The Pennsylvania Bomb

It has exploded in the Keystone State. Over one thousand underage victims in six of eight dioceses.

I have no heart or stomach to read the whole report as some are doing. Rod Dreher seems to be live-blogging as he wades through the morass. A secular summary is here. One summation: “They hid it all.” That, cited from the grand jury report.

Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro concludes some of the cover-up can be traced to Rome. That’s probably enough of a factor to suggest that this report likely won’t end with legal satisfaction. The reach of the US criminal justice system ends at the borders. The best our bishops can do is persuade the Vatican. But they themselves are tarnished.

Recognizing the likely fruitlessness of that legal investigation, at Commonweal, Rita Ferrone advocates for a change in the clerical system. I suspect Pope Francis would support a reasonable change, even if it were a bit radical.

Seminaries in Lincoln and Boston have been hit hard. One might wonder if the whole seminary system is up for grabs. Maybe it should be. I would argue in favor of priest-candidates being accepted after a thirtieth birthday, and assigned to be mentored by lay people and a respected pastor while serving in parish ministry. Classes in graduate school on the side.

Advice from a Doctor of the Church:

Do you know what will happen to you if you don’t set things right by doing what you can? God wants you to reform his bride completely; he doesn’t want her to be leprous any longer. If your holiness does not do all you can about this — because God has appointed you and given you such dignity for no other purposes — God will do it himself by using all sorts of troubles.

I think we’ve been at the all-sorts-of-troubles stage for some years now. Perhaps even since the early 1970s when Vatican II began to be rolled back by fearful Catholics. Given details in the Pennsylvania report, the reaction to predation was same-ol’, same ol’. And bishops were dismissing any prick of conscience that suggested it was time to do things differently. My own thought is that reform barely touched the clergy, and that the Church will continue to simmer until reform hits the top and pours down.

One cardinal’s name will be withdrawn from titling a school. I would not be surprised to see a moratorium on bishops’ names landing on the front lawns of school buildings. Aside from the current climate, sticking with saints (though probably not John Paul II) would seem to be in order.

I have to admit I find any whiff of clergy-leaning on this (like here) to ring a note way off tune. A comment here counters:

To the good and holy priests: This is what you signed up for… living a life of sacrifice, an object of scorn, like Christ. This is your time to grow in holiness, and to embrace the Cross. Please don’t ask us to weep for you. We are weeping for the poor victims of this abuse.

For most of my ministry career, I’ve been privy to abuse stories. Some have been more #metoo moments, usually for women. Some have been as a listener to those who have been abused or were allies of loved ones. It’s a good time for those aligned with the institution to keep our heads down, our sleeves rolled up, and let those impacted by abuse and cover-up to have their words.

It’s a very bad day for one-time Pittsburgh bishop Donald Wuerl. Contrast a favorable feature here with blistering criticism from today’s report. The man submitted a mandatory resignation more than two years ago. Will the cardinal, and member of Pope Francis’ Congregation of Bishops be sidelined soon? How many other bishops will find their careers impacted? It would seem that the phenomenon of careerism in the order of bishops may be dinged by this report, at least temporarily. Any US bishop appointed or moved in the near future will certainly be scrutinized with the Congregation of Bishops and outside of it. Pope Francis has learned from his misstep in Chile, I would hope. We will see how the fallout continues. We will see if some other place joins Pennsylvania, Australia, and Ireland in some massive legal outing.

For how many Catholics will this be a last straw? The conservatives I know online are deeply dismayed. They might tout that lavender mafia hashtag, but the wishful thought that doctrinal orthodoxy is arm-in-arm with moral virtue has been blown up by recent events.

The solution? It will be mostly out of all our hands. The best reaction, I’m convinced, is to imitate Christ, not wayward shepherds, nor a disillusioned flock. Walk with victims and listen, wherever we find them.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to The Pennsylvania Bomb

  1. Liam says:

    I will repeat here a point I’ve been making over at Rod’s for a while: One key thing that is rarely explored in depth is the misuse and exploitation of the virtues of obedience and patience under the rubric of the spiritual act of mercy typically captioned as “bearing wrongs patiently”. The docility of our Lord in his Passion was to public evil to himself. It did not serve to enable and perpetuate private evils to others. This distinction, however, is almost entirely laundered away in classic Catholic practice, where we have saints lauding the practice of obedience to spiritual authority that appears to be in direct conflict with the Gospel call (or even visions themselves – on that point, I am less concerned).

    This dynamic, combined with magical thinking about grace of state, acts as a powerful rudder of perpetuating evil while rationalizing it as virtuous.

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