What A Difference A Day Makes

In the old days, I’d be gone for a week or two–camping or on retreat–and some news item would explode. Events like the Nixon capitulation in ’74, Elvis in ’77, or Oklahoma City in 1995.

I took a pilgrimage day Monday this week in the city. As usual, it involved a lot of walking (I drive there only in case of dire necessity), a visit with my spiritual director, and various stops for praying, eating, writing, and reading. I get home and the president’s muffing of Helsinki is exploding in all communications media.

Today I wasn’t even out-of-town. Just a funeral and a typical summer day preparing for a weekend of five Masses and two weddings. So this item of horrific news whispered on a new 2002 moment for the Church in the US. What a closing comment from the sister of the abused person:

My brother has had such a horrible life. It just doesn’t make any sense, that his life would have been so different from his six siblings. Father Ted was supposed to fix this horrible boy, and he sure fixed him.

Rocco’s comment on the threefold “confluence” of child abuse, #metoo for Catholic priests, and institutional cover-up:

Even for the torrent of 2002, it’s a confluence that would’ve been unthinkable: a graphic return to the crisis’ major eruption at an unprecedented level of the US hierarchy… yet now beyond, a practically uncharted frontier of new processes and potential penalties for clerics of all stripes over claims of sexual harassment or exploitation of those under their authority: as Francis himself has re-framed the issue over recent weeks in personally aiming to repair the roiled church in Chile, “the abuse of sex, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience.”

Many Catholic commentators, including most apologists, have focused on matters of the same-sex element. That never held water for me. Most abuse takes place in families, and we can’t characterize parents as gays or lesbians for the episodes when people act out against their own children.

Others still view it as a moral matter. Liberals are less moral, I hear. And conservative Catholics, by definition, would never abuse. Though they might take steps to protect the institution. I find this equally unconvincing. Sin is pervasive across the whole human race. If we pay careful attention to the saints, they admit as much.

A variation on that theme is the presumption of virtue by ordination. It may be true that among Catholics, priests and bishops have the greatest access to the sacraments. But even clergy ordained in the John Paul II era have faltered in giving witness. Likewise most bishops taking the fall these days were not only appointed under the last two popes, but vetted by careful standards as well. Or perhaps not so careful in some cases.

Citing that rape is a crime of power much more than a sexual offense is worth considering. Some people take an evil glee at the control of the pleasure of others. That could be in bed. But it also means employment, friends, schooling, and recreational substances, to name a few. I’ve experienced people in parishes who styled themselves as powerful. Mainly gossips and the very occasional over-bearing boss. It’s about the minimum effort expended to cause the most damage, just because one can pull a tablecloth out from under a place-setting and watch the china burst into pieces on the floor.

Others, especially those who fund and provide insurance, zero in on the abuse itself. Mainly as a hedge against future events. And that’s not wrong. But it doesn’t get at the third point of confluence: the cover-up.

Rocco wrote of an “uncharted frontier of new processes,” but I can think of one familiar to just about everybody in the workaday world. Resignation.

Maybe Chile is the new Charter.

If the confluence of Pope Francis and the USCCB’s 2002 Charter had occurred, would we have seen a mass resignation of two-hundred-plus bishops? Is that likely to happen today? I can only imagine how St Blog’s of 2002 would have reacted to something like that. Today, the Catholic internet voice is far more diffused than the lock-step it used to be. A once-united front spawned by 9/11 and Cardinal Law spouts chinks all over. Torture was the first wedge. Others have followed.

From Rod Dreher, citing Rocco’s whisper:

Oh swell, another legalistic document stating “standards” that will be ignored by those who never have cared about standards, only the appearance of doing so.

Or likely not. I think another document is not forthcoming from the USCCB. I suspect that Pope Francis is going to want to see concrete action here in the US and elsewhere. It might seem that bishops are locked in for life. But they can still walk away.

The standards are already given. Outlined in the first verses of Luke 17, the Lord had a saying:

Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!

The occasion of hounding people out of the Church by clerical scandal, of preaching antigospel, is surely an agency of this.

And a warning:

It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard!

And an instruction for those observing:

If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender …

As for the companion saying …

… and if there is repentance, you must forgive.

… I’d say forgiveness is not only a process of interior opening up. Co-conspirators are not in a place to forgive. Victims and survivors are, but at the urging of their own communities. The institutional Church is not well-placed to offer convenient mewlings that bestow forgiveness on its members. It would seem that the repentance project begun in 2002 has not progressed to completion.

Let’s bring it back to the Chile solution. What do you think? Cardinal McCarrick has many disciples in the episcopacy and in places of authority from rectors to pastors. Should they all offer resignations? More from Mr Dreher:

Let’s be clear: being associated with McCarrick does not make these men guilty of anything. But it does mean that their own clerical careers are intimately tied with an archbishop who is now known to have been a sexual abuser of seminarians and priests, and even a rapist of minors. Were these men sexually compromised by McCarrick when they were subject to his authority? What did they know? What, if anything, did they do with that knowledge?

The situation in South America was the same. Association with the prelates under investigation didn’t make them guilty. But there was taint.

Luke 17:3 mentions forgiveness in the face of repentance. Repentance is worth exploring seriously, and not as a gesture.

Think of the person who commits a small single offense in isolation, like forgetting a promised phone call, or having an uncharacteristic but small blow-up. A virtuous person recognizes the fault soon, if not immediately. They likely don’t blame their busy day or headache. They just communicate a serious and heartfelt apology. Offense forgiven.

Venial sins are one thing. Unfaithfulness, in the form of gossip or perjury or adultery is another. This is trust beyond what a piece of tape or a dab of glue can repair. The sinner has committed a crime that has significantly fractured a few bones. It’s the equivalent of being in traction or being in a wheelchair. Visits from victims or survivors may take place. But the offender is left alone to heal and to reflect seriously on the harm, and the loss of familiar activities and social groups.

My sense is that some elements of the Church are in a hospital ward, whether they know it or not. If they know it, they can acknowledge their surroundings and cooperate with God’s offer of healing grace. If not, they may well have consigned themselves to that millstone. In the meantime, that compound leg fracture is grinding away at the muscles of their limbs, ripping into flesh, impairing movement, creating crippling conditions that will merit a far more intensive recovery.

As for the Church’s laity, we’ve already suffered through the embarrassment in the presence of non-Catholics, of the dismay of watching once-loved leaders fall from grace, of seeing our co-workers, neighbors, and even our children abandon the Mass. Maybe a few remaining will see the McCarrick revelations as their come-to-Jesus moment. I look at Cardinal Tobin’s intention to “discuss this tragedy with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to articulate standards that will assure high standards of respect by bishops, priests and deacons for all adults.” Rocco seems to think this means another document. But perhaps not. It is possible for discerning adults to get together, apply Luke 17:3, and move ahead.

Time will tell, but it will be much, much longer than a day to recover from this grievous injury.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in bishops, Church News, Commentary, sex abuse and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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