The Bishops are pretending it’s not wrong

Texas bishop analyzes USCCB problem with abuse scandal

by Dr. Larry Fedewa (November 17, 2018)                                                                    

The Federalist, a daily online political newsletter, featured a report by John David Danielson (November 16, 2018) on the recent meeting in Baltimore of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The major news event of the meeting was the intervention by Pope Francis forbidding the bishops to vote on any resolutions pertaining to the abuse scandal. This was widely reported, and Davidson provides context and commentary. However, the most striking insight was provided by his interview with Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler Texas regarding the underlying issue, namely that “the bishops themselves must strive for holiness and speak clearly about sin”. Davidson reports:

“I asked Strickland about that, and he told me the root of the sexual abuse crisis now facing the church is confusion about sin. ‘And where does that sin come from? It comes from not really deep down believing this is wrong, what a priest has done to abuse a little boy or a girl—or a teenager or an adult,’ he said. ‘It’s pretending that it’s really not wrong.’ ” 

This insight may provide the missing piece to understanding how in the world so many men dedicated to a life of saintly sacrifice could participate in what is arguably the most sinister sin known to civilized society. And then how could their sins be not only tolerated but actually covered up by the most senior members of the organization who are designated as the successors of the Twelve Apostles? What were they thinking?

Unfortunately, in my capacity as a counselor, I had personal experiences with victims of sexual sins by Catholic priests, both homosexual and heterosexual. So, it strikes me as nearly pathological when I hear, as I did the other day, a priest solemnly proclaiming that “I don’t even understand what they are talking about. A priest takes the vow of celibacy; he can’t have any kind of sex! In all my years as a priest, I have never heard of such a thing!”

As a young seminarian working in a rectory, I heard stories of wayward behavior of priests. (That was one reason I sought another muse.) How could someone live in that environment for a lifetime and not be aware of these things? The answer that comes to mind is “willful ignorance”. While that explanation might apply to some clerics, however, it does not explain the actions of the men who were faced with clear cases of criminal behavior and chose to ignore, to transfer, to consign to therapy, or otherwise protect the perpetrator from punishment. Especially on such a broad scale!

Perhaps Bishop  Strickland has the answer: they just didn’t think these were sinful acts. The fact that they did something shows that they knew these acts were anti-social and considered crimes by the rest of the society. And that may explain the rest of the story: namely, they believed that the publicity which would inevitably accompany arrests and prosecution would undermine the authority and reputation of the Church. As loyal bureaucrats, the bishops decided to commit another crime, concealing a felony. The fact that any successor of the Apostles would make the colossal moral error of equating the reputation of the organization with the sexual violation of another human being proves that that person is not morally equipped to fulfill his office. He should be removed forthwith – if not prosecuted for obstruction of justice.

As Danielson observes, “a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops might well be mistaken for a conference of insurance adjusters.” Not an impressive bunch! So, what did they decide to do about the greatest crisis since the Reformation? Answer: Nothing. They were scheduled to adopt a couple of CYA measures, but Pope Francis stopped even that. He’s going to call an international meeting of bishops on this topic in February and doesn’t want any guidance from the Americans.

And what about the Successor to Peter, the biggest kahuna of them all? Well, he doesn’t want to talk about this. His emphatic silence leads to speculation that he either doesn’t know what to say, or that he is hiding something – something that could be as big as his own membership in the “lavender brotherhood”. Either case would disqualify him from running any other international organization.

So, what is going to happen? Where do we all go to find the true Church of Christ? Hard as it is to assimilate, the Catholic Church has survived far worse criminals in the highest offices of the Church, even of the papacy, than anyone visible at this moment in time. Anyone who watched the television series on Pope Alexander VI saw far more shocking “bad guys” than any we know about today. So, the moral is: Don’t give up hope.

On the other hand, how long should we – can we – tolerate supporting all these morally bankrupt bureaucrats who have taken over our Church? It seems pretty clear that the Church needs reorganizing. The absolute power which traditionally resides in the Pope and the bishops has been corrupted absolutely, as foretold by Lord Action (who incidentally changed his career course to other pursuits in protest against the First Vatican Council’s declaration of the Pope’s infallibility.) Other models of Christian Church organization do exist, the largest being the Greek Orthodox Church, the other Latin rites, even the more controversial Anglican Church (American version: Episcopalian Church).

Without getting into the details of ecumenical debates, it should  be noted that even the most conservative scholars agree that the essence of  apostolic validity is the unbroken chain of episcopal succession. In a broader view, the promise of Jesus the Christ that His Church shall endure until the end of time does not define “Church” in legalistic terms but in terms of faith. This distinction has, of course, been the basis of all the Protestant denominations.

My own preference would be to introduce a parliamentary share of power between the laity and the clerics in all but strictly priestly domains, e.g. doctrine, sacraments, preaching, etc. Very important would be lay influence in personnel matters. Obviously, the bishops haven’t been up to this task.

From today’s vantage point, however, the prospect of the Pope and the bishops voluntarily sharing power with the laity looks pretty dim. Bureaucracy covets power and defends it to the death – as Martin Luther and Henry VIII and many others found out. So, the most obvious leverage in this arena is the laity’s power of the purse. We can decide which of the myriad of collections we face with every Sunday are actually worthy of our financial support and give or withhold accordingly. After all, money talks. (Saul Alinsky would be proud of that thought!)

We each have choices to make.

 

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