This is not an easy post to write or to read. The topic is complex, embedded and painful. Nonetheless, it remains of vital importance and demands serious attention. Three events have suddenly converged to dramatically change the sort of “kneading bread” that is done on this site. I am talking about the shameful perversion of power and malevolent clericalism of the Catholic Church. Clergy sex abuse being only its most insidious expression.
Within the last month, the Archbishop of MSP and former Vicar of the archdiocese lost their legal appeals and are now required to give deposition under oath regarding the manner in which this scandal has been addressed in MSP. Pope Francis made uncharacteristically defensive and insensitive remarks on the topic of sex abuse in an interview with Italian and Argentine journalists. The National Catholic Reporter published an editorial this week excoriating these remarks and insisted that the Pope’s considerable personal charm and pastoral charisma no longer suffice for clear and bold leadership on this issue.
These three headlines would be enough to prompt some comment. However, they are not the three events that have catalyzed these remarks. No, these have been personal conversations that I have shared with three people in which the pain and stain of abuse reverberates decades later. One conversation was with a woman who was abused as a minor by her parish priest. Another was a daughter who spoke of the devastating consequences childhood abuse from a priest had upon her deceased mother and how this remains a lingering pain within their family. The third involved a man who was abused by his religious superior decades ago. All expressed in some personal way how bureaucratic defensiveness and self-protective denial by church authorities, as well as the harsh adversarial nature of civil and church legal processes, have resulted in “re-victimization” erecting a huge impediment to truth-telling and emotional healing.
The editorial in NCR by priest and canon lawyer Thomas P. Doyle rightly observes, “In his interview with Corriere della Sera Wednesday, Francis sounds like he is reading from a script that should have been abandoned years ago. In that interview Francis asserts: “The Catholic church is maybe the only public institution to have moved with transparency and responsibility … No one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.” The pope’s fellow Jesuit and major media guru for all things Vatican, had this to say on Twitter: “@ThomasReeseSJ: For pope & bishops to say that sex abuse is worse in society is like a cheating husband telling his wife that other men cheat more.”
Father Doyle’s editorial in the current National Catholic Reporter was even more scathing: Unfortunately Holy Father, the Catholic church has not moved with transparency and responsibility. It has done just the opposite. Whoever prepared the pope’s briefing papers on the sex abuse issue ought to be fired. … The victims and people in general don’t need any more proclamations telling them what they already know. There is only one category of response that is acceptable and that is decisive action. No more secrecy. No more denials. No more self-praise and above all, no more tolerance of bishops who have spent millions of donated dollars and Euros trying to preserve themselves at the expense of their victims.
The rank-and-file Catholic in churches, teaching in our schools and staffing an impressive array of social outreach sees reality for what it is and knows the truth! Doyle’s editorial reiterates this fact: The survivors of abuse and countless others from the church and from society in general have been waiting for three decades for evidence that the institutional church “gets it.” There not only is no real evidence that it has, but from all appearances the hierarchy will remain on the defensive, hoping the problem will go away.
Doyle concludes: There will continue to be change and progress in the world-wide efforts to bring healing and justice to victims and to force the church to be accountable but the agents of this will continue to be the same ones who have been forging the way since the beginning: the survivors and their supporters.
In this I hear a faint echo of salvation history tenaciously proclaimed in our Scriptures: salvation comes from one who identifies with and indeed becomes poor, humble – and dare I say it – victim!
In this alone lies our ultimate hope.
Thomas P. Doyle’s March 6 editorial in the National Catholic Reporter is available [here].