Sifting the American Episcopacy and Ourselves

BISHOPS MEETING GENERAL

In the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, there have been denunciations of abusive priests and bishop cover-ups. This has been followed by statements of why one is Catholic and encouragement not to leave the Catholic Church. It all sounds very familiar; for these are the same things we heard sixteen years ago when the abuse scandal broke out of Boston in 2002. However, there is a big difference between the scandal of 2002 and the scandal today. In 2002 it was possible to say that these were isolated priests and that bishops were guided by flawed but commonly accepted thinking throughout society concerning the psychology and treatment of men with such a pathology. It was possible to say this, stand up for good priests who weren’t abusers, and for bishops who didn’t cover it up because we were ignorant. We are not ignorant today. Today we have the revelations of “Uncle Ted” McCarrick’s philandering with seminarians and priests, of a network of “nephews” and “uncles,” and the advancement of these predators in the American episcopacy and other positions of influence in the Church in America. Today we know this happened because “everyone knew” and were silent (fear does not excuse). In addition to reports of the lavender mafia’s gay sex parties in rectories, there is also the report of the Grand Jury with testimony of predator priests working in concert. All of this brings to light that the abuse scandal was far worse than most of us could believe, that it was not just isolated priests and not just bunk psychology. It brings to light that the abuse scandal of 2002 and the cover-up by bishops was in actuality just the rot on the surface. We are not dealing with relatively few abusive priests who were mismanaged by bishops (to put it in an unjustly mild way). No, we are dealing with a corruption that is firmly entrenched, cancerous, and systemic. And, yet, by and large, from the top down the response to our current crisis has been a recording of 2002 being played again. This is unacceptable. The revelations of Uncle Ted and the Grand Jury report should spur us to demand that the American episcopacy be sifted until all the defecation and filth that lies within it has been exposed, and we shouldn’t settle for anything less! While the Grand Jury report should not by any means be ignored (for the problem of 2002 still exists), our attention should first be fixed on Uncle Ted, his network, it’s history, and the American episcopacy as a whole, because if nothing of substance is done about them there will be another abuse scandal in the future, another Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, when with the passage of time people have begun to forget.

What bishops must do

Bishops have lost all credibility and Catholics today would be fools to trust them. They need to show that they are taking real action to excise the horror which they have perpetuated – either through their acts or through their silence. The US bishops (and abroad) have proven themselves to be a body more concerned with its own collegiality than with serving the people who have been entrusted to their care.

“Damned be such loyalty that goes against the law of God! This is the kind of nonsense that goes on in the world, which makes no sense to me: that we consider it a virtue not to break with a friendship, even if the latter go against God, whereas we are indebted to God for all the good that is done to us.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life)

This gross clericalism has created a divide between bishops and laity in which bishops stand as a block focused on looking good, giving platitudes, and self-preservation – all at the expense of the laity. There can be no doubt of this as the lavender mafia, abuses, and cover-ups, and the collective response of bishops whenever these things come to light make clear.

Therefore, the first thing US bishops need to do is show that they put those they serve before their collective selves. The homosexual predatory power structure within the American episcopacy needs to be called out unequivocally. This is not “gay bashing”. This is recognizing that the abuses of priests against minors (the great majority being male) and the grooming, harassment, and coercion of seminarians and young priests by bishops, rectors, and other priests in authority over them began, persisted, and was protected by a hierarchy of which a significant number  were and are engaging in homosexual sex with one another and others. To date, I only know of two bishops who have explicitly identified this “sub-culture” among American clergy – Bishop Morlino and Bishop Sirba. There have been other bishops who have spoken of “culture” and “structures,” who have mentioned McCarrick by name and his coercing of seminarians and priests, but they have not specifically named a homosexual sub-culture within the American episcopacy and presbyterate. This needs to be explicitly named and measures identified for fighting against it. Of course, when it comes to those measures seeing is believing. Again, the bishops need to show those measures are being taken. We have had policies and charters, but without them being enforced they mean nothing. People say nothing is impossible, but the US bishops seem to do it every day.

If bishops truly see that this is a problem, if they truly are the various sorts of saddened that they all say they are then we should see decisive action from them as individuals, not simply as a conference. Bishops of course cannot simply publicize rumors they hear or things they witness without proof, but they can, while remaining anonymous, contact reporters who could do more digging and possibly bring the matter to light. If a bishop knows of another living a double life, he may not be able to make such information public, but he can put limits on what that bishop may do while visiting his diocese. If a bishop knows of another’s infidelity, he is under absolutely no obligation to include him in serving the people of his own diocese. If a bishop knows of another’s infidelity, he has an obligation to guard his flock from a predator at worst, which is exactly what a bishop like McCarrick is, or an untrustworthy spiritual guide at best. Will this raise eyebrows and cause an immense stir? Yes. Will people say that it casts a shadow akin to defamation or slander? Yes, again. Frankly, I don’t care, neither should you, neither should they. A predator doesn’t have a right to the avoidance of suspicion at the expense of his victims, and if a bishop knows about another’s infidelities he doesn’t need the evidence required in court to make a decision concerning the relation of that bishop to his own diocese. If I am wrong in this, perhaps that is a canonical change the bishops should clamor for.

Some people will say this is too harsh, that it would not be wise for a bishop to practice such manifest division with his brothers. Did not our Lord say: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Did not our Lord say He came with a sword? It is the erring bishop through the gravity of his sin who has caused the division. It is the erring bishop that has given a big f you to the Lord and put himself in opposition to love and truth. I also seem to remember our Lord saying something else.

bigger millstone

Oh, yes, that’s right. We should encourage good bishops to do the above because they don’t need nor should they share the millstone their brother already has hanging around their neck. That abyss goes a long way down. Those bishops who have not lost their flavor need to have the virtue to throw the salt that has lost its flavor into the street to be trampled underfoot.

At the upcoming meeting of the USCCB in November, we should see bishops arguing. There will be bishops (just as there were in 2002 with the Dallas Charter) who will want to lighten the action that is taken. We laity must hear bishops raise their voices in protest against those who would do so. Bishop Sirba in his recent statement said that the Church needs to “enact canonical changes that hold bishops accountable.” (Those would have to actually be enforced to mean anything though). Bishops individually should be making this appeal to Rome including their suggestion for what that canonical change should be. When bishops do this they need to make it public and release what they sent. Bishops also need to make this appeal as a body, the USCCB making public what they as a body have suggested. In addition to canonical changes, the US bishops, both individually and as a body, need to appeal to Rome for the establishment of a panel of laymen to whom accusations of abuse against bishops can be brought. Card. DiNardo has suggested an idea along these lines. Vitally important to the success of any such panel and proper action being taken regarding reports of accusations passed on is ensuring a system of reporting that inherently provides for accountability. There have been suggestions of the panel passing accusations to the Apostolic Nuncio. This is a fine idea and should be done, but it is not enough. Reports simultaneously need to be delivered to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Simultaneous delivery to these three groups would provide better assurance of checks and balances. The three are independent of one another which allows for a degree of separate action to be taken regardless of the actions of the other groups.* If for example a nuncio wished to not take appropriate action concerning the allegations forwarded to him, both the CDF and the Congregation for Bishops could.

Finally, we need to see serious acts of penance and reparation from our bishops. These acts need to be on the level of sackcloth and ashes, and they need to be public. On the level of grace, the offering of Masses in reparation for abuses committed by bishops and priests and their covering up is the greatest act of reparation to be made. However, that won’t mean anything to those outside the Church or to those Catholics who have fallen away or those at risk of turning away. Public acts of penance that show true repentance are in order. The Church has a tradition of such acts. Perhaps bishops should look to that tradition.

What the laity need to do

What about us? For the most part, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report doesn’t provide much that we didn’t know. The shock of the report comes from having before our eyes just how extensive it really was, both in numbers and in the revelation of some of these predators working in groups, and this just in six dioceses in one state. We knew it was bad, but for most perhaps we didn’t want to believe it could be that bad. But if that is the case, do not we, the laity, carry at least some small degree of responsibility or at least a degree of foolishness in letting ourselves get played? (And we did get played!) Shouldn’t we have enquired more into the underlying putrescence that would have enabled the abuse and cover-up? Shouldn’t we have recognized that the abuse and cover-up was merely the manifestation of a deeper foulness? Why did we not press it? Is there really any justifiable reason we can give for the revelations of Uncle Ted and the Grand Jury report coming out 16 years after the fact? Fool me once…

We laity must put constant pressure on the Pope, bishops, and priests. We cannot let up in a few months. We cannot let up in a year, and when this is seemingly settled we must be ever vigilant. It is a terrible thing to have to hold one’s shepherds in suspicion but this is the state we are in and it does not quickly go away.

Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. (Jeremiah 23:2)

I trust in the Lord, who in His omnipotence can work even through the evils of shepherds turned wolves.

What to do?

When the news about the lavender mafia first broke their were cries to stop giving money to dioceses. I understand the reaction, especially since it seems like the only action of consequence that the laity can take. I, however, am not convinced of it for many reasons. I do think that money can be withheld as a healthy act on our part, but only in certain ways. This is not the post for spelling out those ways and the reasons why. But money is not the only option open to us. The USCCB is meeting in Baltimore in November. Perhaps laity can make a pilgrimage to holy sites in Baltimore and while they are there also give the bishops a hearty welcome with signs and calls for penance and action. In anticipation of the USCCB meeting, we can flood the bishops with letters, calls, and emails. They should be worded respectfully, but also expressive of the right anguish, anger, and betrayal felt. We should exhort them to take the type of action articulated above, and to make public acts of penance.

We also need encourage our priests to speak out. Many people will fall away from the Church not merely because of the scandal, but because of silence from the pulpit concerning it. Many priests are now beginning to say something. However, much of what is said is simply pointing out the bull from the safety of a fence. We need priests who will walk up to the bull and grab it by the horns. We need priests who will give witness of their own experiences with abuse and harassment, or the way they have seen others pecked and gouged by it until they wasted away. We need to encourage priests who will lead the laity in taking action for bishop accountability in in making acts of reparation. Priests also need encouragement to bear humbly the attacks made on them. Many of them are afraid to wear their collar in public because of the way they may be treated by people in retaliation for the sins of their brothers. Our Lord who was sinless paid the price we owed; that is the God we worship and have given our lives too. Being alter Christus also means being humbly the punishments due to others. If we encourage our fathers to rise up and be true men, they will respond to the call. Thank them, exhort them, spur them, work to invigorate them, and walk with them as you may.

Finally, there have been many calls for prayer, fasting, acts of reparation, etc. It is easy to blow these off. If we are unwilling to take this spiritual action, if we think that it is not truly efficacious then our other acts will not come to fruition either. The crimes and depravity of the lavender mafia are not just sins of the flesh, but sins rooted in spiritual decay. Any response on our part must be rooted in spiritual vibrancy.

*Recent allegations by Archbishop Vigano have shown that this of course is no guarantee, but it is better than the current process and any proposals made thus far.

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8 Comments

  1. “Bishops have lost all credibility and Catholics today would be fools to trust them.” This Carmelite says, au contraire. As for me and my house, we trust God and are obedient to our bishop, which to us implies a certain trust. He received the grace of the office at his episcopal ordination. We didn’t.

    1. I am obedient to the bishop concerning that which obedience demands. But grace received in ordination makes one no more trustworthy than grace received in baptism, reconciliation, or Holy Communion. A lack of trust is not the same as disobedience.

    2. I trusted the bishops in 2002 to clean up the mess. I was wrong to trust them. Under McCarrick’s influence and others they exempted themselves from the Dallas Charter and now we know why. Also, trusting God and trusting a bishop is not the same thing. Saul was God’s anointed; David would have rightly deserved death if he had been foolish enough to trust Saul.

    3. I have to admit, I find your comment entirely unhelpful. How about this: What does practicing obedience to our bishops look like? And in regard to that obedience what does trust look like on our part which also takes into account vigilance and accountability in that which they have thoroughly shown themselves to have mucked this up? Finally, I didn’t advocate acting in disobedience to them.

    4. And one more thing, the obedience I hold to our bishops is precisely because of my trust in God and the authority given through his grace. While there is a connection between obedience and trust, we need not conflate obedience to a human person with trusting that person.

  2. You raise some excellent points, as you did in the post, and forgive me for not mentioning them, also. I admit that I wrote in haste while I was striving to meet more than one deadline.

    Please consider that my understanding of obedience is informed by three years of monastic formation in an international Discalced Carmelite community and that my formators were from Brescia, the heartbeat of Montini country. Paul VI informed their spirituality almost as much as St Teresa and St John of the Cross. For pity sake, I had to read Papa Montini’s Credo du Peuple de Dieu because my formator thought my 10-yr-old USA mystagogia and adult catechesis was goofy. So, that’s where I come from.

    Obedience in faith starts in the Rule of St Albert: “The first thing I require is for you to have a prior, one of yourselves, who is to be chosen for the office by common consent, or that of the greater and maturer part of you; each of the others must promise him obedience…” (Rule No. 4)

    And so it continued until Teresa comes along with even stricter observance in her reform. For example: “Once while thinking about the severe penance Doña Catalina de Cordona performed and about how because of the desires for penance the Lord sometimes gives me I could have done more were it not for obedience to my confessors, I thought it might be better not to obey them any longer in this matter. The Lord told me: “That’s not so; you are walking on a good and safe path. Do you see all the penance she does? I value your obedience more.” (Testimony 19)

    In fact, my search engine for her collected works in the digital library generated 104 hits for the keyword obedience.

    John of the Cross has some choice words on the subject, too, especially in his Counsels to a Religious, the Precautions, the Censures, certainly the Sayings of Light & Love, but first and foremost in the Dark Night, Book One, Chapter 6. Again, all of these collected works of Teresa and John were part of my daily study for more than three years. Let’s not even get into Thérèse, who was my fun reading in my free time. She said that obedience was her heaven, her armor, and I could point you to all of her poetry, her manuscripts, her pious recréations that underline just how much she is a daughter of John and Teresa.

    So, when a superior said, “do this” I never stopped to ask how. I simply did as I was told. And if I didn’t do the task correctly, I accepted their correction, uncomplaining. Not one excuse; only to say, “thank you, I’ll pay attention the next time”. At first, I didn’t get the concept, but soon I learned to love it, embrace it, own it, and when I left the monastery, I have never abandoned that formation. For me and for those who formed me and who were formed with me, obedience in faith demands trust.

    Now, as I have translated or transposed that obedience to secular life, obedience takes on a different form. Obedience at work for me meant submitting to a supervisor without complaining, saying thank you frequently, and being educable. I always made every effort in OCDS to consult and apply the same concept of obedience within community. And now that I have such an expanded apostolate in social media, especially Twitter, I mention either the general secretary for communications or the general curia in many, if not most of my tweets because my account is a rather public presence that represents the Order. And, they appreciate my obedience.

    So, I hope that this explanation has been more helpful than my previous comment. Like a freshman in college cramming that term paper, I burned the midnight oil last night, updating my own blog post on the sex abuse crisis. I found in the feast of the Transverberation the critical insight that was needed to address the issues that arose when +Viganò released his testimony/letter on the exact same day.

    You write: “Finally, there have been many calls for prayer, fasting, acts of reparation, etc. It is easy to blow these off. If we are unwilling to take this spiritual action, if we think that it is not truly efficacious then our other acts will not come to fruition either.” My expanded reading of Teresa this weekend affirms what could be your most salient point. When faced with the greatest ecclesial crisis of the second millennium, Teresa’s answer was to seek deeper prayer, greater silence and solitude, and evangelical perfection to the Nth degree. So all in all, I think you and I – taking into account the context of my earlier comment – I think we’re not too far apart. And, thanks for hanging with me to the end of this treatise. Love you, Quanah!

    1. Thanks, Deb, for these words of Carmelite wisdom, and sharing your experience in monastic formation. I must admit that my response was also made in haste with class soon starting. The relationship between trust and obedience is not one that is appreciated today and, yet, it is necessary for increasing our interior life – which I believe all are called to without exception. (That statement probably needs to be clarified for some, but I think you know what I mean.) I will be writing more posts on our current times and the increase of the interior life will be treated. While I am not planning on writing a post specifically on obedience, that topic will come up as part of at least one future post. Your feedback on these would be most appreciated. God bless you, and I love you too!

      1. Love you more! I come up for air from time to time to get up to date on anguish in the American pew. When I hear and read so many talking about leaving the Church, that’s when I burrow down again and focus on prayer and the apostolate so as to save souls. Because, if these people leave the Church, their salvation is at stake, whether they realize it or not.

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