Francis has a lot of buffers.

The Catholic sex abuse scandal has two parts. The first part is the abuse itself. The second part is the institutional efforts to cover it up.

And now we are in the process of slowly, painfully uncovering these decades and centuries of crime.

This process is not part of the scandal.

The uncovering is dreadful. It is agonizing. It is, to use one of Francis’ favored words, messy. It’s always horrifying to witness the uncovering of hidden sin. But the uncovering is not part of the scandal. It is the remedy for the scandal, if there can be a remedy.

And yet Pope Francis, in his homily addressed to bishops today, said:

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

This was not plucked out of context by some uncharitable, click-farming rag. It was chosen for publication by the Vatican news service itself. It is the Pope’s message.

In the past week, it seemed that Francis was making an effort to preach in ways that could possibly be construed as general pious reflections on scripture. But in today’s homily, he’s clearly referring directly to the scandal — or, more accurately, to the investigation of the scandal. He does not speak of the need to be more transparent. He does not speak of the need to repent, nor for the need to reform the Church. He does not speak of the horror of sin. He does not speak of the victims. Instead, he casts the bishops themselves as the victims — and some of the nine who advise him are themselves accused of covering up abuse.

Has Pope Francis spoken out about the abuse? Sure. He was more than willing to agree that terrible things had been done, and that some people ought to be very sorry indeed — until those accusations were turned on him. Then we heard that silence was holy, and that those who uncover sin are Satan.

I’ll say it again: Francis sounds like an abuser.

I am praying for bishops, and I am praying for the Pope, as he asked us to do. I am praying especially for those bishops who have been struggling mightily to show their flock they, at least, understand the profound horror we’re uncovering day by day, and that they want it to be uncovered. There are some good bishops. Some have been doing public penance. Some have called for independent reviews of their dioceses’ past, opening up records to the public and to the law. Some have demanded that the magisterium stop acting like this is business as usual and treat this scandal like the emergency it is.

And some have accused him of being part of the cover-up.

Are Viganò’s claims credible? I have no idea. I hope to God he’s wrong. And if Viganò himself is guilty, then he, too, should be investigated and prosecuted. But I keep thinking back to the courtroom scene in The Godfather II, where Willie Chichi tells the investigative committee, “Yeah, the family had a lotta buffers.”  If Viganò was part of the crime family that fed so many children and seminarians into the furnace, then that means he’s the one who knows what went on and how it was hidden. That’s how you get these guys: You get them to turn each other in.

So don’t trust accusers blindly, but listen to them. Look at what they claim, and find out for yourself whether it’s true or not. Open yourself to investigation. Turn over files. Uncover sin. Let the light in. Maybe stop calling investigators “Satan,” I don’t know.

Instead, the family closes ranks, and we hear absurdly tone-deaf assurances that Francis’ nine Cardinal advisors are in “full solidarity” with the Pope. I bloody well bet they are. The man has a lot of buffers.

***
Image by Long Thiên via Flicker (Public Domain)

Does Francis know he sounds like an abuser?

Shall I tell you the most charitable, least rash explanation I can muster for Pope Francis’ recent words and behavior? It’s that he’s surrounded himself with yes men who are shielding him from understanding the depth and breadth of institutional sex abuse and its cover-up in the Church.

He’s appointed, or left in office, no one but men who tell him that the world is chock full of false accusations, that the whole scandal thing is overblown, that it’s all in our past — oh, and that right now would be a good time to talk about litter in the ocean. The few who will tell him the truth, like Cardinal O’Malley, are so outnumbered that even their dire warnings can be dismissed as local problems.

That’s the charitable answer, and it’s not great. If he’s in a bubble that protects him from seeing the true state of the Church, it’s a comfortable bubble of his own making. The servant of the servants of God is not supposed to be in a bubble.

But the other explanation is worse. Here it is:

I have a number of friends who have escaped abusive marriages. They tell me that Pope Francis is sounding more and more like the men who abused them. He’s sounding like the men who hid that abuse from the world, who taught their victims to blame themselves, who used spiritual pressure to persuade them and their families that it would actually be wrong, sinful, to defend themselves.

Just listen to him. After responding to a question about Vigano’s very serious accusations, he said point blank, “I will not say a single word on this.” Several of the faithful speculated that he may have had this or that logistical reason for putting off responding to that specific question; fine. But for the rest of the week and more, he kept up an unmistakable theme of calling for silence, equating silence with holiness, and painting himself as a Christlike victim in his silence. Then he says it’s “ugly” to accuse others of sinning.Then he suggests that healing and reconciliation will only come if we take a hard look at our own flaws.

These statements are all true. They all reflect Christian thought. They would be reasonable at any other time in recent history. But coming right in the middle of our ongoing agony, they land as heavily as a fist on a bruise.

To the victims of the Church, and to those who love them, it sounds like he is saying, “Who do you think you are? I don’t have to explain myself to you. You’re the guilty one. You brought this on yourself. If you want to be loved, then know your place. I’m the victim, here, not you. If you know what’s good for you, keep your mouth shut.”

This is how abusers talk. They’re not content with power; they have to keep their victims doubting and blaming themselves constantly, so they don’t become a threat. Whether Francis knows it or not, this is how he sounds.

I know that we hear what gets reported, which isn’t necessarily everything he says. I know that the pope isn’t required to say everything we want him to say. I know that whatever is going on in our own diocese or our own country isn’t the whole of what goes on in the Church. I know that there are eternal truths that need to be told no matter what is going on in the current moment.

But even keeping all these things in mind, it beggars the imagination why the pope keeps talking the way he does. It’s clear he intends to keep on talking, despite his exhortations to be silent. This is what he chooses to say. The very best possible explanation is that his context is pure bubble, and he simply doesn’t realize that much of the Catholic world is transfixed with horror over the sins of the clergy. He simply isn’t aware that, with his words and with his silence, he’s turning his back on so many suffering priests and bishops, including my own, who tell their flock that they have not been abandoned — only to hear their spiritual father override their efforts with a huge, unmistakable message of “NOBODY CARES.”

Maybe he simply doesn’t realize that his cozy little aphorisms are coming off as a passive aggressive threat, as chilling as an abuser who smiles warmly at the world while secretly showing an open blade to the victim who stands faithfully at his side.

I do remember his gentleness, his compassion, his direct and sincere kindness in the past. I don’t believe that was false. You all know I’m not a reflexive Francis-hater. I don’t have any ideological reason to want to bring him down. I have defended him as long as I could, up until the Chile debacle.

And so I am working as hard as I can not to assume the worst, not to believe that this man who promised so much fresh air is really so intent on slamming doors shut before we find out even worse things hidden inside. But he is not making it easy. I am not saying he is an abuser. But he sounds like one.

You’re on the inside? Do your job or GTFO

There are a lot of reasons to hate the anonymous NYT op ed piece yesterday. As another NYT reporter points out, it now puts the rest of the staff in the position of trying to investigate a writer whose identity their own newspaper is protecting. It absolutely gives Trump and his paranoid minions more reason to believe the press is the enemy, which makes life more dangerous for reporters like my husband. And it’s just . . . squicky. It’s not how newspapers operate. Anonymity is for when the writer’s safety is at risk, not for when he wants to play Secret Squirrel and we’re all supposed to play along.

But the thing that bugged me the most was the craven abdication of responsibility. Whoever this “senior” person is, he’s inside the White House, he sees that our president is entirely unfit for the job, and even though he somehow persuades himself that it’s worth letting ourselves be drowned in a flood of dreck because a few specks of tax reform –– tax reform — might go swishing by, he acknowledges that “senior officials” are daily “working to insulate their operations from [Trump’s] whims.” In other words, he has a front row seat to the burning of Rome.

And his response to all this is to . . . stick around. To keep the status quo, because robust military! Less regulation! Hey, he’s not personally fanning the flames, so it’s not his fault! He’s doing his absolute best to pass little thimbles of water along to keep it from spreading even faster. God forbid we should do something drastic, that might precipitate a crisis of some sort.

He says he doesn’t want to pursue impeachment, because that would be a constitutional crisis. But what he is describing is the constitutional crisis. People scurrying around scrambling signals, stealing documents, and playing shell games with the leader of the free world like Bugs Bunny sticking it to Elmer Fudd? That’s your constitutional crisis, right there.

I’ve kind of washed my hands of politics. I did my best to warn people away from Trump, and it didn’t work, and I lost my job for my troubles; so I have mostly tuned out. But I got pretty upset when I read the NYT piece, and I know exactly why:

It’s the same stupid, self-congratulatory, ineffectual, grandstanding, self-immolating shell game we got from the USCCB. In case you haven’t noticed, the Church is in flames. In flames, and we faithful were begging our leaders to do something, or at least say something. Let us know you see how we are suffering. And for the love of Jesus, use the strength of your arm to put out the fire. Do something about the career arsonists who call themselves our fathers. Use your power and influence to do the right thing. You’re on the inside, so do something. 

Instead, they issued a couple of statements saying, “Don’t worry, everybuggy. We took a good look and we know things are super bad and that is super bad, but don’t worry, because we are implementing procedures! Procedures are being implemented. A-OK. World Youth, yay! Now you write check now.”

Same. Damn. Thing. They are in a position to put out the fire, and instead, they choose to sit with it and paint portraits of it and pat themselves on the back for how well they’re managing it. Well, we’re still engulfed in flames, and they still haven’t even hooked up a hose. And this is our house. We’re the ones who have to live here, and we’re supposed to play along and pretend this is how it’s supposed to be. And we’re still engulfed in flames. It’s crisis time, folks. We’re past the point where we can avoid the crisis by being “silent.” It’s here. No, keeping quiet doesn’t make you look like Jesus. It makes you look like this is your fire, and that’s how you like it.

We’re going to get four more years of Trump because nobody wants to put their neck on the line and push for impeachment; and we’re going to get who knows how many more years, decades, centuries of the same old same old slow motion conflagration in our Church, while generation after generation of Catholics figure out how to live our lives, raise our children, keep our parishes stumbling along, while everything around us is on fire.

Nobody wants to put it out. It’s just easier, and more lucrative, to pretend you’re taking it seriously and somehow protecting the institution from the inside out by letting it burn. Crazy keeps the checks rolling in. Corruption makes the money and power and influence flow, and everybody gets their share. Same damn thing.

I’m praying, by God. I’m doing stupid little sacrifices. I’m not leaving my Lord just because He’s surrounded by perverts, and God help me, I still love my stupid fucking country, even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down. And I love my Church. Even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down.

You people on the inside. You who have influence. You leaders with front row seats. I’m telling you that you need to do your job or GTFO.

***
Image: The Fire of Rome by Hubert Robert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What do we Catholics do now?

By the time I’m done writing this, there will be a new crop of sad or enraging or just plain bizarre headlines about who did what, who knew what, who claims he never knew, who didn’t act and why that was someone else’s fault, and why we should all just relax and trust the hierarchy to do the right thing, starting any minute now.

And of course more and more of our fellow Catholics will burrow even more deeply into their comforting narratives of blame, to shelter them. When we’re confronted with calamity, the easiest thing in the world is to cry, “This is all their fault!” — “they” being the ones whose fault it always is and always has been. This response is worse than useless, but it’s understandable. We want coherence and intelligibility, but right now, it’s so hard to see, in this dim light of calamity. What to do?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Wounded by silence

Testimony from a friend:

“I was kidnapped, violently tortured, escaped, went to the hospital and the authorities found my perpetrator and prosecuted him. He was arrested and is still serving a life sentence in prison.

Why? Because I had physical bruises, because people could identify the crime. It’s sad but true.

So many other victims of rape and abuses that were silenced will tell me, ‘Your story is awful,’ but I tell them, no, the story of those victims who suffered in silence is far worse.”

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Would a female priesthood disrupt sex abuse?

Let’s just let women be priests.

Right? These damn men can’t keep their hands to themselves, whether they’re straight or gay or pedophiles or ephebophiles or married or allegedly celibate, so the hell with them. Let’s just let women have some power for once, and put a screeching halt to all the abuse, all the lies, all the cover-ups.

I keep hearing this argument, and now I’m going to respond.

First, one more time, with feeling: female Catholic priests are an ontological impossibility, and the Church could not ordain women even if it wanted to, any more than it could ordain butterfly as dragonflies. We like butterflies. But they are not dragonflies, and dragonflies are not butterflies. So it’s not going to happen. The Church is not going to start ordaining women priests.

But if somehow it were possible to do — or if, say, the pope decided to appoint women cardinals, which is theoretically possible — would the presence and influence and oversight of women be the clean sweep we’re looking for? Just clean out all that nasty male sexual aggression, perversion, and abuse and replace it with clean, honest, feminine integrity?

I’ve asked myself this sincerely, and I keep coming back to two words: Dottie Sandusky.

Dottie Sandusky has been married to her husband Jerry for over 50 years, and she still stands by her man. She had no idea what was going on in the basement of her own home, in the shower, in the bedroom, in the locker room, in that marriage, in that man’s heart, for decade after decade after decade, as she shared a life with him. She could have blown the whistle any time, but she didn’t. She says she didn’t know.

But if she didn’t know, it’s because she dedicated her life to not knowing. And so have countless other women who’ve come into contact with countless Jerry Sanduskys, in sports, in education, in medicine, and in the Church. He couldn’t have done what he did if she wasn’t willing to do what she did, which was nothing.

We need to stop indulging in the kind of magical thinking that says, “Women just being women will fix everything.” Let’s look at a few non-magical facts:

Women do abuse. When women do have authority over people with less power, they do abuse them. Sexual abuse by women, whether against men, against other women, or against children, is far more widespread than most people realize. Men and boys are less likely than women and girls to report being sexually abused; and pop culture still halfway thinks it’s funny or kinky when, for instance, a female teacher has a sexual “relationship” with a male student. But it’s still statutory rape even when the adult is female, and it’s still predatory; and it does happen in the Church, when women do have power over vulnerable people.

Women are just as capable of cruelty and abuse as men. They are perhaps less inclined to use sex, specifically, as a weapon, but they do wield what weapons they have. If women were priests and bishops and cardinals and seminary rectors and had the respect, authority, and invulnerability that goes along with those roles, the kind of abuse might look different, but there’s no evidence to suggest there would be less abuse. If women had the power that bishops have, women would abuse that power, because women are human.

As Leticia Adams says:

Rape and sexual abuse of children have nothing to do with sexual orientation or sexual gratification. The goal is not sex, the goal is power, control and to destroy another human being.

Hunger for power and control, and the desire to destroy. Those are not male desires; those are human desires.

But the second part of the answer is: Whoever the perpetrator is, abuse doesn’t flourish in a vacuum. The decades or centuries of abuse that we’re continuing to uncover today could never have happened without the silence and complicity of women.

There were women everywhere — everywhere –who knew what Larry Nasser was doing to all those girls. He could not have gotten away with his abuse for all those years without the complicity and silence of dozens or maybe hundreds of women who chose not to say anything, who put pressure on girls to doubt themselves and blame themselves for what happened to them.

You might say that women do report abuse, and are less likely to be believed, because they are women. Maybe? But there were also a good number of men blowing the whistle on abusive priests, and they went just as unheard. Meanwhile, the savagery with which women turn on other female whistleblowers is breathtaking. I have seen it myself.

Why do women allow abuse to happen? Same reasons as men do:

They can’t think beyond the false dichotomy of “likable person who does a lot of good” and “ravening monster.” Sometimes an abuser is both. Sometimes a man runs charities, helps people, is kind, and is a true friend and support to many . . .  and also rapes people. This phenomenon is magnified a hundredfold if the abuser is a priest, and his accomplishments have some spiritual weight. The congregation can point to how he’s invigorated the parish, how well he understands scripture, how reverent his liturgy is, how stirring his sermons, how well the school is doing, how many babies he baptizes every year, and tell themselves, “If he were truly a bad man, would he be doing all these good and holy things?” We aren’t comfortable with acknowledging that the same person can do some very good things and also some very bad things. It disrupts our understanding of how well we know people and how well we can know ourselves, so we reject the possibility of contradictions, and instead opt for blind loyalty.

They know about it, but they blame the victim. For a variety of reasons, they don’t want to acknowledge that the abuser is an abuser, so they shift the blame to the victim. We saw this with Fr. Groschel; we saw this with . . . lord, you know where we saw it. Everywhere. My friend who was raped at gunpoint heard two women wondering what she had been wearing at the time. It makes us feel less vulnerable if we can figure out some way the victims brought it on themselves.

They know about it, but they keep quiet because they love the Church. They think it would hurt the Church if it went public even more than it hurts the victim to be abused. You know what I think about that.

And sometimes, they just don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to put their own jobs at stake. They don’t want to disrupt the familiar. They don’t want to interrupt the flow of goodies that come their way, so they learn to live with the status quo. They don’t want to threaten their own security, and so they tell themselves whatever they need to tell themselves. They slowly and steadily put more and more of their conscience to death, until they simply don’t care about other people.

When I first started to realize the depth of corruption in the Church, I told myself that I needed to be willing to follow the story wherever it goes. As a faithful Catholic female advocate for victims of sexual aggression, I cannot be content to give the easy answers. I want to say,  “It’s the traddies’ fault!” or “It’s the fault of the sexual revolution!” or, most enticingly, “It’s men’s fault!” Those frigging men. Right?

But that doesn’t answer it. It’s just another red herring. It’s not the evil of maleness that is the problem. It’s the evilness of humanity. It’s the weakness and corruptibility of human nature. We don’t need more women on the inside. We need more clear-thinking, courageous women and men on the outside, willing and able to see clearly and speak loudly, and, most importantly, capable of bringing the guilty to justice.

Thrusting more women into existing power structures won’t disrupt anything. It’ll just give more women the opportunity to become complicit.

 

 

 

Dear priests: I am begging you to speak about this scandal

Tonight I’m mustering the courage to start reading through the comprehensive grand jury report on sexual abuse and its coverup by the Church in Pennsylvania. And I’m looking up my local bulletin online, trying to find out when Mass is tomorrow. It’s a holy day of obligation, and my family will be in the pew.

Since the first news stories came out, I’ve had my head in my hands. There is nothing else to do. I read about a boy who was so violently raped by a priest, his spine was injured. The victim’s pain was treated with opioids, he became addicted and then overdosed, and now he is dead. I don’t know if the priest is also dead. I don’t even know what to pray for. Mercy on us all.

Mercy on our priests, who must be feeling this atrocity so keenly.

To you parish priests: please, you must speak to your flock about what is happening. Don’t let another Mass go by without saying something. I am begging you. Some of the parishioners somehow don’t know what is going on, and they must know. And many of us have been following the news with dread, and we must know that you understand how nearly unbearable this is. We can’t stand the silence anymore.

We need to know that you are as struck with horror as we are. We need to know that you would be on our side if we were the ones calling the police. We need to know that you care for us more than you care about falling afoul of some toothless pastoral directive from above. We need someone to be with us in this free fall of horror.

I know there are children in the pews, and you don’t want to frighten them; and you don’t want to test the faith of anyone who’s on the brink. But in the pews are also Catholics who have been abused before, and once again, no one is speaking up for them. There are converts who gave up family and happiness to join the Church because they believed the promise of something new and beautiful. They haven’t left yet, but they’re not hearing any Catholic talk about how badly we’ve failed. There are lifelong faithful who feel sick, bewildered, duped, and lost, and we don’t know what to do with this anger and misery, and too many of our bishops are still, still minimizing, complaining, obfusticating, justifying. Or saying nothing at all, hoping that will make it all go away one more time, like it’s gone away so many times before.

I am begging you to say something. Find a way to let us know that you, at least, haven’t turned your back on the victims of the Church. Tell us you’re bringing all that suffering to the altar. We need to hear it.

Dear, faithful priests, we love you and we are praying for you. You’re the one who moves between us and Christ; and you’re also the one who must put himself between us and every one of those wretched thousands of your brother priests who treated the bodies of the faithful like so much kindling, to be tossed into the furnace, consumed, turned to ash, forgotten.

I am begging you to say something. It is a holy day of obligation, and we will be there, listening. You don’t have to have answers for us. Just say something, because the silence of the Church is too hard to bear.

 

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 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

The Good Ole Shepherds Club

I’ve written before about the pitfalls of community — about how finding a group of like-minded people with similar interests can urge us to greater heights of virtue, but it can also affirm us in our vices.

Once you’re comfortably inside the walls that define your group, the group quickly becomes what defines you; and then, if there’s nothing from the outside calling you to account, it’s all too easy to put all your effort into making the walls stronger. No matter what your original reason was for joining that group, your sole work becomes maintaining the walls.

And inside the walls, the oxygen decreases, the temperature rises, and what was once a group of individuals becomes undifferentiated intellectual and spiritual compost that’s not even useful as fertilizer, because it never leaves the heap.

This is how we get nasty little social media cliques, and this is also how we get the alt right, how we get violent incels and other militantly misogynist and racist groups openly arguing ideas that normal people would have been aghast to even entertain ten or twenty years ago. There are no meaningful outside checks; it all becomes about maintaining your identity by shoring up the walls of your group.

And God help us, this is how we got Cardinal McCarrick and Co.

Carinal Wuerl (who, I’m just gonna say it, is talking an awful lot like a man trying to get out ahead of something ugly) thinks we can fix the profoundly ingrained systems of institutional predation and corruption in the hierarchy of the Church by forming an oversight committee made up of — you’ll never guess — the hierarchy of the Church.

This is insane. Insane.  This tells us that the group has devoured the individuals. Not in all cases, but in far too many. Maybe once these men became priests and then bishops out of a desire to serve God through serving the Church, but now far too many are putting all their efforts into strengthening the walls between them and their flock.

Just stop and think for a minute. If I, as an individual layman, knew that a powerful man was preying on some innocent person, I would call the police.  That is what I would do. I’m a member of the human race, and it is my obligation to protect the vulnerable if I can.

Why haven’t all bishops done this? Why have they not taken instantaneous, dramatic action to protect the innocent from powerful men in their ranks?

I’ve only found three possible answers.

The first is that some of them truly didn’t know. There is such a thing as a naive bishop, and there is such a thing as a bishop who is not in the loop. I do believe that, whether or not they should have, some of them truly didn’t know.

The second explanation is the threat of tit-for-tat. “You spill the beans about what I did with those seminarians, and I’ll spill the beans about [what you did with that woman] or [what you did with those funds] or [whatever awful things people do when they come into power].”

This may very well explain everything. But the only other explanation I have been able to find is somehow the worst of all, and it goes like this: “Well, after the scandals broke, we decided that we would have VIRTUS training, and that took care of predatory layman and priests, but there haven’t been sufficient channels put in place to report predatory bishops. So if anyone knew that a bishop was doing something wrong, there was simply no way to report it, even if it was a bishop himself who knew.”

What the hell does that mean? Are their phones broken? Does 911 not work when you get anointed bishop?  Can you not call the NYT like any other whistleblower? Do you lose your humanity when you put on a mitre?

This is what happens when you are so deeply entrenched in a group of your peers. You forget that there is an outside world. You forget you’re still free to act like any other human being would act, and so you don’t act. You just keep on frantically daubing at the chinks in the walls, where that awful light keeps getting in.

Bishop Scharfenberger gets it.

Bishop Gainer gets it.

Cardinal O’Malley gets it. He went after the Pope, for crying out loud, even though nobody had put channels in place for that to happen. That’s how you act when you’re a shepherd, not angling for lifetime membership in the Ole Shepherds Club.

Shepherds exist for the sake of the flock. They are supposed to be individual men who serve God by leading and serving the rest of the Church and the rest of the world. If they continue on this inward-spiraling, double-talking, no-response response, it becomes harder and harder to see why the group exists at all.

Even a compost heap is supposed to be shaken up every once in a while. You dig in with your shovels, you turn it over, you let the sun hit what was buried. I thank God for those bishops who are willing to dig in with their shovels, without worrying about how much of their own ground they’re undermining. Are there enough of them?

We laymen are watching, your eminences, and yes, we are praying for you. But right now, the view from outside the wall you’ve built is pretty grim.

 

Image By Jebulon [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

 

Your Eminence, you’re the archbishop of Shark City.

What’s coming up in August? The World Meeting of Families, of course. I saw an upbeat note about it on Twitter. August also brings Cardinal Wuerl’s latest “pastoral reflection” in which he responds to the latest agony of the Church as more layers of betrayal are uncovered. In the letter he explains the “documents” and “procedures” and “clearly articulated measures” and the “commitment [which] may serve as the nucleus of a more effective mechanism to ensure greater accountability among ourselves.”

You got a pen, your eminence?

Because right now, you’re the archbishop of Shark City, and people think you want the beaches open.

God have mercy.  As if what we need is yet another wretched document, another craven press release. The “effective mechanism” was described two thousand years ago, and it involves a millstone and a neck. You can’t just tell us you feel bad, and you can’t just demote the doddering old pervert McCarrick, wave vaguely in the direction of the sexual revolution, and consider your job done. Not while the sea is still full of sharks and you’re still hoping to cash in on August.

You can’t do this to us anymore. I want to hear the bishops acknowledging that we are their children, and they betrayed us. Priests are their children, and they betrayed them. Seminarians are their children, and they betrayed them. All in the name of saving August, in the name of money and prestige, in the name of acting in the Church’s best interest, so many of our bishops have betrayed us, and so many of them still won’t listen. They’re still trying to save face, still planning to keep the farce going.

I want to see bishops — many bishops — writing a pastoral letter that says, “Yes, I knew what McCarrick was doing. Yes, I knew what the seminaries were like. Yes, I got letters from whistleblowers. I didn’t do anything. I helped keep it quiet. I persuaded myself it was in the Church’s best interest to pretend these horrors weren’t happening, even though it was my job to protect and defend my flock. Please pray for me, because I betrayed Christ, I betrayed my office, and I betrayed you all, and so I resign.

There is no document that will be just as good. There is no one you can hire to take care of this problem, no check you can sign to make this problem go away. Go ahead and have the World Meeting of Families. Go ahead and keep the food pantries and the schools and the hospitals going. Go ahead and draft more reforms and form more committees. For God’s sake, go ahead and keep giving us the sacraments. But rend your garments. Rend your garments. If this was the work of your hands, then you must step down. If you betrayed us, you must step down.

Summer is over. To every bishop, I say: Your eminence, your kids were on that beach, too.

 

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By Ewen Roberts from California (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons