Walking With Survivors, Treating Bishops

A Republican lawmaker calls out his bishop for being a “pedophile pimp.” The discussion at America‘s In All Things blog focuses on the loss of episcopal credibility. Rep. Bettencourt and Bishop McCormack are having a private meeting about it.

Where to start?

I have been close to a number of women who have suffered sexual abuse. One person I dated seriously for several months (the first woman other than my mother who said “I love you” to me) tearfully described her story to me, and later thanked me for my patience and understanding and that it helped her to head into her marriage in a more positive way, and with a good amount of healing.

I knew teens who had been abused when I assisted with a chaplaincy at a children’s psychiatric facility. And as a church minister, I’ve had more than one talk with a person who suffered abuse at the hands of a priest.

As an ally of abuse survivors, I can tell you I do not live unmoved by these experiences. Listening to such friends is an honorable task, and is more directly helpful than political lobbying, however well-intentioned or successful that might be. I believe that the very life of the Gospel is anchored in being a personal companion with those who are in need. And more, human relationships are deepened to a sacramental level when we are able to share difficulties, and encounter the healing presence of Christ. We come to know the grace of hope in such sharing.

To a degree I can appreciate the frustration of David Bettencourt, whose vicious condemnation of his bishop might be partly true and partly an overreach. (And it might be partly political play.) I’ve offered harsh words for bishops individually and collectively on this web site over several years. That’s not optimal for the path of holiness. It might not even be smart, considering my station in the Church.

Maybe a better tack for bishops might be pity. Consider they’re out of the loop for any ministry of companionship. What bishop counsels engaged couples, the homeless, confirmation candidates, troubled students, the dying, the sick? If he does, he does a lot less of it than he did as a parish priest, if he ever was one.

Not only do most of these guys not get it with their sagging moral credibility, but many of them have never had the rich experiences of either a life as a lay person or as a priest who labors tirelessly for the people of his parish.

The best approach is likely a blended one. Other saints did not blush at criticizing bishops. And the same compassion extended to a person in need can well be extended to a bishop. All while avoiding the fawning cult of personality, of course.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to Walking With Survivors, Treating Bishops

  1. John Drake says:

    “Other saints” did not blush at criticizing bishops ????

    You consider New Hampshire House Majority Leader David J. Bettencourt to already qualify as a saint? I doubt many of our canonized saints criticized their bishops in such “inartful” language, to use Bettencourt’s term.

  2. Todd says:

    Hey John, thanks for commenting. By my count there are at least 167 words typed between “Bettencourt” and “saints.” In between I described his condemnation as “vicious.”

    Giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re here to tackle issues and not me personally, I’ll suggest that every Catholic, including you, me, and Mr Bettercourt aspire to be saints. Or we should.

    That said, I don’t think calling a bishop a “pimp” is an unforgiveable sin that bars anyone from heaven.

    And on the other point, you’re right; many saints did not criticize bishops. But John Chrysostom had the most famous line about erring clergy and their bishops. It still rings out today.

  3. John Drake says:

    Not attacking you, but you are usually a pretty orderly writer, and the “other saints” thing leaped out, because there are no saints at all mentioned between Bettencourt and “other”. Perhaps the sentence would have better started, “Numerous saints did not blush…”

    Yes, we all aspire to sainthood.

  4. FrMichael says:

    IMHO Rep. Bettencourt’s comments were accurate, just expressed a little intemperately. He would get off pretty lightly in my confessional.

  5. I love what you say about being around women who are survivors. I was not abused by a cleric but having been abused, I can tell you understand something of those you have been close to.

    The bishops are stuck in their tower, you are right about that. Pity may be the only way, hard as it may be to conjure for them.

    Bettencourt seems a bit political for my taste, but maybe that’s just me.

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