The heat over the Irish child abuse report continues. Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin editoralizes today in the Irish Times. Archbishop Martin phrases this in a rather alarming way: survival. This newest shocking episode is going to set everybody back.
I know that many Catholics are concerned about homosexual individuals and couples adopting children. Their cred on the issue has eroded away, even as some apologists are quick to characterize male on male abuse as homosexual. Overall, the issue is so charged, I don’t have a hope that this adoption issue will ever get a calm and reasoned discussion. The status quo will remain: people wealthy and/or well-connected will adopt children, and most of those children will grow up reasonably healthy reared by reasonably loving parents. Or better. If you want to find worse, go to the report, and be confirmed in the knowledge that institutional child care by the Church is now suspect.
This sets the bishops back. Given the hair-trigger on Archbishop Nichols, there’s no agreement within their own ranks about how to address this. A bishop’s seemingly innocuous (by some accounts) statement is pounced upon by another bishop for being insufficiently penitent. Just imagine what the lay people are thinking.
This sets ecumenism back. A Lutheran minister, Donald Heinz, suggests “institutional Catholicism … is nearly unredeemable.” More:
The moral compass of modern Catholicism has only one true north — institutional self-preservation. Everything else is relative. It will not do to argue that “most” priests did not in fact abuse children. The fact is that the entire hierarchy (which constitutes the definition of “church”) has been and remains complicit and therefore utterly compromised.
“Reform in head and members” was the call of the 16th-century Reformation movements, and contemporary responses are long overdue.
The notion isn’t that other clergy and religious outside of Rome haven’t abused–they have. Or that non-Catholic institutions didn’t and don’t protect themselves–because they do. To claim a stellar and foremost witness that roots itself in Peter, the apostles, and the tradition of the martyrs, but then be undercut by repeated institutional complicity (at worst) or incompetence (at best), this is potentially ruinous. What if Lutherans, Anglicans, the Orthodox, and others just get up from the table and tell the Roman Catholics to grow up? Would there be anything to say in reply?
Speaking of incompetence, can anyone begin to take seriously Roman “investigations” of any sort? Lay people may or may not be concerned about the particulars of who’s hired to give talks to women religious. But most of them would be concerned about moral responsibility among religious and clergy. When the CDF comes knocking at the doors of women’s communities, would there be anything to add if the women said, “Go away boys, and if you’re looking for investigation fodder, why not check out your clergy in Africa, since you’ve already missed the boat in Ireland, the US, and elsewhere?”
Let’s consider how this sets back the cause of evangelization. Forget, for the moment, about Catholics sickened and embarrassed to be associated with institutional preservationism. Moving to Christianity, to Catholicism, is, as we believe, entering into a closer communion with Christ. Suddenly, the lived witness of the faith has become an obstacle to thousands, if not more.
Let me be clear about what I’m saying and what I’m not. The immorality of some in the hierarchy does not invalidate the moral teachings of the Church. A police officer may murder a civilian. Her or his colleagues may have doubts, and the institution might over-protect the killer. But this does not invalidate the laws good citizens and good peace officers strive to uphold. But we know what it does do: wrongdoing, cover-up, and obfuscation erodes overall confidence in the system.
Certain aspects of governance are not founded by Christ, not bound by faith or morals, and even variable within the bounds of small-t tradition. These aspects of governance deserve the most piercing scrutiny. And we, the Church, including bishops and pope, should be prepared to discard whatever trappings that have compromised the moral standing of the Church. One bishop has pledged martyrdom to help steer human beings from a heinously immoral act. No bishop need die to ensure accountability. But dying, in a way, is very easy. Something less than dying, something of a dying to self, may be required for the Church to get back on track.
Archbishop Martin asks, “What happened that you drifted so far away from your own charism?”
I believe that you owe it to your good members to try to answer that question thoroughly, honestly and in a transparent way. Your credibility and the credibility and survival of your charism depend on the honesty with which you go about that soul searching. This may be a painful task, but it is unavoidable if it is to be possible for your charism to survive.
Whether they see it or not, I think the bishops must realize that their charism is also endangered. The episcopal charism, top to bottom, has been compromised. In a way, the bishops struggle with a greater poverty than we lay people. I have a wife, a boss, parents (when they were alive), and countless other people telling me what I should do. Bishops don’t seem to listen to one another, and they sure don’t seem inclined to listen to anyone outside their order.