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.
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 U.S. Senate was familiarly referred to as "the sainted junior senator from New York." He went on to serve as undersecretary 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.