I know I should feel some sympathy toward Bishop Edward Burns of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. But I’ve seen this movie before, and sympathy is hard to muster.
He protests that he has been transparent. That may well be true. But he seems not to have considered the question from the other side: why should the police believe a Catholic bishop when he says he has been transparent? Why should the police believe a Catholic bishop whose lawyer rejects a request for information as “overly broad,” “unnecessary,” and “inappropriate”?
After more than 20 years of stalling, stonewalling, and lying about child sexual abuse by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, there’s not a judge left in this country who would not immediately sign a search warrant in response.
In the first version of this movie, back in 1997, another bishop, Charles Grahmann, stonewalled a child abuse case into a $120 million jury verdict against him, the largest ever in Dallas County. His lawyer promptly announced he would appeal. Lay leaders intervened, and by threatening a financial boycott, forced the bishop to back down, fire his lawyer, and negotiate a settlement for the victims. So tell me again why the police should believe a Catholic bishop of Dallas?
Boston, Louisville, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Philadelphia (and the entire states of Pennsylvania and Louisiana), Washington, D.C. — tell me again why the police should believe any Catholic bishop at all?
The bishop may be a fine man. I sincerely hope so. But neither he nor his legal team has the credibility to get a nickel loan. It is not enough to go in front of the cameras, throw open your arms, and say you have nothing to hide. He should have said that months ago when the first police request came in. Instead, he chose to take a dive into the hole his predecessors and fellow bishops have already dug. It will be a very tough job climbing out.