For people who are driven by authority, who pour much of their identity into heroes and leaders, I’m sure they would agree with Father Robert Barron, that this is indeed one of the darkest periods of Church history. A bit from his current speaking tour of Australia:
If you’d asked me 20 years ago about the worst time in US Catholic history, I would have said the 19th century, when they were pulling down convents and burning rectories, but the sexual abuse scandal has been worse.
‘When you hear Catholic you hear sex abuse, paedophile, protecting abusers. Regrettably that is part of the story, but it’s such a great reduction of the huge history and tradition.
It’s not what I hear, because of two things. First, I’ve known abusive church people since I was in high school. I recognize that people rise or bumble their way into authority. But that their sinfulness or even just their innocent incompetence trip them up. And second, I don’t identify too strongly with leaders as heroes. Sure I admire people who have helped me: a Scout leader, my 12th grade English teacher, the campus ministers I knew in college, the pastor who hired me in 1995 and taught me more about parish ministry than anyone I ever knew. But I do not place them on the same pedestal as Jesus or the saints. Their failures would not topple the edifice.
And speaking of the saints …
We should be looking right now for the saints who pop up in times of crisis, as saints Francis, Dominic, Benedict and Ignatius did.
Four good saints. All men, of course. Mostly priests. It’s good to admire women, too. Maybe two who were explicitly critical of the leadership that was screwing up: Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen. There’s nothing wrong with being critical of leadership when its warranted. Fr Barron is concerned that “the wrong people are telling the story,” aka the secular media. The secular media have promoted the safety of children from sexual predators. An effort that the Catholic Church in the US had no professional competence to be found, outside of the secular discipline of psychology.
It may rankle that the heroes and helpers of healing people who have been abused, then stonewalled by the Church, are mostly all lay people. And the few clergy who have dared to speak up in a timely way, have themselves been ostracized by many of their brother priests, and by most of their bishops.
And Rome itself is conflicted. When the rare bishop (such as in Dublin) does speak out in defense of the innocent, the institutional signals given are mixed, at best.
So I have no doubt, that for a bishop, these have to be among the darkest days. Good bishops will be deeply troubled by what is going on in their midst. And those who have no clues must certainly be finding themselves challenged at nearly every turn. Watching a feel-good movie might inspire some to the faith. But for those well-established as Catholics, is it what we really need?
As I’ve noted before, I think American Catholics have in the past decade or two become increasingly more Roman in their Catholicism. That is to say, practicing their faith vis-a-vis “authority” more like actual Romans have for centuries.