Los Angeles Times Opinion
June 12, 2008
Former Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's work with victims puts him at odds with the church. Karin Klein hears him speak.
Considering that they had come to hear a forbidden Roman Catholic speaker, the people at the UC San Diego faculty club didn't look like rebels. They were mostly older, conservative in dress, sedate in manner. At a reception before the speech Tuesday evening, as they sipped French roast coffee and nibbled cheese cubes, they professed their continuing love of the Catholic religion -- but also deep turmoil and anger about sexual abuse by priests. Or to be more exact, about church leaders who put protecting predator priests and the church's image over protecting children.
And when they settled in for the speech, there were so many of them that people stood, lining the walls of the room and spilling onto the patio beyond it.
They had brought their troubled hearts and disturbing questions to retired Australian auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, whose work with abuse victims led him to believe that the celibacy rule for priests, their status as authority figures "above" others and the church's emphasis on appearances contributed to the molestation scandal. Four Roman Catholic bishops in California told him to stay out of the state on his nationwide speaking tour, saying he could be a source of disunity and confusion for Catholics. "I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony wrote to Robinson, whose U.S. tour is scheduled to end tonight with a talk in Culver City.
Of course, Robinson is at odds with his church because he challenges such authority -- which makes him precisely the sort of person who would come with or without Mahony's permission.
Church officials believe that Robinson's book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church," contains "doctrinal difficulties." But if they expected that U.S. audiences would unquestioningly accept Robinson's views, they would have been surprised by the response Tuesday night. True, the audience applauded him for arguing that the statute of limitations on sexual molestation must be lifted, and that neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI had properly addressed the issue. But in private conversations, they doubted his claim that priestly celibacy played a role in the molestations, saying that sexual desire and sexual predation are entirely different things. This group was evenhanded in its skepticism.
Robinson's listeners werenot putting the scandals behind them without more thought and debate. That's especially true now that they see parochial schools and parishes being closed to pay huge settlements to the abuse victims. One woman had been so tormented by the documentary "Deliver Us From Evil," about molestations in Northern California, that she had driven from Las Vegas to hear Robinson speak. They want an open conversation with the church, even if that conversation leads to questions that challenge the foundations of Catholic tradition. Until they feel they have found this at their church, they will seek it elsewhere.