Is Cover-Up An Evangelization Issue?

CNS commentary on Evangelii Gaudium here.

It is thus surprising that, with the possible exception of a reference to the “pain and the shame we feel at the sins of some members of our church,” Pope Francis does not even allude to what most people inside and outside the church would regard as its greatest scandal of recent years: the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

In his analysis, Francis X. Rocca isn’t quite on target with that. Awareness of the sexual abuse of minors has intruded on the consciousness of many caring persons in the past thirty to forty years. I’m not sure society has completely come to grips with the reality that most abuse happens in families. And when it doesn’t, it usually occurs with trusted friends.

The greater scandal is the systemic cover-up of offenders by bishops. Enabling abusers has been part of the system all along, and by recent events in many places: Chicago, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Santa Rosa, the system still doubts victims, advisory committees, the Charter, and the institutional procedures written (in part) by the bishops themselves.

This scandal is not, strictly speaking, a question of evangelization.

The abuse of children isn’t. But the intentions of the bishops very much impact evangelization.

But as Pope Benedict wrote to the Catholics of Ireland in March 2010, church leaders’ failures to prevent and punish clerical sex abuse “have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

This diagnosis by Pope Benedict must have been brutal for bishops and clergy to hear. I suppose it’s one thing for Cardinal Wuerl’s “tsunami of secular influence” to wash away lukewarm believers. (If indeed that is an accurate diagnosis.) It’s another thing for people to journey to “post-Christian” places because they find the bishops and the institution lacking in moral witness, and lacking a sense of Christ. Does it sting for inactive Catholics to look over bishops, and even the pope, to shrug, and to move on? It should.

Pope Francis has dropped many possible references to bishops not doing their jobs: too much time in airports, and too much perfume from the courts of aristocracy.

Carrying … out (child protection procedures) will presumably be a priority for Pope Francis, as part of his campaign to reform and purify the church at every level for the sake of its essential evangelical mission.

Child protection policies, procedures, and such are the responsibility of local churches, pastors and bishops, mostly. A worldwide campaign, at least at this time, would be best placed to remove obstacles. Pope Francis will remove obstacles, I think, in the culture of bishops and of the curia. That would be helpful.

We don’t need bishops campaigning for child protection. It would be enough to find, discern, and appoint bishops who have the smell of the sheep. Protecting the innocent isn’t rocket science. But to a person who has wandered from a life in Christ, it can seem difficult.

Make no mistake: we Catholics in the US have years of cleaning up to do. We have to convince people who are there to be evangelized that we are drawing them into something of value. They might well be seeking Christ. Will be and our bishops be credible witnesses of Christ? Or will people seek credibility elsewhere? And if some do, I would find it hard to blame them.

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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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