‘We are deeply saddened.” So begin the many perfunctory statements of many Catholic bishops today in response to the Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailing how priests in that state abused children and how bishops shuffled these priests around. What deeply saddens these men? The rape of children, the systematic cover-up, or the little schemes to run out the clock on the statute of limitations? Are they saddened by the people who were so psychologically wounded by their abuse at the hands of priests that they killed themselves? What exactly are they sorry about? Soon the bishops are telling us about a chance for “renewal” after the promised implementation of new policies. They tell us about “overcoming challenges” in the Church. Or they use the phrase “a few bad apples.”

I find it impossible not to notice that these expressions of sorrow never arrive before the courts, the state attorneys general, or the local press arrive on the scene. That fact gives you another idea about what causes the bishops’ sorrow.

Fifteen years ago Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma, resigned from a panel called the National Review Board, set up by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance with the Church’s new anti-abuse politics. He was under intense pressure to resign because he had offended bishops when he said some of them were acting like “La Cosa Nostra,” a reference to the Sicilian Mafia.