Songs of Shame

Slay and Rigali arias soured by lack of decisive action and bully-boy politics

Not only did they paper-whip Heller, scare his partners and rattle his financial stakehorses, they made him sign a press release that is the rhetorical equivalent of being stripped naked under the Gateway Arch and having rotten crow meat jammed down his craw.

Although some of this can be chalked up as the rough discipline any big-city mayor must administer and Heller's own 11th-hour foolishness, this bludgeoning seems more like an exercise in the politics of extreme vengeance.

No New Urbanism nonsense for this mayor. Nothing and nobody outside the tight ring of money-brokers, lawyers and bond-writers who always feast at the trough of big-ticket building projects that always promise more than they deliver.

Although Rigali shows little of Slay's taste for political evisceration, he also failed to hit the high notes of his solo.

He kept out of sight until the flame of outrage and angst singed the pointy top of his mitre, content to issue short statements from on high until the day after he was excoriated by the Pulitzers' favorite pulp product.

And other than his why-didn't-you-do-this-before decision to no longer reassign pedophile priests to posts where children are present, the archbishop has failed to adopt programs and policies enacted by other archdioceses across the country, including the one just across the river in Belleville, Ill., which has set up a victims'-advocate office.

Mouthpieces for the archdiocese make much ado about an advisory board charged with reviewing priestly sex-abuse complaints, a mixed body of clerics, psychological professionals and parents put in place well before the current scandals hit.

But David Clohessy, local leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a.k.a. SNAP, says this outfit is about as toothless as a citizen's-review board without subpoena power and the ability to levy punishment against rogue cops. The efficacy of the board is also neutered by the gatekeepers who decide which cases get reviewed, he says; those guardians happen to be priests.

Worse yet, says Clohessy, victims bringing sex-abuse complaints against priests are still being met with coldness and intimidation.

In an unintentional way, the well-lit but off-key warblings of the archbishop and the mayor-who-would-be-saintly do more to remind folks of the clannish, vengeance-tinged politics that plague this deeply Catholic town than to signal an open embrace of reform and new ideas.

Listen to Clohessy: "We're certainly not the most forthright community when it comes to facing hard, painful issues.... We tend to fritter around the edges of problems, hoping they'll go away."

The songs of Hizzoner and the high cleric flat-out fail to pipe in a willingness to abandon the deep and toxic rut of the way things have always been done in St. Louis. Without that willingness, there is no counterbalance to gutterball thuggery and random acts of autocratic hostility and intimidation.

Without that, the way it is appears to be the cheapjack way it ever shall be.

The faithful deserve better. So do the citizens of St. Louis.

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