The Bishops’ silence is a scandal in itself

I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true: I let myself believe we were past the worst of the sex abuse and cover-up scandal. But it turns out that whole thing in 2002 where we rent our garments and said “never again, never again”? There was a whole layer of garments underneath. There was a whole layer we were holding back, just in case we needed to do some more rending.

So I can’t bring myself to say “never again” this time, because I know there will be more. I know it. I say this not with despair, but just out of painful honesty. We’re not just dealing with the past, and we’re not even just dealing with ongoing problems. We’re looking to the future, and right now, the future does not look like it’s fixing to be any different.

I’ve talked to some laymen who have written to their pastors or to their bishops in the last few days, and these men are surprised to hear that the laity is so upset. Surprised! They are still so insulated, so separated from a normal human response to suffering, so utterly surrounded by like-minded peers dedicated to the cause of not rocking the boat, that they apparently think, “Well, the USCCB has put out a statement. Phew, now we can move on.”

This open letter from prominent young laymen calls for “an independent investigation of who knew what and when, a new intolerance of clerical abuse and sexual sin, and public acts of penance by Catholic bishops.”

It’s intolerable that none of this has happened yet. Intolerable.

As Dawn Eden points out,

the bishops have said they are sorry, but they have not said, as a body, that they were wrong. Without such acknowledgement, our penitential tradition insists, true contrition is not possible.

And without such acknowledgement, we have zero reason to believe that they’re committed to any kind of real change. We’re faithful, not stupid.

It’s not just “our penitential tradition” that insists on acknowledging sin. A reporter once told me that, in states that run successful sex offender and domestic abuser rehabilitation programs, part of the mandatory process is that those convicted must say out loud what they did, every single day. Without this practice, there is no progress.

You can’t change if you don’t want to change, and you won’t want to change until you face the full horror of what you did. Not what someone else made you do, not what people misunderstood you to have done, not what you were unjustly accused of doing, but what you did. You, the guilty one. You, the one who must change.

Some sins are hard to admit. Some sins are horrible to own up to. Some sins will get you locked up or sued if you acknowledge them in public. I get it: This is hard.

But God have mercy, these are our bishops. These are men who hold shepherd’s staffs. What do they think those are for? What do they think their job is, if not to lead by example? Right now, they’re straggling behind the sheep, and that’s a scandal in itself.


Image altered; from Nationalmuseet [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

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17 thoughts on “The Bishops’ silence is a scandal in itself”

  1. By the way Merry Christmas cause JESUS CHRIST is the LIGHT OF THE WORLD that Pierces the Darkness.
    JESUS Christ is the Hope that brings Joy to the World. Let REMEMBER the Real Reason we celebrate ChrisTmas.

  2. Truly sad that the USCCB statement omits mention of sin. I’m not a fan of episcopal conferences: too easy to blame the faceless conferences when something goes wrong. The buck should stop with the bishop of a diocese & not with a conference staff.

  3. Yes, let us bring on a full investigation, and give full disciplinary action as needed. At the same time, in our search for justice, let us keep our heads clear and not put ourselves above the situation. Let us keep this search for justice as a search for justice, not a blind-anger lynchmob where we just seek to have some action taken, no matter who it is against. As we work for justice, may we remain humble as we remember, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

  4. I taught at a Catholic School and some years ago, we were told we were having an emergency meeting on the abuse issue. The Diocese brought in someone to speak to us to tell us how to protect ourselves from BEING ACCUSED of sexually abusing a child. I thought I was walking into a meeting that would tell us how to recognize the signs that a child is being abused, and the signs of an abuser, how to minister to an abused child and their family, and what to do if we suspected someone of abusing a child. I was so disappointed, and right then I knew that they truly didn’t believe most of the accusations. Then they gave us a bunch of hoops WE had to jump through so they can make sure we weren’t going to abuse the children, so no more hugging 5 year olds who are crying! And here I thought the problem was with the priests and bishops! Not that I am against trying to protect the children, but it seems a bit strange to me that they made it sound like all the abusers in the church were teachers, volunteers and coaches. Not one mention of priests abusing children. Perhaps they need to reorganize the priesthood, these men are too removed from the real world, it seems, and the “good ole boy” network is alive and well in the church. I would leave and join the Orthodox, and still might, but when this all comes crashing down, and it should all come crashing down, there needs to be a remnant ready and willing to build it back up.

    1. “I would leave and join the Orthodox, and still might, ”
      You’re the third person this week that is threatening this. I don’t get it.

      I just did a quick Google search and a whole bunch of articles come up about abuse in the Orthodox Church as well. The problem seems to be a global one.

      Has the Orthodox Church done a better job of managing the problem?

      1. On the same scale? My interest in the Orthodox Church has more to do with just this scandal, but this scandal is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Here is another truth about all of this. The Church has become a safe haven for men who hide behind a Roman collar, but secretly have an active homosexual life. Most of the people being abused are older teenagers not young children, which means this isn’t exactly a pedophile problem (although there are clearly some). These priests and bishops know about it, know each other, support each other, defend each other, and rescue each other when a problem arises. I would even assume they confess to each other, if they bother to confess at all. This needs to end. So, there needs to be an overhaul with how seminarians are selected or let priests marry. A married priest with a kid is much more likely to turn in someone if they see something going on. So much secrecy in the Church, no one should ever say annoying if they see something wrong. “Who am I to judge” seems to be their mantra with no concern for the kids.

        1. The classic pedophile is a married man with children. So allowing priests to marry won’t help with pedophilia. It is about power, not sex.

          1. Yes, I realize pedophilia involves children, and the pedophiles can be married or not. Most of these cases in this sex scandal, however, have been homosexual priests preying on teenagers. They are hiding behind their collar to have access to and prey upon teenage boys. This isn’t the same as pedophilia. This is why I think if there were married men involved, as the priest, this would curtail that activity. They also need to quit taking a vow to do whatever their Bishop tells them to do. Many good priests have gone to their Bishops with information about other priests committing these atrocities, and were told not to discuss it. This is only one of many problems within the Church.

  5. If you believe the visions of St. Faustina and read the story of Our Lady of Good Success (Quito) and Our Lady of Akita and the vision of Pope Leo XIII, then none of this is surprising. “Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy.” Looks like the Day of Mercy is coming to an end and the Day of Justice is rising. It will take a long time to clear this out and the Church will shrink. That doesn’t change the Truth of the Church. Stay firm in Faith but know that we are in for some difficult times. We have to be the face of the Church and everyone around us will laugh. This too shall pass. Pray the rosary.

  6. So why aren’t WE holding them accountable? Why aren’t we saying no more from us until you clean up the mess you made and ensure it does not happen again according to OUR standards?

    People can moan about the bishops all they like, but if they were still forking over money to these men, then who do you really have to blame?

    Hit ’em where it hurts — speak the one language they’ll understand. You can always give your parish donations directly to hospitals and food banks and so on. Not saying to deny the needy.

    But no more free rides for able-bodied men who had ONE job and failed over and over again.

  7. Yes. Exactly, what you have written.

    We in my Diocese are *still* waiting to hear some word from our Bishop, and it has been over a week. He seems to be a good and holy man, but we could certainly use some kind of communication that tells us he is not oblivious to what has taken place, and some kind of reassurance that he is taking steps to ensure this will never happen again – certainly not at our seminary, our sacristies, or anywhere else, at the hands of our priests and hierarchy.

    An interesting point – Fr. Longenecker mentioned in his blog that the word “sin” was never used in the statement written on behalf of the USCCB on this subject. I hate to think it, but I have to wonder if they think they are above sin. It is a grim thought, considering they are running this Church of ours in the USA.

    The days of blame, shame, and paying out billions of dollars to cover victim settlements for the crimes of our leadership are over for the laity, and the hierarchy need to realize this. They also need to know that they are just as much at fault as the sinner in question if they knowingly reward and condone his behavior.

    Needless to say, we *must* pray for the victims, our beloved Church, and yes, the perpetrators. This is how it is for we who call ourselves servants of Jesus. But the Bishops/Cardinals need to step up and do the right and Godly thing – NOW.

  8. I’m afraid I don’t get it. Did people really think we would never have more pedophilia scandals in the Church? No strong protections were put in place, and sin still exists.

  9. There’s a place to leave a comment on the USCCBs site: If we all write in and ask from prayer services, public apologies and earnest responses on ways to move forward, maybe they will get the message. Also, has anyone heard of organizations to reach out to those abused? I read Ines Martin’s piece in CRUX about Chile and wept. These men need to know that the laity loves them and is praying for them. How do we do this?

  10. Thank you. As a sexual abuse survivor and a catholic convert the lack of actions by the bishops is deeply painful. I converted after the first scandal believing that things had been cleaned up. And after years of protestant church hopping, I had thought of the catholic church as the last stop. For after this, what’s left? Becoming agnostic?

    I believe in the Love of God. It’s the only thing that has gotten me through some pretty horrible stuff, but the whole idea of continuing to support a structure that refuses to be truly repentant instead of embarrassed is causing me to really think hard about becoming just a Jesus and me christian and walking away from the church all together. At this point the only thing that is keeping me at mass are the sacraments and our local, amazing priests but it’s an internal struggle every single Sunday to walk through those doors.

    1. Please, don’t leave. The Church is much much larger than the US, and it’s holy, because Jesus is its founder, but it’s made up of sinners, like you and me, like the ones making you doubt. Google “holy church of sinners”. I realise the fact that these are sexual sins makes it more vexing for you, but the Church needs you.

      1. Hello you also forgot to mention the priests are sinners too no one is perfect. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. We all must guard our souls from the church member who sit on the pews every Sunday to the Pope who sits in Rome. Stay close to Christ cause many will be fooled in the last days.

    2. Don’t feel bad. I BEEN through similar on what you are going through. I’m officially a Christian hermit just me & Jesus Christ. I will never regret this decision.

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