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.

 

pdf version of this post

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

 

Jesus knew about Uncle Ted

There is a permanent lump in my throat as I read the news about our Church, about who knew what, and who decided nothing should be done.

I read the news, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t see my way to withholding our paltry weekly contribution to the parishes we attend. Our money helps support the diocese, and also the soup kitchen, and the little parish school with paper flowers in the windows. Heating fuel in the winter, some modest vestments for Father. The AIDS outreach ministry. The salaries of kind, hardworking christians. And the diocese. I work for the diocese myself. Is our diocese rotten too? I have no idea. I’m told it’s naive to believe anyone and anything isn’t rotten in the Church anymore.

Last Sunday, I watched my son carry the heavy, brass cross up the center aisle. He loves being an altar boy, is downcast on the weeks when he’s not called to serve.  I’d been allowing myself to daydream of the moment when he might tell me he wants to be a priest. And now I must also think of the moment I’ll tell him how to protect himself in seminary, how to ward off attack from the depraved, how to keep himself innocent as he learns how to bring Christ into the world.

I don’t know what to do. Write to the bishop, I suppose. Demand more oversight by laypeople. Demand that they stop lobbying against extensions of the statute of limitations. Demand more transparency. I will do some penance. I will pray. I will listen to people who rage against the Church, and I will offer no defense, because all of it is true.

The answer I keep coming to: Jesus already knew. He carried the sin of Cardinal McCarrick in his butchered heart. He groaned the groan of a tortured seminarian as His back was laid open. His scalp split with the pressure of the thorny mass of lies, evasions, excuses, and accommodations as the decades passed and everybody knew, everybody knew what went on, everybody knew about Uncle Ted. And Christ knew about Uncle Ted. And He wept, and bled, and died, knowing.

You think you want to run away from the Church. You think you will find a place where there is not so much hypocrisy, so much entrenched evil, a place that isn’t built from layer upon layer of guilt and shame and depravity. You may find such a place, I don’t know. But you will not find in it a God who weeps and bleeds and dies, who has taken sin into His bosom, swallowed it whole, let it burn in His belly until it finally burns out. You will only find this God in the Holy Roman Rotten Catholic Church, where the depraved teach young men how to confect God.

It is a rotten church. But it is not rotten to the heart, because Jesus is the heart. There is more bloodshed there than I expected to see.  But Jesus is there. He knew about Uncle Ted, and He knew about everything else we’re about to find out. That is why He came. Remember this, whatever else we do.

 

Image: Jesus with Crown of Thorns by Follower of Aelbrecht Bouts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why the Fr. Luke Reese scandal is everybody’s business

This week, Fr. Luke Reese of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis will stand trial for allegedly kidnapping, beating, and sexually assaulting his wife over the course of eighteen hours. Some of the alleged assault occurred in front of the altar of the church.

Why did we break this story, knowing that the couple’s children would read it? And why is it the business of some freelancer in New Hampshire who doesn’t even go to that church? What good can come of publicizing yet another scandal?

When Fr. Reese was arrested, the Holy Rosary pastor, who allegedly saw Mrs. Reese’s battered face, only informed his parishioners that Reese would be going on leave.  The pastor said in the bulletin:

 If you do ask [about what happened], I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.” Additionally, do not make Father Reese and his family the subject of speculation or gossip. This is a sin. Please do remember to pray for him and his family. I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave.

But the Fr. Reese story is everybody’s business. Here’s why:

If a Catholic priest is accused of brutalizing his wife inside a church, it’s news. It just is. If someone who works in child protective services is accused of abusing children, it’s news, and the community has a right to know. If someone who prepares food to the public is accused of serving poison, it’s news, and the community has a right to know. If a priest whose job it is to act in persona Christi is accused of betraying his family in such a scandalous and public fashion, it’s news, and the community has a right to know.

But there’s more to these allegations than a compelling story.

Questions the parishioners of Holy Rosary Parish have a right to ask:

Is this the first time Fr. Reese has been accused of physically abusing his wife while he was parochial vicar at Holy Rosary? If not, who was aware of the allegations regarding his behavior? If there were other allegations, why did no one call the police, and why was Fr. Reese allowed to continue as priest?

The affidavit that describes the alleged brutalization of Mrs. Reese doesn’t describe a brief, intemperate lashing out in a moment of distress, but a many-hours-long ordeal wherein he allegedly drove her to various places, allegedly assaulted her in different ways, and even allegedly forced her bodily into his own church in front of the altar where he says Mass, allegedly continuing to assault her there.

In light of these accusations, we must ask what kind of advice Fr. Reese had been giving in confession? What would he say to a penitent who is beating his wife? What would he say to an abused wife? Was he involved in marriage preparation, and was he tasked with teaching young Catholics about the Church’s approach to married life? According to a statement by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2016, Reese’s duties included “offer[ing] pastoral counseling to people experiencing family difficulties.” Are those he counseled aware of the allegations made against him?

We ask again: Will Holy Rosary be reconsecrated, since the crimes alleged would clearly constitute desecration? The congregation has a right to know if their church and altar have been desecrated, just as they’d have a right to know what happened if someone stole the tabernacle, broke a window, or embezzled funds from the soup kitchen. It is their church.

Questions about the Church’s legal and financial responsibility:

Fr. Reese is a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is a relatively new and growing institution established in 2012 to enable groups of Anglicans to join the Catholic Church “while preserving elements of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony.”

As more Anglican priests join the Ordinariate, often bringing their wives and children into the Church with them, the laity may reasonably wonder what the Church’s legal and financial responsibility is to these priests and their families.

Will the Ordinariate, which has authority over Fr. Reese, pay his legal fees? When Reese was ordained, the archdiocese of Indiana said that “leaders in the ordinariate and the archdiocese have worked to make sure that he’ll be able to financially support his family through what he’ll earn through his priestly ministry.” If the couple divorces, as the Reeses plan to do, will the Ordinariate or the Archdiocese of Indianapolis be legally responsible for Mrs. Reese’s alimony? If Reese is removed from ministry, will the Church help to support the Reese’s seven children? If he is convicted, is the Church legally responsible for what their priests do, especially if they are done inside the church building?

Questions about how Ordinariate priests are formed and vetted:

The Ordinariate can ordain its own laymen as priests, but it primarily receives former Anglican priests and then forms and ordains them as Catholic priests. This was the case with Fr. Reese.

What kind of formation do these formerly Anglican priests receive before they are ordained in the Ordinariate? Is their formation as extensive and comprehensive as seminarians not in the Ordinariate?

The Catholic Church makes an effort to filter out seminarians who are psychologically or temperamentally unfit for ordination. If an Anglican priest wants to join the Ordinariate, does the Catholic Church do its own vetting process, or does it rely on the vetting the Anglican Church has already done? Are priests sometimes hurried through the process, either as a courtesy to the Anglican Church, or because there is such a dire need for vocations in the Catholic Church?

What precedent will Bishop Lopes set?

After Fr. Reese’s legal case is complete, we will be watching very closely to see how Bishop Lopes and other ecclesial authorities will respond.  Because the Ordinariate is so new, whatever Bishop Lopes does will set a precedent. There is no reason to doubt his integrity as he faces the monumental challenge of developing an entirely new canonical structure; but by definition, he is making it up as he goes along. The Fr. Reese case will put severe pressure on a system that isn’t yet fully formed.

The Anglican Church is already understandably sensitive about the Ordinariate, and there is also some resistance to it from some corners of the Catholic Church. It’s already a difficult balance to proceed “as an instrument of Catholic unity.” No one hoped that the Ordinariate would  debut with an ugly scandal; and yet this is the challenge Bishop Lopes faces.

And so the bishop has a choice. He can, in the name of unity and charity, sweep this story under the rug, so as not to tarnish the reputation of the Ordinariate and further complicate relations between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

Or, he can take this scandal as an opportunity to show the world that the Catholic Church is done sweeping scandal under the rug.

In a statement in February of 2018, the Ordinariate said:

Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with the civil authorities conducting the investigation. The Ordinariate is committed to collaborating with authorities to ensure justice is provided for all concerned, and affirms the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that domestic violence is never justified.

It breaks my heart to say so, but in the year 2018, we do not have the luxury of assuming the Catholic Church will do the right thing. Wave upon wave of scandal still continue to break.

If Luke Reese is convicted, we hope and pray that Bishop Lopes will respond with a clear message: No more hiding abuse in the name of avoiding bad press. No more cover for predators in the name of Christ. Never again
 ****
Mugshot of Luke Reese courtesy of Fox59 News

Chilean abuse victim’s respectful persistence holds Pope accountable

Pope Francis had an extraordinary meeting with Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of priestly sexual abuse, whose testimony about molestation and subsequent cover-up the pope had originally publicly denigrated, calling it “calumny.”

Last month, Cardinal O’Malley, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, publicly admonished the pope, who then reviewed a 2,300-page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses. The Pope wrote a letter of apology about his response to the Chilean victims, acknowledging that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

Pope Francis told abuse victims, “I was part of the problem.”

Cruz said he was grateful for the Pope’s apology, but disputed that Francis had a lack of information about the abuse and alleged cover-up.   Cruz says Cardinal O’Malley told him that he had delivered a letter detailing the victims’ allegations directly into the hands of the pope.

In May, Cruz and two other Chileans victims spent personal time with the Pope over the course of several days, speaking candidly with him for hours. In an interview with NPR, Cruz said the Pope told him, “Juan Carlos, the first thing I want to do is apologize for what happened to you and apologize in the name of the pope, and in the name of the universal church.”

Cruz said, “He was listening and he sat right across from me and nobody was there. We talked one day three hours, another day two hours, another day an hour. … The pope cannot claim that he was misinformed like he did last time,”

Cruz said he talked not only about the abuse he suffered, but about the pain the Pope personally caused by publicly calling it “slander” when a bishop was accused of covering up the abuse. Cruz said he told Pope Francis, “You cannot imagine, Holy Father, what this does to someone who is trying to tell the truth.”

He named at least one “toxic” prelate who continues to work closely with the Pope, and whom Cruz considers to be part of the “culture of abuse” in the Church.

He said several times in the interview that, while he is grateful for his time with the Pope, and found his attention and concern moving, he is not yet satisfied, and wants to see concrete change in the way the Pope and the Church in general responds to victims of clerical abuse.

When the NPR interviewer asked Cruz how the entire experience has affected his faith, he said that his faith was the thing keeping him going. Because of his love for the Catholic Church, his goal is not only to find some measure of peace and justice for himself, but to give a voice to the countless other victims who are still suffering without redress.

Cruz’s example of respectful persistence epitomizes the proper role of the laity in the 21st century. We hope that those in authority in the Church will be true and just shepherds. But when they are not, it is our duty to persist in holding them to account. We build up the Body of Christ by holding its head to the highest standards, not by allowing it to persist in error out of a false sense of piety or respect.

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Image by Christoph Wagener [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis’ troubling apology

In a letter regarding victims of sexual abuse in Chile, Pope Francis said, “I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks.”

His apology comes after months of controversy, during which the Pope first apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by the Church, but then strongly defended a Chilean Bishop accused of covering up those victims’ allegations. Pope Francis called their accusations “calumny” and said he had seen no evidence supporting them.

In the letter of apology made public today, he said that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

The Pope’s apology is encouraging, but also troubling. He sets an irreplaceable example of how to respond humbly when confronted with personal error, but he also appears to deflect personal responsibility. We look forward to clarification, after he meets with the Chilean victims, about why he didn’t believe the victims’ accusations, why he felt it was appropriate to denigrate the victims publicly, and whether he intends to be more circumspect in front of microphones in the future, since his ill-conceived words caused so much damage.

We also wonder if he is telling the truth about lacking necessary information.

The pope wrote his letter after he read a 2,300-page report detailing a investigation he commissioned in February to study allegations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Chilean Church.

On his visit to South America in January of 2018, the Pope was met with protests and outrage over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Four men accuse Barros’ charismatic mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima, of sexual abusing them, and Barros of ignoring warnings from parishioners and of covering up evidence. The accusers claim Barros was present during some of the abuse, but continued to protect and defend Karadima. A civil complaint against Karadima was dismissed for lack of evidence. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.” Barros continues to maintain his innocence.

On his South America trip in January, Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse, saying he felt “pain and shame” for the “irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church.”

But when confronted with questions about the specific allegations against Bishop Barros, the pope called the accusations “calumny.”

The pope told the press: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Juan Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.” The Pope also told an AP reporter on the way home from South America, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But an AP Exclusive in February claimed that the Pope did have evidence against Barros, and that victims had come forward. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says that they gave a letter from victim Juan Carlos Cruz to its president, Cardinal O’Malley, to be hand-delivered to the Pope before his South America visit. The letter “detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling [Cruz] says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.”

Two members of the commission say that O’Malley confirmed to them that he did give the letter to the pope.  Cruz says O’Malley told him “he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

On January 10, Cardinal O’Malley took the extraordinary step of publicly admonishing Pope Francis, saying that his comments “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity, and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Shortly after O’Malley’s rebuke, the Pope apologized for the hurt caused by his words. In February, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the alleged cover-up by Bishop Barros.

America Magazine reports that Scicluna presented the pope with a 2,300- page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses.

According to Catholic News service, in the letter made public on April 11,

Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

But the Pope says his error was due to “lack of truthful and balanced information”:

The pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

According to America Magazine,

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

The Chilean bishops will meet with the Pope in the third week of May. Three of Karadima’s victims, including Cruz, will also meet with the Pope then.

Pope Francis’ apology and admission of error are unprecedented among popes, but troubling questions remain. In his letter, he blames his defense of Barros on “the lack of true and balanced information.” But if Cardinal O’Malley did hand-deliver the letter from victims, how can he say there was a lack of information? Did he read the letter? If not, why not? Did he read it but disregard what is said? If so, why would he do so, sixteen years after the Church has been shown to be guilty over and over and over again?

Even those who support and defend the Pope and his approach will find it difficult to understand his behavior in this matter. O’Malley and countless other faithful servants of Christ have been laboring hard to reform the Church, to make it safer for vulnerable people, and to reassure the world that things have changed. But a few ill-conceived words from its visible head have unravelled all their efforts more than once.

To victims, past and present, it must feel as though the Church has learned nothing.  How far can yet another apology go?

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Image By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why we leave the ninety-nine

Some American Catholics haven’t learned a damn thing from our ordeal. Some American Catholics, when they hear about new victims of sexual assault and abuse by Catholics, are still dragging out all the old defenses:

Well, but look at all the good fruits.
Well, but look at all the energy we waste if we focus on the tiny minority.
Well, but we have to think of our reputation.
Well, but no one will trust us if we admit there’s a problem.
Well, why would you even dare to criticize us? Is it because you hate shepherding and want anarchy?

Well, but it’s just one sheep. It’s unfortunate, but . . . we’re in the fold, and we’re doing all right.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo via Pxhere (Creative Commons)