Are the Cardinals A Bunch of Birdbrains?

Leaders of the American Catholic Church returned from their trip to Rome no less clueless than they were before. The pedophilia scandal gets worse, not better, with each passing day, and yet they spend their time drawing absurd distinctions between notorious sex offenders and those who indulge themselves on occasion.

The leadership of the Catholic Church has shown itself to be morally bankrupt. The cardinals’ refusal to acknowledge that this is an issue of right and wrong, with no gray area, leaves them in a precarious position. They sought to protect their brother priests, even the atrocious pedophiles, rather than do what was right: to seek justice, and to provide spiritual comfort to those in need.

The issue would seem to be simple: If a priest molests a child, he is to be dismissed and subject to criminal prosecution. But that’s not the message that church officials are sending to an angry, anxious laity. They simply offer spin and make preposterous arguments, such as that it’s not really sexual abuse if the victim is over 12 years old, and that a priest who molests a child just once or twice should be let off the hook.

The church will never be the same. Catholics know that their leaders are playing Clinton-like games-they respond to accusations of clerical sexual abuse of children by saying that it depends on how you define “sex,” “children” and “abuse.” Now these incompetent leaders will pay for their cover-up. Lawsuits pile up, and it’s clear that the dioceses will have to pay huge settlements to victims. And what of those victims and their families? The cardinals didn’t have very much to say about them, but rank-and-file Catholics sympathize with the thousands of lives which priests and bishops have ruined with their crimes.

So many of these crimes are related to the outdated insistence on clerical celibacy. An institution as embattled as the Catholic Church ought to be discussing where it went wrong, and having a serious conversation about celibacy. Instead, its highest prelates simply are saying that they’ll take care of the mess. They have done nothing to earn such trust. It will be up to the next generation to reassert leadership in the American Catholic Church.

That’s assuming, of course, that there are any American Catholics left to lead.

Keep Harold Levy In the Job

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is about to make the first big mistake of his Mayoralty, and it could have dire consequences for the 1.1 million children who attend public schools. Schools Chancellor Harold Levy’s contract is up in July, and it’s become an open secret that the Mayor is looking to replace him-to the point that Mr. Bloomberg’s underlings have been unleashed to make snide public comments about the chancellor. This is more than bad manners; it’s bad policy. Harold Levy has done an excellent job, showing a quick mind and a steady hand in the world’s most thankless job. It is ironic that Mr. Bloomberg, who has made education his No. 1 priority, is on the brink of ousting the best ally a business-minded Mayor could hope for-an innovator who has refused to accept the bureaucratic status quo.

To understand just how far the Mayor has veered from common sense on this matter, note his recent musings that he would like to divide the chancellor’s job into two: a “president that runs the operations side” and a “chief academic officer” who is a seasoned educator. Aside from providing spectator sport in terms of the pointless power struggles that would ensue, Mr. Bloomberg’s plan would set the city’s education system back by creating yet another opportunity for managerial gridlock.

Rather than get fancy, the Mayor should stick with the man he’s got. Mr. Levy has not been afraid to do battle with the Board of Education and the teachers’ union, two groups that have stood in the way of reform. The chancellor has pushed to privatize the city’s worst schools, and began the program that trains those in other professions to teach in public schools. He expanded the summer-school program, and recently created a system whereby teachers can closely track students’ performance on standardized tests from year to year, making it possible to zero in on problem areas. And he did an impeccable job after Sept. 11, relocating kids whose schools had been closed.

In two years, Harold Levy has accomplished what would have taken many chancellors a decade. And yet the Mayor’s communications director, Bill Cunningham, recently-and arrogantly-told reporters, “Harold Levy is a fine fellow, but he is a lawyer, not a manager.”

Mayor Bloomberg and his staff are deluding themselves if they think they can find a better candidate. The city’s schoolchildren deserve more, not less, of Harold Levy.

Barry Scheck And Charles Hynes

Thanks to the compassion, decency and good judgment of two men, a third man has been freed from a jail cell in upstate New York, where he was doing 15 years to life for a murder he did not commit.

Hector Gonzalez, 25, had always maintained that he was not among the group of men who stabbed a man to death in a Brooklyn nightclub brawl in 1995. But like many innocent men who languish in jail without the help of a high-priced lawyer or the media attention that comes with high-profile cases, Mr. Gonzalez had little leverage. Fortunately for him and for those who believe in justice, defense lawyer Barry Scheck has been on a crusade for the past several years to apply DNA analysis to questionable cases. Mr. Scheck took an interest in the case and brought new DNA evidence and four new witnesses to the attention of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. The tests had shown that the blood on Mr. Gonzalez’s pants did not belong to the victim, but rather to a friend who had been injured in the fight. The evidence so clearly exonerated Mr. Gonzalez that Mr. Hynes declared there was no need for a new trial and freed Mr. Gonzalez immediately. “I am the happiest mother in the world,” said Gladys Gonzalez.

Since 1989, 106 people across the country have been freed because of DNA evidence, often through the efforts of Mr. Scheck, who co-founded the Innocence Project at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in 1992. This nonprofit legal clinic takes on the cases of people who have already been convicted and where there is an indication that DNA evidence may prove their innocence.

Barry Scheck and Charles Hynes advance the criminal-justice system through their commitment to seeing that innocent people like Hector Gonzalez regain their freedom.