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Meet the Press (10:00 AM ET) - NBC

March 31, 2002 Sunday

Fathers Donald Cozzens, Thomas Doyle, Richard McBrien and John McCloskey and former Ambassador Ray Flynn discuss the future of the Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandal

MR. RUSSERT: Welcome all on this Easter Sunday morning. Perhaps not a day goes by where the headlines: "Can The Church Save Its Soul," "Can The Catholic Church Save Itself?" "Sex, Shame And The Catholic Church"--a subject very much on the minds of Catholics and non-Catholics all across our country. Let me first go to a USA Today/Gallup poll which talks about this issue.

72 percent of Catholics...say the leadership has done a bad job dealing with sexual abuse by priests, and 74 percent...say the church is more concerned with protecting its own image than solving the problem.

Father Cozzens, let me start with you. What is the problem and how is the leadership of the Catholic Church dealing with it? FR. DONALD COZZENS: Well, the problem for many people is clearly the abuse of minors by priests and some bishops. But we're beginning to see that the problem is deeper than that. I think that is, in many ways, the tip of the iceberg. I think the problem is a crisis in credibility for our bishops and our leadership. It's a crisis of trust and confidence that Catholics place in their priests. So the problem of misconduct of clergy against minors, is clearly a problem. We need to show far greater concern for the victims and their families. But the problem focuses on the priesthood, and the episcopacy and the confidence and trust that we see eroding away.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey, when you see that nearly three out of four Catholics have reservations about the way their leadership in the church is handling this crisis, how do you respond?

FR. JOHN McCLOSKEY: Well, I respond by saying that clearly there have been huge mistakes made in terms of how this crisis has been handled. At the same time we point out that there's 195 dioceses in this country and each bishop is responsible in each diocese for handling the problems. The problems have been much more acute in some diocese and been handled better, and in others much worse, and I think that has to be taken into account in terms of dealing with this problem. But clearly we have to take care of the victims. We also have to make sure this is never repeated again. And it does bring up very big problems in terms of the credibility of the behavior of these priests.

On the other hand, there's a poll that came out recently that said something along the lines of 75 percent of the priests are happy in what they're doing as celibate clergymen, or giving themselves to God and to the church, and you can be quite sure that these awful crimes that have taken place are a reflection of a very, very small minority of happy, well-adjusted Catholic priests.

MR. RUSSERT: How do you make sure this "never happens again"?

FR. McCLOSKEY: I think you make sure it never happens again by making quite--taking a much more meticulous selection in terms of the type of person who is admitted to the priesthood. It's not simply a question of psychological tests, which indeed are being done at all major seminaries and dioceses now. But it's really looking for people who are capable of living the celibate life, who are capable of living a chaste life throughout their priesthood whether they're heterosexual or homosexual.

In addition to that, there's a need for much greater ongoing continuing formation for priests who like all men face temptations of one sort or another and they have to be encouraged in their priesthood.

MR. RUSSERT: Pope John Paul II issued a letter this week. Let me put it on the screen and read it for you and our viewers: "...we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination...Grave scandal is cause, with the results that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice. As the church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us--conscious of human weakness, but trusting in the healing power of divine grace--are called to embrace the mystery of the cross and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness."

Father McBrien, you said that the pope's statement was inadequate. How so?

FR. RICHARD McBRIEN: Well, it didn't go really to the heart of the problem, which is a bigger problem, as Father Cozzens pointed out. It's not just--as I said elsewhere, it's not just a question of a few bad apples in the barrel. It's a question of the nature of the barrel, and also the process by which we select the apples and put them in, and monitor their health, if you will.

The pope, you know, expressed concern about the lapses in behavior on the part of certain priests and his sense of solidarity with the great majority of priests who are doing their work well. His reference to the victims was really only a glancing reference--that was inadequate--and he also didn't even touch upon the failure of the bishops in many of these instances, to address these problems in a forthright fashion. In fact, their primary directive seemed to have been to protect the institutional church at all costs and they did not put the children first. They did not put their families first. They put the concerns, the reputation, if you will, of the institutional church, and the priesthood. And the sad irony is that in doing that, they have actually exposed the institutional church and the priesthood to much greater scandal than would have been present if they had been forthright and open and honest and not been forced by the press, the media, to, if you will, come clean on what, in fact, is a very, very serious crisis.

MR. RUSSERT: Ray Flynn, you are a member of the Diocese of Boston where some 80 priests now have been cited for misconduct. You are a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Has Rome, the church in Rome, done enough in offering guidance to American Catholics, and American Catholic bishops, how to deal with predatory priests?

MR. RAY FLYNN: I don't think in the past they have, Tim. And I'm encouraged, because of the Holy Father's recent statement. It certainly doesn't lay out a specific blueprint of how to deal with the situation, and, historically, bishops, archbishops, have been given wide latitude, discretion, in which to run their diocese as they see fit. I think there have been enormous problems that have been made, problems that have been created, bad decisions on many people's part. However, you know, as we all know, sometimes good people make bad decisions. And that's what happened here in this particular case.

MR. RUSSERT: Father Thomas Doyle, 17 years ago, you co-wrote a manual, which said that a serious and far-reaching problem is upon the Catholic Church, a real and present danger, and predicted that a billion dollars in legal claims may be brought against the church. Seventeen years later, that's practically the exact number. What was their reaction when you sent your manual to American bishops?

FR. DOYLE: Well, initially, when we attempted to get the manual, at least accepted and considered by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, we were stonewalled by the general secretariat of the bishop's conference. And many of the bishops never had the opportunity to even know that it existed. And what needs to be known is that this manual did not come into existence, these statements, out of a vacuum. We had consulted with a number of bishops and archbishops, and a couple of cardinals, and received a lot of encouragement. The manual was sent to all the diocesan bishops in the United States in December of 1985. What effect it had immediately I'll never know because we received no feedback whatsoever.

MR. RUSSERT: What has happened the last 17 years? Do you believe that the church in Rome, or the American Catholic bishops, have changed their attitude towards these allegations of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests?

FR. DOYLE: Well, I certainly believe the American bishops have changed their attitude toward these allegations because of what's happened over the past 17 years. And what's got them to change their attitude is, I believe, it's two shotguns, one on either side of the collective heads. And one side is the press, and the other side is the legal system, that has forced the issue, and has forced the bishops to, I think, reluctantly and begrudgingly, acknowledge the fact that this is a major and it's a real problem out there. As far as the Vatican is concerned, they have sat back in, basically, a stony silence with two or three statements over the years.

And I would agree with Father McBrien and his assessment of the most recent statement that was given in the name of the pope, that it's woefully inadequate. And I believe that not only that, but this statement says to me that there's almost an attempt to shift the blame. These men who have sexually abused children or young adolescents are men who generally are in the grip of a very compulsive, powerful sexual disorder. To misconstrue this in terms of sin and evil, I think, is missing the point.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey, would it be helpful if the Vatican issued very specific guidelines for diocese in this country and around the world, to deal with sexual misconduct of priests? Go to legal authorities, how the priests should be dealt with, how the victims should be dealt with, and so forth?

FR. McCLOSKEY: I think it would be very useful for the Holy See to encourage the bishops to do that. However, at the same time to realize that the Holy Father gives a lot of leeway to his brother bishops in each country, in each diocese, also in each legal system in order to handle this. But clearly it has to be addressed, both at a universal and a local level. And it has to be addressed--and I'm sure it is being addressed, as soon as possible.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McBrien, Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that these are largely old cases, and that the screening that has been implemented over the last 10, 15 years has gone a long way to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.

FR. McBRIEN: She may be right, but we don't know that. The so-called new cases may be out there, but haven't yet been uncovered. But the cover-up, the stonewalling, the irresponsibility on the part of the bishops in the various dioceses, is not old. It's not 20 and 30 years ago. This is as recently as Christmas of this past year.

MR. RUSSERT: I'd like to share some comments written by Father Cozzens in his book, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," and this is sobering: "During my years as vicar of priests in Cleveland, I investigated dozens of reports of clergy sexual misconduct, spending a good part of many working days arranging for assessment and treatment for accused priests. ...Without wanting to diminish the harm they had done, there seemed to be something amiss at the core of their personalities. For I sensed little guilt for their seductions. The only regret I could identify was associated with being caught. For the most part, the men I worked with were more concerned about themselves and their futures than for their victims. From my relatively brief work with them I came to regard them as focused sociopaths--little or no moral sense, no feelings of guilt and remorse for what they had done, at least in this area of their lives. ...I don't remember one priest acknowledging any kind of moral torment for the behaviors that got him in trouble. The absence of remorse and concern for their victims continues to trouble me."

Father Cozzens, that's extraordinary.

FR. COZZENS: Let me say, first of all, Tim, that what I wrote there, I truly meant. But it's not only the reflection of one priest in a Midwestern diocese. I had the opportunity while I was vicar to meet with vicars and chancellors from across the country on an annual basis. That was the impression of many of us. So it's not simply the reflection of a small sampling from the Midwest.

We need to listen to people who are therapists and who have tried to help the priests who have been caught in this terrible situation. But I think they are wounded men. And many of the priests who have abused young people have been abused themselves. That description can lead to a certain sense of compassion for these men. I think they're hurt themselves, they're wounded themselves, and perhaps there's a narcissistic dimension to all of this where they're just really concerned about their own salvation and survival, at least at this particular point.

MR. RUSSERT: I seem to sense at the table an agreement that there has to be vigilance in making sure this doesn't happen again, a crackdown, if you will, against predatory priests. But the next step is: How do you prevent priests like this, men like this, becoming priests? And again, I'm going to go back to Father Cozzens' book and then open it up for further discussion: "As a group," you write, Father Cozzens, "abusers tend to be married men who prey on girls, although many pedophiles abuse both girls and boys. Our respective diocesan experience"--those are the vicars you talked about from the Midwest--"revealed that roughly 90 percent of priest abusers targeted teenage boys as their victims. ...Relatively little attention has been paid to this phenomenon by church authorities. Perhaps it is feared that it will call attention to the disproportionate number of gay priests. While homosexually oriented people are no more likely to be drawn to misconduct with minors than straight people, our own experience was clear and, I believe, significant. Most priest offenders, we vicars agreed, acted out against teenage boys."

So this is not pedophilia, as such. I think the term is...

FR. COZZENS: Phebophiles.

MR. RUSSERT: Phebophiles. Explain that.

FR. COZZENS: Good point. It seems like a relatively small percentage of priests who have acted out against minors are pedophiles, a consistent sexual attraction to a young boy or a girl who has not reached puberty. The phebius is one of the Greek words for youth. And a phebophile is ordinarily an adult whose primary interest is focused on teenagers who have reached puberty. The distinction is important, clinically, although I think we tend to talk about abuse against minors as pedophilia. And it's too bad that we've lost that distinction, because probably no more than a third of the priests who have been brought to the media's attention and to the public's attention are pedophiles. Probably two-thirds or more are men who are consistently drawn to teenagers. And in the case of clergy, as you pointed out, consistently drawn to teenage boys.

MR. RUSSERT: Is there a linkage between the phebophiles and homosexuality?

FR. COZZENS: From the standpoint of the tragedy that we're talking about this morning, I think there is a link. I think we have to ask the question: Why are 90 percent to 95 percent, and some estimates say as high as 98 percent of the victims of clergy acting out against teenage boys? Why isn't there, sadly speaking, a higher percentage of teenage girls? We need to ask that question, and I think there's a certain reluctance to raise that issue. First of all, we want to be fair and compassionate to many wonderful gay seminarians and gay priests. You can understand how difficult this is to talk about the issue without impugning the good work of many priests and seminarians.

MR. RUSSERT: When you say gay seminarians, gay priests, men who have a sexual orientation...


MR. RUSSERT: ...but do not act on it.

FR. COZZENS: Who are leading celibate lives. Right.

MR. RUSSERT: In your research and experience, what percentage of the priesthood do you believe is gay?

FR. COZZENS: In the changing face of the priesthood, I quoted a number of studies that placed the estimate between 30 percent and 50 percent. From my own experience, I would say that's an appropriate estimate.

MR. RUSSERT: Ambassador Flynn.

MR. FLYNN: Well, Tim, I have to jump in on this one. Because I think that what we're talking about here is we're talking about a small number of priests, when you made those references to pedophile priests. We're talking about a small number of priests that are, in fact, pedophiles. So I'm glad we're, because of the father's good work, able to establish that. So people don't have to fear that there are thousands and thousands of pedophile priests who are incurable because of this sickness that they have, this disease that they have--they're going around and hitting on young boys.

In addition to that, somebody here has to answer the question about where we go from here. We could keep rehashing about the problems of the church here. I guess I'm really interested in, me as a a Catholic, where do Catholics go and the future of the Catholic Church? I don't want to spend my whole life, you know, talking about the problems in the church, that I love Jesus Christ and I love my religion.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey, if, in fact, you are drawing to the priesthood from a pool of people who must be celibate, are you limiting the universe to such a point that you're going to get a disproportionate number of men who have homosexual orientation, and perhaps a disproportionate men who are potential phebophiles or pedophiles?

FR. McCLOSKEY: I would say absolutely not. The long tradition of the church of celibacy for the apostolate in terms of the priesthood; I disagree very strong with Father Cozzens in terms of talking about 30 percent to 50 percent of the priests being homosexual. And I think...

MR. RUSSERT: What is your estimation?

FR. McCLOSKEY: Two percent to 4 percent at a maximum. Of those that have behaved in that sort of way, it's precisely because they were active. We've been dancing around that issue in terms of talking about pedophilia and so on. The solution is precisely to make sure that psychological testing picks up that tendency and that these people are not admitted to the seminary, nor to the priesthood, particularly focusing on people who have acted unchastely in homosexual relationships before asking for admission to the seminary or the priesthood. That is the closest way I think we can come to a solution, a zero tolerance in admitting these persons to the seminary.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McBrien?

FR. McBRIEN: Well, as my friend, Father McCloskey said absolutely not, I say absolutely yes; that there is a relationship between the high proportion of gays coming into our seminaries and being ordained, especially in the younger clergy, and also pedophiles and phebophiles, who are drawn from an even narrower slice, namely of exceedingly sexually immature males. The fact that we require celibacy, I'm not saying it's a cover consciously. I'm not putting, you know, evil intentions in the minds of those who come into seminaries and aspire to the priesthood who are gay and/or who have these other sexual problems, but it certainly does provide a cover, and especially if they're looking for a respected profession or ministry which will give them an opportunity, they think misguidedly, that will help them to work out these sexual problems which they feel very, I think, conflicted about.

And secondly, the fact that they, you know, don't even consider marriage as an option, no one is going to ask them, "How come you're not married?" "Well, I'm going to be a priest." "Oh, I see. I understand." They're not going to ask that anymore. And one of the really negative effects of this crisis that we're experiencing now is that we've already had a steep decline in the number of young men who consider the priesthood and enter seminaries. We're going to have an even more precipitous decline now in the number of homosexual young men--I mean of heterosexual young men who would consider the priesthood. And that's one of the most serious byproducts of this whole crisis.

MR. RUSSERT: Father Doyle, what's your reaction to this, before we take a quick break?

FR. DOYLE: OK, my reaction, I completely agree plus, with Father McBrien. I concur with the high estimates of the incidence of homosexuality in the priesthood. But I would like to say that in some ways, you know, there's been a lot of focus on the priesthood, on the priests who suffer from pedophilia or phebophilia. I want to say a word for the victims. These are the people that were glossed over by the pope and in general by the bishops consistently. These people--and there's thousands of them out there--and their families and their loved ones--they have suffered incredibly, not simply from the physical abuse of the sexual violation itself, but also from the spiritual abuse of being not only not believed oftentimes but treated as the enemy.

I've known victims for the past 17 years. I'm in regular, almost daily contact with them. One of the most--I'd say the most important thing I've done over the years in this work is when I meet victims, when I'm testifying on their behalf or whatever, I always make a point of apologizing to them for what has happened to them at the hands of the institutional church, not simply from the priests who've abused them, but from the hierarchy who have also spiritually abused them. And 100 percent of the reaction is a profound, you know, expression of gratitude. And they say to me, "No one else has ever expressed that to me."

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey, go before we take a break, go ahead.

FR. McCLOSKEY: I'm just kind of amazed. This is the first time I've ever heard the holy father accused of not being compassionate. He's the most merciful and compassionate man we've seen in the last 20, 25 years in the church.

The United States is 6 percent of the world's Catholics. The holy father is addressing, very unusual, in a letter, on Holy Thursday to priests throughout the world, making mention of that. He cannot handle or take care of all those problems in two or three paragraphs. These problems are being addressed, both from the Vatican and also in the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: We are going to take a quick break and come back with a lot more on our discussion about the Catholic Church. Where do we go from here regarding its priests?


MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back after this brief station break.


MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. The Pilot, the diocesan paper in Boston, wrote an editorial a few weeks ago, which I'd like to share with our guests and our viewers, and put it on the screen: "...these scandals have raised serious questions in a the minds of the laity that simply will not disappear. Should celibacy continue to be a normative condition for the diocesan priesthood in the Western [Latin] Church? If celibacy were optional, would there be fewer scandals of this nature in the priesthood? Does priesthood, in fact, attract a disproportionate number of men with a homosexual orientation?"

Again, our USA Today poll about attitudes of Catholics across the country: "74 percent say they would not be willing to accept a priest who was known to have abused young people as their parish priest, even if he had undergone rehabilitation. And 75 percent, three of four Catholics, say they favor allowing Catholic priests to marry."

Ambassador Flynn, Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, this week, said, "I've never been against discussing the marriage of priests. And, in fact, the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church has marriage, allows marriage, and it works out fine." Is that where we are headed?

MR. FLYNN: Well, I think that's a legitimate discussion that is going to take place throughout the Catholic Church. I hope we can have it intelligently in this "politically correct" environment and not being afraid to openly discuss these issues and other issues that The Pilot article addressed. Look, I think there's going to be a--almost like a guerrilla warfare going on within the Catholic Church now--We hear it right here--where some people are critical of the leaders, some people are critical of the bishops, some people are critical of the priests. As a Catholic layperson here, the one Catholic layperson in this panel, I just hope that we can come together as a church, so we know what the rules are, so we can get all this behind us, and we can go back to dealing with the issue of religion and the teachings of Jesus Christ and the church and not be talking about politics and the inside politics of the Catholic Church all the time. That's what we're doing.

People don't join the Catholic Church because it's the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or it's the Hatfields and the McCoys. There's one player here. The goal here is the Catholic Church and the teaching of Jesus Christ. And that's why I consider myself to be a proud Catholic. That's why I want to be a Catholic, not because I want to get involved in some inside politics in the church.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me raise this issue of marriage of Catholic priests in a very strong way. In The Washington Post op-ed the other day: "Good Catholics, Good Priests--and Married." And the op-ed points out that: "The vast majority of Catholics in the world belong to the Roman (or Western rite) Church, which does not permit its priests to be married. But there are numerous Catholics who belong to one of the many Eastern Catholic Churches; including the Ukrainians, the Maronites and so forth." And what they go on to say is that "They are not Orthodox and are no less Catholic than members of the Roman rite. But their priests can be married."

And then this: "In recent centuries, the Catholic Almanac says, 'a number of married Protestant and Episcopalian (Angelican) clergymen who became converts and were subsequently ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church have been permitted to continue in marriage.'"

So the Eastern rite, Father McBrien, and Anglican priests who have converted and brought their wives and children with them, are now performing duties as priests, as married men. Is that the future of the Catholic Church?

FR. McBRIEN: Yes. It's the past of the Catholic Church, it's the present of the Catholic Church, and it's the future. We have had a married clergy even in the Roman Catholic Church through the first millennium. There were--it was a zigzag kind of history. When people ask me when did celibacy first start, we really don't know exactly. It certainly began to be imposed on the universal Roman Catholic Church the end of the 11th century. But we've always had a married clergy.

MR. RUSSERT: Why was it changed then?

FR. McBRIEN: Well, for a variety of reasons, one of which was the--there was corruption in the clergy in those days. One of which, not the only item, was some of the priests would be leaving church property to their families. There was also a lot of nepotism going on where priests, even bishops, would be promoting their sons to positions in the church. But we've long passed that era. Now, we're in a different situation. And it's clear that celibacy is more of a problem itself than of the issues that it was trying to correct way back in the 11th century.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey?

FR. McCLOSKEY: I don't see the problem with celibacy. The reality is that with married ministers in many other Christian denominations, there's just as high a percentage of behavior of this type of sort we've been talking about. It's like talking about the perhaps millions of men who commit adultery each year. And so perhaps we should get rid of marriage as a result of that.

There's no connection whatsoever between a clerical celibacy--celibacy is a gift. It's an opportunity for the priest to follow Jesus Christ in that sort of way, an opportunity for him to give himself totally to the people he ministers to in the sacramental priesthood. And we won't get into the historical discussion, which I've had before with Father McBrien. But it has been a discipline that, unfortunately, has been observed in the breach many times. From the very beginning of Christianity, the practice of apostolic celibacy, as it's lived now in the Latin rite, is a crowning jewel of the Catholic Church. It's something that will not be taken away. We may discuss it. It's a discipline with deep theological roots. It will continue.

MR. RUSSERT: Father Doyle, what is your sense about the future of celibacy or the future of married Catholic priests?

FR. DOYLE: Well, I think the future of celibacy is pretty shaky right now, if you look around at what's going on. So I think also that the option of celibacy--and I agree that men that have the gift and some don't. But simply taking vows and making promises doesn't bring about a metaphysical and emotional change within. I do believe that to make it an option would certainly enhance the emotional and psychological health of the priesthood, in general. And it certainly would open it up to a lot more men who would be willing to come on board and serve as priests. I've worked very closely on a daily basis with married Protestant ministers for the past 14 years and--just as dedicated. They're just as devoted to the Lord. They're just as unselfish. So I don't see the impact that celibacy on a practical level has. But I do agree that I think it's on very, very shaky ground. It's being looked at hard. And I believe that the institutional church, the hierarchy, has to take a look at it. We can't hide our heads in the sand any longer.

MR. RUSSERT: Father Cozzens, in 1995, Father Norman Rotert, the vicar general of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, gave a speech which you cite, and he talked about how it has traditionally been women who encourage vocations in Catholic families. "My son, the priest." And Father Rotert said that many women have told him that, "If you won't take my daughter, you can't have my son." And then he went on--and I want to put his speech on our board, as well: "The paternalistic attitudes, the increasing consciousness of women, the lack of appreciation for the value of celibacy, the large percentage of gay priests, the pedophilia crisis, all have so impacted our vocation recruitment efforts that I see no possibility of salvaging the priesthood as we know it today. We must talk about the issue if we are going to find a creative solution. Non-ordained lay pastors, closing parishes, twinning parishes are all temporary, stopgap measures. We are a sacramental church. We must celebrate the Eucharist or we will die."

Do you agree with that?

FR. COZZENS: I do. And that's why I quoted it in the book, Tim. I think Monsignor Rotert is really on to something. As Father McBrien indicated, the vocation crisis, I think, is going to be far worse because of what we're dealing with at the present time.

First of all, I think we need to listen in a different way to both the priests and the laity. I think we're witnessing the unraveling of clerical culture. And by clerical culture, I'm talking about a culture of privilege and exemption, status, and to a great extent, secrecy. I think that's unraveling. Ultimately, I think it's going to make the priesthood stronger and the church stronger. But we need to listen to the pastoral experience of priests. We need to listen to the laity in a different way.

If clerical culture is unraveling, I think we're witnessing the dawn of the age of the laity, and the laity deserve to be taken seriously as adults. We're going to discuss celibacy, probably for the first time, I think, in my memory, in an open way. Just a few years ago, we priests did not feel free to talk about it. We're going to talk about it, I think, today because we really have to. And we should be talking about it. I want to invite to the table laity and encourage my brother priests to speak honestly about their experience. It might be very positive. We're talking about it as a gift, and we're talking about it as a discipline. Let's realize that you can't legislate a gift. But I'm very happy to see the conversation joined by as many people as possible.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey, the number of priests in America has declined by about a third; 20,000 priests have left the priesthood. You wrote an article for McCloskey's Perspectives, your Web site, called 2030: Looking Backwards. You cast yourself as a 77-year-old priest looking back at the last three decades. And you say that the number of Catholics in the United States will probably decline from 60 million to 40 million. But you suggest that that's OK because those who left weren't with the program to begin with.

FR. McCLOSKEY: The Catholic Church is here to propose its teachings. It considers itself as a guardian of divine revelation. It proposes but does not impose its teachings. Over the last 35 or 40 years, for a variety of reasons, there's been a huge amount of confusion, which continues to exist in the Catholic Church, as you can tell to some extent from our discussion. I think that we're coming to an end of that, in fact, this crisis, in particular problems that we've been dealing with here, may be the end of a huge amount of misinterpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

I think that the children, so to speak, of the dissenters, of those people who disagree on particularly the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, their children unfortunately for us will not be Catholics. And that saddens me very much. But the church is not run by opinion polls. It's not a Chinese menu which you can choose things. You have to assent as hundreds of thousands of new Catholics did last evening on the Easter vigil that I believe all the truths the Catholic Church teaches. That's what the essence of Catholicism is. There's 31,000 Christian denominations in which a Catholic who disagrees with basic teachings of the church can perhaps find a home. I'd like them to stay, but the church cannot change on account of subjectivism or people thinking or disagreeing on things that are basic to what the Catholic Church teaches.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McBrien, do you see the decline not only in the clergy, but also in the Catholic Church in terms of numbers the way Father McCloskey does?

FR. McBRIEN: No. And what I find ominous, not that Father McCloskey is an ominous person--I find ominous because I've heard it elsewhere. There's really an attitude in some of the highest levels of leadership in the Catholic Church, let them go. In other words, that's very serious, because in other words, what they're really saying is we're not open to this legitimate pressure. We're not open to the feelings and the stated views of our own people. Because by definition--it's like a former cardinal in an Eastern archdiocese said, "I've never lost a good priest."

So you automatically define a priest who leaves to marry as a bad priest. And here, whole groups of Catholics, the ones that you mentioned who show on poll after poll after poll that they have a different position on one or another issue, that there's a certain type of mentality in the Vatican and even among some segments of the Catholic Church in this country, let them go. And that is a very, very seri--these are family. We don't let them go. We listen to their concerns. We try to respond to them. We try to engage in dialogue. And lo and behold, we may even learn something from them.

MR. RUSSERT: There is an interesting statistic here, and I think, Ambassador Flynn, you tried to touch upon it earlier in our conversation. Despite all this controversy and all this discussion within and outside the Catholic Church, this is the way Catholics have responded in terms of their future: "Seventy-six percent say they are not less likely to follow the church's teachings on matters of faith and morals because of the sex abuse issue. Seventy-four percent say they are not less likely to go to Mass." And Father Cozzens pointed out, the laity is saying, "This is our church, this is our faith, these are our beliefs."

MR. FLYNN: We might be stronger Catholics than some of those folks at the top maybe. You know, think about it this way. This is generational in many respects. And, you know, you have the post-World War II era, maybe the Woodstock generation, and now you have the MTV generation. I wrote about it in an article for Easter message. And this is a healthy discussion. My children, my grandchildren, the other generations--they approach this problem with a very different political perspective, different political reality, different environment that we're living in. Things have changed. It is not unhealthy for the Catholic Church to be dealing with these issues. I just hope that in the final analysis, after we discuss them, we can come back to be this church where we all can play by the same rules, and for people who want to play by those rules, that's fine. For those people who don't want to play by those rules, then maybe the Catholic Church isn't the church for them.

MR. RUSSERT: Father Cozzens, what has to happen for the Catholic Church in America, not only to survive, but to flourish?

FR. COZZENS: I think it's fair to say that some clergy and some bishops have a listening problem. We try very hard to listen, but I've discovered that--let me speak for priests. Many priests strive hard to listen for a question so they can respond with an answer, or they listen for a problem so that they might respond with a solution. We priests and bishops need to learn how to listen not only to answer questions and to solve problems, but to be informed and transformed. Part of the clerical culture is that "I'm the answer man if I'm ordained." I think we need to really respect the experience of our priests and of our laity, so the first step to a stronger church is greater candor. People are asking questions. Why is this scandal, what's the scale of it? I think they have a right to know and I think adult Catholics need to know how their money is being spent. So I think we have to start listening in a radically different way and trust that the spirit is alive and well.

I think Ambassador Flynn made an excellent point. There's wisdom and grace and sanctity throughout the church and it would be interesting to acknowledge that the laity are now ministering to the clergy in many ways and we should be grateful for that.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McCloskey, should there be accountability from the hierarchy saying, "Yes, we have paid out a billion dollars in claims and this is where..."

FR. McCLOSKEY: Most certainly there should be complete openness and candor on this issue, an admission and deep apologies, because this is a--something, it's a true scandal. It's hurt the body of Christ and people of God. No question about that. But then we have to go from there, in this kind of passion, this Good Friday we're going to, in order to move forward into what the holy father calls for a new evangelization in this country and obviously some of us here have differing views how that's going to come about, but I hope we're all united in seeing the need in order to preach the gospel fully.

MR. RUSSERT: Father McBrien?

FR. McBRIEN: Ambassador Flynn has made a very important point more than once and I want to address it, and that is that we have to realize what's really important. When I tell my students at Notre Dame why Catholics remain in the church, even those Catholics who have difficulty with a lot of things the church does and some of their leadership, the thing that keeps people in the church is its sacramental life, and at the center of the sacramental life is the Eucharist. This is where I might disagree with you, but very respectfully, because I admire you very much. And that is that it isn't just the political problem to say we're concerned about the quality of priests we're getting and the numbers, because without the priests you don't have the Eucharist. You don't have the other sacraments.

MR. RUSSERT: We have to leave it there. Father McBrien, Father McCloskey, Ambassador Flynn, Father Cozzens, Father Doyle, thank you all. We'll be right back.