Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach said, at the outset of his meeting
with the press, his staff, and his fellow priests, that he'd had
"a full day." His had proffered his resignation to the
Pope as bishop of Palm Beach. And now, he said, "I want to
apologize as sincerely and as abjectly as I possibly can."
In his meandering address, the bishop said that God had given him
"a lot of abilities and great gifts" and that he could
"truthfully say I have used those gifts very fully." But
one of those gifts is not a gift in the arts of abjection. He apologized
for the effect of what he did to the young man, the effect of what
he did in deceiving his fellow priests and bishops and the papal
nuncio. What he forgot to apologize for was what he did.
To position the story as it might be done by a playwright with an
eye to piquancy, here it is.
The bishop of Palm Beach, in 1998, is revealed to have molested
In order to sanitize this extraordinary scandal, the Vatican
sends in a fresh, hygienic bishop, Bishop O'Connell, who for 18
years had been in charge of a high-school seminary in Missouri.
On March 7, the Florida bishops, led by the archbishop of
Miami, issued a statement against the sex practices that so many
priests have been charged with.
Among the signers was Bishop O'Connell.
At this point, presumably reacting to the bishops' statement,
one Christopher Dixon in Missouri goes to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
and tells of his own abuse at age 15 by Bishop O'Connell at the
high-school seminary, of the lawsuit he subsequently filed against
the bishop, and of the secret settlement by the diocese.
On this business, Bishop O'Connell, in his abject statement of apology,
reported that he had actually only "touched" Dixon; that
he was really engaged only in experimental therapy; that back in
those days, Catholic theology was to some extent influenced by the
teachings of Masters and Johnson. He found it relevant to say that
he had, in his three years in Palm Beach, made "wonderful Jewish
friends." Also, he has made "wonderful friends in the
Muslim community, in the Protestant community, and in the civic
community." He said he wanted to apologize to all of them,
sincerely and, again, abjectly.
"Obviously," he admitted, "I will have to confess
that in some ways I was very misguided back in those years."
But he found in the diocese now "a sense of unity now stronger
than ever." He proceeded to appeal "particularly to my
fellow Catholics, with a reminder that we have only one priest,
who is Jesus Christ."
To those who "support him," he asked for prayers and more
"expressions of love." To those who are angry, he asked
that they "pray for my forgiveness" and "pray for
their ability themselves to forgive." He forgot only to ask
us to pray that the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
grow in Christian charity sufficiently to repent having exposed
the bishop's exercise in Masters and Johnson therapy with a 15-year-old.
I had a note today from my older brother, who when he served in
the United States Senate was familiarly referred to as "the
sainted junior senator from New York." He went on to serve
as Under Secretary of State, president of Radio Free Europe, and
judge in the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington. He wrote to
me, "This is an occasion where a papal apology is truly appropriate.
The apology should be accompanied by the proclamation of a Church-wide
tolerance-of-error policy, explaining that while the Church continues
to love the sinner and hope for reformation and salvation, its overarching
responsibility to the faithful requires it to defrock or otherwise
to isolate any priest who is guilty of sex abuse."
And on the same day I also received an appeal from the Pope John
Paul II Cultural Center. An enclosure was a photograph of the Pope,
his arms extended over the shoulders of a young boy. The text: "Pope
John Paul II has embraced young people as a focus of his papacy
and has inspired millions of them to follow a path that leads to
Christ. He sees young people as a continuing presence in the Church,
and as the greatest hope for a truly universal Church." The
Pope needs now to speak with the same voice with which Christ rued
those who seek to corrupt young people.