Vatican is reluctant to accept it initially, the American bishops will proceed on their own seeing how the policy works internally without making it mandated by Rome. Eventually, it will have to be approved by Rome, of course, and particularly if there are laicizations. Those will all have to go through Rome.

PHILLIPS: Zero tolerance. Many critics, victims of abuse say this truly is the only answer. Those words, as we all know, were not used and were not decided upon. Is it -- does that need to happen?

GILLIS: Well, I think many would love to see it happen. I don't know that it will happen in the way that people want it to happen. It's kind of a zero tolerance with an asterisk. It's removing people from ministry and putting them in positions where they can't be harmful and all, but it's not -- it doesn't go the full route of removing all of them from priesthood. And again, that's kind of clash of cultures, where some of these priests may be elderly, and the church feels an obligation to them, first of all, and I think the church does have an obligation to them, it has an economic obligation, it has a moral obligation to them, but it also has an obligation to protect children and to protect families, and balancing those two is a very difficult thing for the church to do. To...

PHILLIPS: Yeah -- I'm sorry, Chester, go ahead.

GILLIS: No, go ahead.

PHILLIPS: I was just going to say, on that note, you know, the bishops talked a lot about also this new standard of forgiveness, so I guess we're kind of getting into what you're talking about here.

GILLIS: Yes, in the sense that forgiveness and rehabilitation -- they might be different categories, but there's always a category of compassion and the mark of compassion within the church, and I think the bishops are keenly aware of that. They're pastors and shepherds, as well as managers, and I think those two roles sometimes become conflicted.

In their public persona, they have to be very firm and they have to be very clear with the American public, and I think the clarity wasn't fully there, especially for victims groups who were quite disappointed in the decision ultimately that some priests will remain priests, and the way in which they will remain priests is odd. It's very much (UNINTELLIGIBLE) matter. They don't perform duties as priests, they don't dress as priests, and yet they are priests, and part of that has to do with what's called the entourage (ph) of the character of priesthood. It's not simply a job, it is not a profession, but it is a vocation, it is an identity. And that identity cannot be stripped very easily.

PHILLIPS: When talking about removing these priests from the ministry, what are the options? Everyone has been saying -- talking about going to a monastery, but let's talk about the other options of where these men would go and you know, what kind of future do they hold? I'm thinking about their self-esteem, their future, how are they going to interact with other people? I mean, they can't just go into hibernation. I mean, mentally, it wouldn't be healthy.

GILLIS: Well, also, it's going to be very painful circumstance. And no one knows the exact number of priests who will be affected by this decision, but I think next week there will be actions taken against some priests, to remove them from active ministry.

To send them to a monastery -- in some cases, that might be fine. For a very elderly priest who might live out his remaining years in a monastic setting. For a priest who's 50 years old, it might be much more difficult to do that. He might be reluctant to do that. Some have talked about putting them in positions that are within the church structures but normally occupied by lay persons, so they will be doing administrative work exclusively. They will have no contact with children, and they will be monitored by the church. That might be kind of a medium that some might be finding as an accommodation that's reasonable.

But I think every bishop is going to face some very difficult decisions, and they're going to have to face priests whom they know well, especially those who might have been serving in a parish now for 10 or 12 or 15 yeas after an incident, and have the support of the people. They'll have to explain to those communities that they're being removed, they'll have to explain to these priests that their public career has ended, and for some I think it will be very difficult, although they know they must do it.

PHILLIPS: Indeed, Chester Gillis, professor of theology at Georgetown University. Always a pleasure, Chester, thank you.

GILLIS: Thank you, Kyra, and have a great day.

PHILLIPS: You too.

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