Lately it seems that our world has turned upside down on us, with priests gone bad, government doing more harm than good and businesses ripping us off at the gas pump and everywhere else.
Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are the poster boys for a crooked business world that puts personal wealth above people's pensions, common decency and even the law. The war in Iraq shows how fast your elected officials can blow half-a-trillion dollars -- and thousands of American lives -- when they ignore little things like history and reality. And the Roman Catholic Church continues to fight, diocese by diocese, lawsuits stemming from poor oversight of its own priests.
Institutions can only take so much abuse, and with this kind of behavior, it won't be long before people want to tear them down altogether.
That means we're in real trouble.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n such times, it's no wonder The Da Vinci Code is so ridiculously popular. People have lost trust in their institutions, so they turn to a book like Da Vinci Code to help them explain everything. When people feel like they're being lied to, and truth is purely relative, they will find things to believe in -- even if it's pure fiction.
I don't know much about Mary Magdalene, but I do know that around here, the Catholic Church had a very ugly secret: bad priests who couldn't keep their hands to themselves. Of course, it's not a secret any more, and the Diocese of Spokane is paying a huge price for it.
In my years at St. Augustine's and then Gonzaga Prep, I met several priests and teachers who changed my life -- significantly for the better. In fact, I happily blame the Jesuits for turning me into an unrepentant, bleeding-heart liberal. Creating heaven on Earth was the ethic I recall most clearly. So I've always been impressed by the Catholic tradition of advocating for social justice. The American bishops, under our own Bishop William Skylstad, have called for an end to the war in Iraq. The Catholic Church has been active in organizing protests against draconian changes to our immigration laws. And Catholic Charities is one of the finest local social service organizations I know of.
But I was at St. Augustine's middle school (eighth-grade class of '79) when Father Pat O'Donnell was on the loose. I know several people whose lives have been changed because of Father Pat -- significantly for the worse. As we have covered the stories of Father Pat's abuses -- admitted to and alleged -- over the past few years, I've thought about how it could have been me. Would I have come forward? Would I even be the same person I am today? And now that I have boys of my own, the enormity of these crimes is all too clear.
So I salute the victims who have come forward. Thanks to them -- starting with the first brave few in Boston and on up to those here in the Inland Northwest -- the Catholic Church is a safer place.
And I also believe that after a slow start, the Diocese of Spokane is doing what it should. Yes, it is taking a long time and costing a lot of money, but this is a very complicated legal matter. If you peel away the anger on all sides, the local church is doing what it has to do to repair the damage and, hopefully, rebuild trust.
And that's the light at the end of the tunnel people should be looking for: We need our institutions, like the Catholic Church, to be reformed so they can reclaim their proper place in society.
In the Church's case, there has been a confession, and there will be genuine penance -- it's going to cost the Diocese a lot more than reciting 50 "Hail Mary" prayers. But when it's all over with, the community should grant its forgiveness.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s our institutions seem to be crumbling, another institution is kicking in to save them: the law. Social progress in America almost always comes at the bang of a gavel in a courtroom. Lay and Skilling will serve as examples in business schools everywhere of what happens if you let greed consume you. And the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church should have a similarly cleansing effect. Churches today have office doors made of glass, and rules about never leaving kids with just one adult. It's sad we have to be so careful, but that's progress.
The problem from the start for the Catholic Church (as it has been with Enron and even the White House) is that it operated as if it were above the law. The Church's rigid hierarchy dictated that problem priests were handled in-house -- no need to involve the civil authorities. In Father Pat's case, the Diocese should have turned him over to the police. That was a big mistake, one duplicated across the country. It's costing millions of dollars of parishioners' money, and it violated a sacred trust.
It's easy to believe every businessman is a crook, every politician is on the take and every cleric is morally suspect. Not true. This country is still filled with decent people. When the system is working properly, the law reins in those who stray from society's flock. Our courts offer hope: Maybe the good guys will win after all.
And so it falls to those people -- the decent lawyers, cops, public officials and leaders in business and religion -- to be part of the rebuilding of the institutions that are so damaged. If you fit that description, keep working -- we need you to succeed.
More than ever, we need our institutions to be functioning properly, and that starts with trust. People are willing to trust their institutions, but when they are betrayed -- by a priest, a president or a CEO -- it can be devastating. Winning that lost trust back will not be easy. A legal solution, while painful, offers the best first step toward turning our world back right side up.