What is particularly disheartening, certainly for me, is the sense that we had already gone through this traumatic scandal in 2002 with not only the pain of priests abusing young people but the realization that bishops were not properly attentive to the dimensions of the problem. In response to this situation, the Bishops’ Conference gathered in Dallas, Texas and promulgated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
What we are now facing, in the media and from many of our people, is the question: “Has anything changed?”
The answer, I believe, is, “Yes.” We are encouraged by our Holy Father’s determination to hold accountable those who violate the obligations of their ordination, who go so far as to abuse the young and vulnerable among us, or to use their power and influence in a harmful way.
In his strong and decisive response to the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, Pope Francis is leading the way in calling bishops to greater accountability. The Pope has demonstrated a keen awareness of the feelings of betrayal, the disappointment, the not-unreasonable anger felt by so many of our faithful people as these accusations come to light.
Just as our Holy Father has provided us with an example of how to begin to heal these deep wounds, we, the bishops of our country, are presented with an opportunity to reflect on what has come to light, to minister to the pain and to respond as best we can to questions that have been raised by this scandal, while moving forward to address in practical ways the very real and legitimate concerns for accountability.
I think everyone recognizes that words, good intentions, and new policies, while important, are not enough. We must not only denounce abuse and take steps to stop the abusers. We must remove even the appearance of cover-ups as we investigate and address allegations.
Read the whole thing. It approximates the experience of being an toothless old woman masticating pasta Alfredo.
I’m joking but I shouldn’t be. Just imagine how deformed your moral faculties must be to respond to the sickening revelations about a cardinal with cowardly twaddle like this. I remind you of this excerpt from my interview with “James,”who was first sexually assaulted by Father McCarrick as a boy. James was the first baby the newly ordained Father McCarrick baptized. Eleven years later, Father McCarrick first molested him. James told me:
He doubts that the bishops and priests who depended on McCarrick’s patronage for their clerical careers will ever rat their godfather Uncle Ted out. Part of it is loyalty, he contends, and part is because many of them know too much about each other’s sexual secrets, and are bound by a self-protective vow of silence.
“They believe that they are more important than the religion itself,” James says. “They believe that man is better than God. That’s not possible. McCarrick believed that he was my direct contact with God. He told me that hundreds and hundreds of times: God will only listen to you when you are with me.”
“Did you believe that?” I ask.
“For a while, yes. When he kissed my penis, yes.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“That’s okay,” says James. “God has given me the strength to get this story out there, and for that I thank God. I have to keep talking. I have to keep talking to other people. Even if I have to tell this story 800 times, I’ll keep saying it until somebody finally listens.”
Compare that to this paragraph from Cardinal Wuerl’s pastoral reflection:
As we, bishops, unite ourselves to the reforming efforts of Pope Francis, it is essential that we be able to address any allegations of abuse by a bishop, even if the allegation is later proved to be unsubstantiated. And here we have already a document to provide the essential components to this approach.
Oh good, a document! Essential components! That’ll fix everything.
At some point within the next two weeks, the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses will be released. It will tell a tale of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which Wuerl ran from 1988 to 2006. It should make for instructive reading about the character Donald Wuerl. Maybe you just get to a point in your life as a successor of the Apostles where you stop seeing other people as human beings. Maybe you get to the point where you forget how to be a human being.
Documents. Essential components. This is not how a flesh-and-blood man thinks and talks when confronted with a moral horror in which he is complicit.
Lately I’m hearing so many words of encouragement in e-mail from Catholic priests all over the country, who have just had it with this mess, and are grateful for the things that they’ve read on this blog. Thank you, Fathers. One today e-mailed to say that he knows current seminarians who see the McCarrick disaster, who have read in this space about how even a solid diocese like Lincoln can’t be honest and straightforward in how it deals with homosexuality in the priesthood, and they’re contemplating taking dramatic action to reveal the sordid truth they’re living through right now.
This letter below came in late this evening from another priest. I know his name and his diocese, but am withholding it at his request. You’ll see why. He told me that men like him are in a terrible position. They can’t speak out, because their bishops will crush them. He writes tonight:
I’ve been reading these statements from the bishops about the steps they are going to take to enact better policy and procedures and improve the 2002 charter as well as regain the people’s trust and faith. You know what’s missing from all of these statements? Any kind of apology or recognition that the bishops have also let down their priests. In 2002, they enacted policy which clamped down on us quite severely and we have done the best we can to follow it. In fact, many of us have suffered unjustly from the pendulum swing of bishops overreacting and dealing with us harshly over spurious allegations of any kind of misconduct. We have always known that the bishops protected themselves and now we have proof with McCarrick.
And now the bishops just presume priests are on their side? That we are mourning with them at more of OUR failures? No we aren’t! In 2002, when the bishops decided to hammer their priests and protect themselves they created a gulf in relationship. No longer were bishops our spiritual fathers. They couldn’t be, because they were now treating all priests like potential liabilities. And for the last 16 years priests have suffered as lawyers and insurance companies have dictated to bishops how they should handle their priests. Bishops continued to try to set themselves up as caring fathers but time has shown that they are not there for us. They will abandon us at a moment’s notice at the most unsubstantiated claim. It has happened to so many priests now it’s an epidemic.
But now when the bishops’ corruption is being laid bare to the world in New Jersey, Washington DC, Chile, Honduras, Australia, and Pennsylvania to come, not a word from our USCCB about asking for forgiveness from their priests for them having failed us, their closest collaborators. This lack of awareness and remorse says so much about what our bishops think of us. They are so consumed with their own need to maintain power and protect the church that considering how this has effected the priests is an afterthought. This is what priests have come to know.
Now people might say, well too bad and all of that. OK, fine. But consider this: It’s not the bishops who keep the church going; it’s the parish priests. We are the most indispensable element of a bishop’s workforce. If you are running a business and want it to run well and efficiently, who are you going to make sure is the most well trained and taken care of in your company? What we are seeing is the bishops clearly are not making sure we are all well trained, given how many homosexuals have infiltrated the priesthood. Further, when they fail and scandalize the church, they don’t even think about the ramifications this might have on us. Instead some bishops are actually talking to their presbyterates like they, the priests, are the ones who offended, and are threatening more sexual abuse training.
Bishops, we have also been scandalized and mistreated. The truth is that most of you have been rotten failures as bishops. You have failed as spiritual fathers to your priests, you have not protected us by making sure we are properly trained, you have left many of us at the mercy of predatory homosexual priests, and when some of your order have miserably failed, you have not shown any remorse to us by your failures. This entire mess we are in is your fault. I’m ashamed of the entire episcopacy and scandalized to be associated with you.
Straight fire, right there. You might have heard of that time that the successors of the apostles ignored widespread anger and discontent at their own corruption, and an angry priest nailed a document to a church door. Never, ever forget the late historian Barbara Tuchman’s elements that are present in all great and consequential institutional collapses:
1. obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents 2. primacy of self-aggrandizement 3. illusion of invulnerable status
Cardinal Wuerl’s reflection ends like this:
Let us pray that our children and all our people will see in us, their bishops, through our actions as well as our words, their brothers and companions.
Being a Catholic priest — a good one, one who is faithful to his vows, his people, and most of all his Lord — has to be one of the loneliest ways of life in this country now. I have long believed that aside from victims of clerical sex abuse and their families, the ones who suffer most from this never-ending nightmare are the good priests. Tonight’s impassioned letter from one of them helps us understand why.