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.

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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

 

How the Church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages

When she went looking for help from the church, she was still susceptible to the idea that everything was her fault. One priest said it was a shame she was suffering, but all she could do was offer it up. Another told her she had a demon in her.

But a third priest listened to her story . . .

Read the my latest for America Magazine.

This is one of the most important pieces I’ve ever written, and I’m very grateful to the courageous and honest women who shared their stories with me.

Photo by George Hodan (Creative Commons)

Did you know today’s a day of prayer and penance?

I didn’t, until Jen Fitz spread the word! The March for Life was on Friday, presumably because more people are free to march when it’s almost the weekend. Today, though, is the actual anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which called abortion a constitutional right.

Because of that anniversary, the USCCB says:

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), no. 373, designates January 22 as a particular day of prayer and penance, called the “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children”: “In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion.”

As individuals, we are called to observe this day through the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and/or giving alms. Another way to take part is through participating in special events to observe the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Call your local diocese or parish to find out what events might be taking place in your area.

I haven’t heard a peep about this, but I’m peeping at you here and now.  So, what shall we do? You can do what you like, as long as you do something.

“Prayer” can be a decade of the rosary or a Divine Mercy chaplet (which can be prayed on a rosary), or spiritually adopting a baby, or of course any prayer that’s less formal but just as heartfelt. There are more resources on the USCCB page.

“Fasting” can mean eating one normal meal and two small snacks, as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, or you could just skip dessert or alcohol or some other food; or you could fast from something else, like TV or social media for the evening.

For a penance, I’m having a hard time coming up with something that seems especially appropriate for a pro-life intention. Maybe change the baby’s low-tide-smelling diaper without making a face. Maybe skip some cozy comfort at the end of the day, thinking instead of how cozy and comfortable every mother and child ought to be, rather than facing the cold cruelty of abortion.

You can think of something. Don’t worry if it’s little. Better small and sincere, than grandiose and undone. Unborn baby Jesus was small once, too, and look how that turned out.

Now you know!

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Image: unborn Jesus, from a Swiss altarpiece of 1505 – photo by Anonymous – http://webcollection.landesmuseen.ch, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10981129