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McBrien forced to deal with his past

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Note: This letter to the editor was the subject of a response by Father Richard McBrien, a response by Bishop Daniel Jenky and an editor’s note.

In the Jan. 27 Observer article “Campus, seminary react to priest scandal,” Fr. Richard McBrien asserts that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ audit of its program for preventing sexual abuse by priests “could have been prevented if the Church has responded properly when allegations began coming to light over 25 years ago.” According to McBrien, “some … dioceses were not as forthcoming – and still are not – as they should be.”

McBrien insists that “the officials of the Church need to allow every relevant question to be placed on the table and discussed. Nothing can be ruled out of bounds.” Nothing except the sexual misconduct committed by McBrien’s good friend and theological soulmate James Burtchaell, and the concealment of that behavior by his other friend Daniel Jenky.

Like Martin Luther, McBrien is a virulent anti-papist who loathes everything Roman Catholic from the cloth to virtually all dogma. The incontrovertible evidence shows he also is a hypocrite.

McBrien indicts the Church and its leaders for not responding properly to the sexual abuse issue 25 years ago. That seems like an apt time to start.

McBrien was head of Notre Dame’s Theology Department in 1989-90 when he was advised that Fr. James Burtchaell sexually abused Notre Dame students during the 1970s and 1980s. See Observer, Vol. XXIV No. 64, p. 4 (Dec. 3, 1991). Burtchaell was a member of the Theology Department; McBrien was his boss.

Given his current sanctimonious condemnation of the Church regarding clergy sexual abuse, one might assume McBrien, to use his words, “responded properly” when Burtchaell’s sexual misconduct was brought to his attention. To the contrary, McBrien concealed Burtchaell’s conduct; he did not discipline him or remove him from contact with students. In short, McBrien continued to put Notre Dame students at risk of a known sexual predator.

Although McBrien had knowledge of Burtchaell’s crimes as early as 1989, Burtchaell’s sexual abuse of Notre Dame students was not made public until late 1991. When asked about Burtchaell’s serial sexual abuse of students after concealing knowledge thereof for more than two years, McBrien refused to “comment on the matter.” See National Catholic Reporter (Dec. 6, 1991).

Remarkably, McBrien even refused to comment on Burtchaell’s resignation. See Observer (Dec. 3, 1991).

McBrien’s silence simply cannot be reconciled with his demand that “every relevant question” be asked and that “[n]othing can be ruled out of bounds.” Those questions include what McBrien knew and when he knew it, and why he failed to act when Burtchaell’s sexual abuse of students was disclosed to him.

Similar questions relate to Fr. Daniel Jenky’s knowledge of Burtchaell’s sexual abuse of Notre Dame students. At the time Burtchaell was preying on young boys, Jenky was the rector of Dillon Hall, where Burtchaell resided and where he committed his sins. There is compelling evidence that Jenky was aware of Burtchaell’s conduct. Currently, Jenky is the Bishop of Peoria, Ill.

In a recent interview with the Denver Post, McBrien asserted that the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Report failed to provide for the “punishment of bishops who knowingly moved abusive priests from parish to parish.” Denver Post (June 9, 2002). Indignant, McBrien demanded “[t]hat oversight … be remedied.”

Revealing his “true” Christian virtues, McBrien shrieked that “[s]everal bishops are going to have to walk the plank. There will be no peace in the Catholic Church until some bishops pay the price.” According to judge, jury and executioner McBrien, the “first down the plank should be … Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York – but there’s room for several others.”

If McBrien had any decency or intellectual honesty, he would be fixing the blindfold for his good friend Bishop Jenky and lighting his last cigarette. McBrien’s hypocritical refusal to respond to inquiries about his knowledge of Burtchaell’s crimes is as morally bankrupt as his failure to call for the resignation of his good friend Jenky.

Until McBrien applies the standards he demands of the Church to his friends and himself, he lacks moral standing to speak on this issue. His words are the empty rhetoric of an over-zealous apostate. Not coincidentally, McBrien is a bully who censors any inquiry into how his own “theological” opinions and thoughts have contributed to the allegedly high incidence of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Unfortunately for McBrien, he has been outed by Michael Rose in “Goodbye, Good Men,” which links abuse by Catholic priests to the pabulum pawned off as “theology” by McBrien and his ilk.

Edward B. Fitzpatrickalumni’80 BBA, ’83 JDJan. 27