Where To Now, Bishops? And Laity?

From the Catholic News Agency’s report on the final day of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting this week. Here, the bishops were debating a resolution that would have put the US bishops on record urging the Vatican to release the documentation it has on the Cardinal McCarrick case, for the sake of transparency:

Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said he did not support the resolution because it would only further the divide between the USCCB and the Vatican. He seconded Cardinal Tobin’s suggestion that the bishops instead release a statement of support of the Vatican investigation.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, archbishop for Military Services in the U.S., voiced concern that it would take the Holy See a long time to conduct the investigation, since McCarrick was a priest and bishop for many years.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Las Cruces said he didn’t think the statement added to anything that the bishops have already done.

“If anyone is listening they hopefully realize that there is a sense of outrage and betrayal at the situation of McCarrick (among the bishops),” he said. “I don’t think that the statement adds anything to that…at this point I don’t see any purpose to this proposal.”

The resolution was then put to a vote. After amendments, the final wording was: “Regarding the ongoing investigation of the Holy See into the case of Archbishop McCarrick, be it resolved that the bishops of the USCCB encourage the Holy See to release soon all documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the allegations of misconduct against Archbishop McCarrick.”

The resolution failed.

Unbelievable — but all too believable. Francis has dodged and stonewalled on the McCarrick case for months. Are the US bishops more afraid of him than they are of their people, whose trust has been so badly abused by the hierarchy these many years? Are they more afraid of him than they are of God?

The Catholic psychotherapist and blogger Gregory Popcak writes:

As the US bishops gather in Baltimore this week, I have to admit that I’m so weary of people saying that “the bishops can’t police each other. They have no authority over each other.” Of course this is true, but it completely misses the point.

Why in God’s name (literally) do you need a formal canonical/juridical structure to act like a basically decent, functional human being?

Let’s be honest.  If any other minimally sentient carbon-based life-form saw a colleague doing something illegal or unethical, they wouldn’t need a formal, legal structure to publicly call them out, appropriately shame them for their dereliction of duty, and challenge them to fix it or get out. Social pressure/fraternal correction is a perfectly legitimate cultural intervention that is readily available to the bishops BUT THEY DON’T USE IT!

How many bishops called out “Uncle Ted” despite his behavior being an “open secret” for over 20 years? And even after all that, how many bishops have publicly called out Malone for his gross dereliction of duty in Buffalo? Why not? Because episcopal culture has made an idol out of saving face and making nice.

Emphasis in the original. Read the whole thing. 

That’s something I have never, ever understood about this scandal. Why is it so hard for these bishops to act like normal men? Not even saints, but normal men? To be fair, the same might be said of the laity. I genuinely don’t understand why the laity over the past decades hasn’t made life miserable for the bishops. It’s been a massive failure of moral courage.

Things may be changing, though. For one example, the conservative Catholic writer Regina Doman posted this to social media, and sent it to me with permission to share:

In the wake of the Baltimore bishops’ meeting, even those of us who had very low expectations were frustrated that nothing has been done. What do we do now as laity and clergy? Here’s an idea. As you may know, the bishops voted on whether or not to respectfully pressure Rome to release soon all the pertinent documentation “regarding the allegations of misconduct against Archbishop McCarrick.” The results of the vote were 83 YES, 137 NO, and 5 abstentions.

As you can see, an overwhelming majority of bishops voted against it. I suggest we channel our dismay and fury into contacting our bishops TODAY and asking them how they voted and why. Each bishop should have no ethical concern with revealing his own choice that I can see. This will send a clear message that we the laity are concerned and continue to be concerned with clerical misconduct and, contrary to what was said by some bishops on the council floor, we are not going to let church/parish life continue as usual.

At the Council, Archbishop Thomas Wenski asserted that because ordinary Catholics are continuing the frequent the sacraments and Catholic education, the abuse scandal must not be a big deal: “People are coming to Church, they’re praying, they’re sending their kids to Catechism, the life of the Church is moving on. If you’re not reading the blogs, if you’re not watching cable TV, this is not front and center for most of our people.”  That is very far from the truth. Please share and encourage your fellow Catholics and family members in each diocese to contact their bishop and ask how they voted on the McCarrick allegations and why. We need to know how they stand. And our bishops need to be clear that just because we haven’t stopped coming to church doesn’t mean we don’t care about victims or about the ongoing question of why a predator like McCarrick was enabled for so long.  If you agree, forward this email, post it on social media, and pass on.

Another Catholic reader in Michigan e-mailed a link to No More Victims, a lay-led Catholic group in the Diocese of Lansing. I see that Al Kresta and Prof. Janet Smith are involved. The group, a non-profit, describes itself like this:

No More Victims is a nonprofit coalition of lay Catholics who seek to bear the burdens of victims and put an end to sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Lansing. We represent victims, document their stories, make referrals for counseling, and advocate for justice through canonical and secular means. Our goal is that the Church be renewed in holiness so that it will be a place where victims find justice, compassion, and healing.

Since we formed in August of 2018, our actions have led to the removal of two predatory clergy, both of whom had decades of allegations against them.

NMV offers a short “reader” on the abuse scandal. 

Catholic journalist Carl Olson doesn’t hold back:

What is clear is that Pope Francis has surrounded himself with men, including Cupich, who are either seriously compromised or who openly lust after ecclesial power. It’s not just that they show little regard for doctrine or truth, but how they act as entitled sycophants whose disregard for their fellow bishops is matched only by their disdain for the orthodox faithful. It’s also evident that Francis does not want any sort of investigation into McCarrick or related matters to be outside of his control. One need not be well-versed in canon law (I’m not) or sympathetic to the various claims made by Archbishop Viganó (I am) to connect the huge and proliferating dots.

Olson says he knows that some bishops are good men who want to do the right thing, but they’re hamstrung. But it’s worth asking, as Popcak does: Why do bishops need a policy to tell them how to speak and act like decent, morally responsible Christian men?

A well-known Catholic theologian e-mailed to say:

For me signs of a breakthrough would be if:

  • Some bishops or bishops publicly called out some predator bishops
  • Some bishops admitted to ignoring and mismanaging problems with the gay mafia in their own dioceses.
  • Some bishops admitted to how bad the seminaries have been. With some specificity.

But these [bishops] were chosen either because they are gay or they are weak and without a backbone. So my hopes are weak.

I bet if the Pope put Frank Keating on the case, he would have an answer about How McCarrick Happened within two months. But then, one would have to believe that Pope Francis wanted an answer, or, to be more precise, that he wanted others to know the answer. If Archbishop Viganò is to be believed, the highest levels of the Roman curia are corrupt, either financially or sexually, or both. And this did not start with Francis.

Where does that leave ordinary Catholics, especially Catholic mothers and fathers? You tell me.

We non-Catholics should have an interest in how this plays out. I have tried not to be the sort of Christian who takes pleasure in the travails of other churches. I learned a sharp lesson back in college, before I was serious about my faith, when I went out to Jimmy Swaggart’s megachurch to cover what was rumored to be a big announcement. I was there in the room for his big, teary sermon confessing his sexual sin. I felt the kind of mean satisfaction that you would imagine that a snarky 20-year-old college journalist would feel. And then I looked around at the people weeping. These were people who were mostly working class, by the look of their clothes. They had less than I had, and they had just had something important taken away from them. I felt very small.

More than that, though, the Catholic Church is a pillar of Western civilization, and arguably the most important pillar. The West was built on Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Hebrew religion. The Roman church has been a synthesis of these things, and for at least 1,000 years, was the most important institution in the West. The Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and all that followed dramatically reduced the Roman Church’s power, but Rome nonetheless abides. It is sobering to think of how world history would have been different had Poland’s Karol Wojtyla not been elected pope in 1978.

The United States is and always has been predominantly Protestant, but Christianity of all sorts is quickly waning in this country. In North America and Europe, the decline of the Roman church is not concomitant with a strengthening of the Protestant churches (this is not the case in Latin America, by the way). Rome’s crisis is something that it going to affect all of us in a negative way, one way or the other. Back in 2002, Father Richard John Neuhaus, in chastising me personally for writing so critically of what was then our church, said that if people like me weren’t careful, we were going to end up inviting the state to involve itself in the church’s affairs. It’s not hard to guess what Father Neuhaus, had he lived, would have to say about the state and federal investigations into the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse practices. This is entirely the fault of the Catholic bishops, and their refusal to govern themselves and their dioceses, and the bishops of Rome for their similar neglect. But the legacy of the state going after the church is going to affect to some degree every religious organization.

Let me say this, though. Yesterday, a friend of mine helped a Catholic priest who is an exorcist attend to his wife, who suffers from possession. The exorcism process has taken most of the last year (I wrote about it earlier in this space). They have seen real progress. My friend says that the things that bring his wife the greatest relief are the prayers of priests. This friend is very well aware of the corruption in the Catholic Church, and has been for many years (we’ve been friends for a long time). But he says the things he has seen since unexpectedly entering this dark and dangerous wood with his wife has, liking nothing else, made real to him who the enemy is, the truth of what the Church says, and the spiritual power within it. Maybe that will give you suffering and discouraged Catholics comfort and courage. I hope so.

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