29Sep

Accountability

The scandals that rocked the church this summer continue to cause untold damage to holy souls. Yesterday I lunched at the local with Father Nicholas, to discuss parish matters, and the landlady asked, only partly in jest, if more filth was to be forthcoming in the church this week?

How terribly sad that, at present, the expectation of many is that the church endorses vice not virtue. One cannot overstate how damaging to credibility it is. I do not think our hierarchy have fully grasped how disgusted and appalled people are at present. And rightly so.

Once I made my personal feelings on the matter abundantly clear she made a salient comment. She pointed out that the abuse itself, however awful, was less shocking than the poor handling of it by those in authority. She expressed bewilderment and horror that supposed ‘men of God’ could not only cover up abuse and remain silent but that none seem to be suitably disciplined or punished. Father Nicholas and I could only sympathise and agree.

How can we help the hierarchy understand that accountability is essential to justice? That fair punishment for crimes must be administered if healing is to occur? In the wake of the first priestly abuse crisis in America the bishops assured the faithful it would be deal with it. Instead they elected a known serial sexual predator to lead the change and only reigned him in once it was clear he had molested children and not only the seminarians in his care!

There are no words to describe how damaging to episcopal credibility that is. None. Which means fresh sincere promises of remorse are simply not believed. Bishops you have lost the trust of your people. Meaning more handwringing and policies are of no use here. Only when the world begins to see you holding each other to account will you begin to reclaim even a shred of the trust that has been lost.

Many of our bishops are not involved in scandal. Indeed they are good and share our concerns. But when they remain silent and are seen to give each other a pass they are further enraging and alienating people. The bad eggs must not be seen to wriggle off the hook. The eggs must not be seen to be silent and inactive.

Consider McCarrick. Despite years of molestation he has only been removed from active ministry and stripped of the title Cardinal. Meaning he retains the rank of Archbishop!! What?!! Are we really to call him ‘your grace?’ That sticks in the craw! This man abused many and totally disregarded his vow of chastity and he should be defrocked…not allowed to see out retirement with a slap on the wrist.

Or consider Cardinal Wuerl, named multiple times in a report on abuse. He paid off producers of child pornography and enabled abusers to continue their sins. Inexplicably he remains in office and seems to be readying himself for a comfortable retirement and healthy pension. That is not good enough! It has to stop. It has to change.

Those complicit in abuse and cover up must be held to account and seen to be punished. Otherwise how are we priests at the coal face meant to encourage the faithful to take anything the church teaches seriously?

This sorrowful time of scandal will not diminish until we see perpetrators and enablers within the episcopate brought to justice. There are too many rumours and scandals surrounding the current pontificate. It is time the hierarchy took that seriously, put everything out in the open, forced resignations and deal with the matter once and for all.

Further stonewalling, silence and coverup will not do. Trust really is shattered meaning a ‘business as usual’ approach will not cut it. Come on bishops- we need you- it is time to stand with martyrs and saints and act as successors of the apostles and lot count the cost! This can’t be swept under the carpet so please, for the sake of the church, deal with it.

Which is to state that abuse is no longer the prime problem. As the pope recently said most crimes are now in the past and most dioceses now have robust child protection measures in place. The current crisis centres instead on the fallout – the fact that bishops are not seen to be holding themselves to the same standards as they demand of their priests and people. It’s time they swallowed some of the medicine that we might take seriously their promises to change. Those embroiled in scandal must be run out of office and stripped of their collars. Justice and mercy demands it.

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9 thoughts on “Accountability

  1. My earlier comment on ‘smoke signals’ was prompted by a bit of research about Viganò. A picture emerges which begs questions. It is true that lack of information about action is depressing. But, we need to remember that individuals are being placed at risk of very serious consequences – including possible/probable jail time. The evidence has to be strong and accusers have to be willing to stand up in court and be counted. There is almost no mention of the ‘rolling of episcopal heads’ that has started already. The actions of the bishops of England and Wales also get very little notice..
    Some readers may remember that, quite early in his Pontificate, Pope Francis publically denounced the frustrating slowness to action and obstacle creation that some parts of the Vatican departments were engaged in. I read that one department, charged, by him, with responding immediately to letters of complaint about abuse, did not so act. It was reported that the staff in question were under Cardinal Müller’s management (can anybody confirm that?).
    I just wonder if somebody is growing rather fearful that the Vatican investigative process is getting too close to people or actions that they don’t want to see aired in the light of day and is doing everything the can to undermind the Pope.

  2. First of all, thank you Father Ed for responding to the final paragraph of my previous comment (in the “We need TRUTH on clerical sexual abuse” discussion). I certainly agree about the importance of not “trying to pander to the zeitgeist”. I also agree that what leads to change in the world are highly committed individuals and small groups rather than “broad and huge” institutions that wheel and deal in pseudo-political ways. So you seem to be accepting my suggestion that the church should choose to be small and highly committed rather than be a massive organisation with a large majority who don’t even pay lip service any more to its doctrines and disciplines. Mary Eberstadt also seemed to be visualising a much smaller and more committed Catholic Church when she wrote, several years ago “If vocations to the priesthood should be so far reduced… that American Catholics have to travel 50 miles to Mass, let them drive.”

    (By the way, I also tend to agree with the sentiment behind what the landlady of your local pub said. I certainly don’t want to underplay the suffering of victims of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, but I do think that the cover-up is in one sense worse than the original crimes in that we know that abuse was perpetrated by a small minority of priests – well over 90% of priests have never abused anyone – but the cover-up does appear to be far more pervasive, especially among the most senior members of the hierarchy.)

    But to be honest I was a little disappointed that you had not responded to the main point in my earlier comment, namely that the church should give up the worldly trappings associated with the Vatican and the Holy See. As you say in your most recent post (“Accountability”) “fresh sincere promises of remorse” will simply not be enough. To quote you again, the hierarchy must surely “act as successors of the apostles”, and what could be a better way to demonstrate this than tearing up the ‘Lateran treaty’, handing back the Vatican to Italy, giving up the Pope’s 100-strong pretend-army of Swiss men in medieval stripy costumes, ceasing the pretence that the Church should have diplomatic relations with nation states, and ending the luxury lifestyle of Vatican-based clerics. This would surely make the laity and the rest of the world sit up and take notice. AND this would be a more appropriate structure for a slimmed down Church consisting of the small minority of self-identifying Catholics who actually believe in and live by the Church’s traditional teaching and a slimmed down Church from which bishops who “are not seen to be holding themselves to the same standards as they demand” had been removed.

    But instead the Pope has asked Catholics to say the Rosary every day during October. Now it is quite understandable that the Pope and senior clerics should ask the laity to pray for them, but I am afraid this request almost sounds as if the Pope is saying to the laity “WE have sinned, but YOU must do the penance.”

  3. When grieving we pass through many phases before reaching – if not “closure” – at least a state of modest equilibrium. First, denial – “This cannot have happened. X is not dead.” Next up is anger – “How could X do this to me? How could this possibly happen? Who is responsible? They must be made to pay.” We move agonisingly slowly, as if in lead diving boots, towards a resolution that sometimes seems within reach, yet ever escapes our grasp.
    How as bystanders – for that is all we are – could we not feel like this? Our faith, not in God or Christ’s example but in the institutions of the Church, is under relentless assault. We want it to be over – sooner rather than later.
    To ease our pain, we carefully craft arguments to prove to ourselves that we are further along in the grieving process than we actually are. It is in our nature both to try to insulate ourselves from hurt and to make senses of that which is beyond comprehension. Sometimes we forget that we are not the victims here – that this is not about us.
    You seem to imply that our attention should now be focused away from the victims and onto the bishops; that historic cases of sexual assault are just that, ancient history.
    Consider the case of the seven year old Pennsylvanian girl raped in her hospital bed while recovering from a tonsillectomy. Put yourself in her shoes the next time she visits a hospital. Picture her at her school desk struggling to concentrate on an algebra problem. Picture her standing amongst her friends in the schoolyard when the subject of dating and boys comes up (i.e. her entire adolescence). Try to imagine her feelings on her first date, her first consensual kiss, on her wedding day. For the rest of her life, no significant event, no “rite of passage” will be untainted. Child sexual abuse is the malignant gift that keeps on giving.
    In truth, there is no way in which we can focus solely on the Church alone. We know that other US states have inquiries pending and it is prudent to anticipate that the trickle will become a flood. In a country as wedded to litigation as the US, the lawsuits for damages could run on for decades. Additionally, the notion that the abuse will somehow magically stop because the Church has (finally) introduced rigid and comprehensive child abuse procedures smacks of wishful thinking. Who is responsible for implementing these procedures? Would that be the bishops?
    None of the foregoing invalidates your comments about the need for accountability. I tend to agree with Patrick’s take on the current state of play in the Vatican – if only, in the absence of hard evidence – on the grounds of plausibility. Francis enjoys the rather strange status of “outsider amongst long entrenched insiders” in the Vatican. Whom can he trust? Homosexuals are a great deal easier to identify than child abusers who, for self-preservation, must hide their true natures beneath many layers of disguise.
    A new CEO will normally follow “custom and practice” until the opportunity arises to implement change. It is clear that “internal discipline” (“Go away and sin no more.”) is no longer acceptable. Perpetrators must face secular criminal justice. Imagine the shock waves, the institutional cultural shift this will engender. Imagine the backlash. Perhaps, as realisation dawns, this is what we are witnessing now? Consider this: any person who conceals evidence of abuse gives the abuser the opportunity to abuse again. As enablers they are equally guilty if the abuser offends again. There can be no more “for the good of the Church” and certainly – as events prove daily – no possible good outcomes for the Church.
    Christ is not the Church: the Church is not Christ. When our institutions fail us we still have Christ’s example to sustain us. We must keep His suffering and the suffering of these innocent child victims front and centre at all times. We – and ultimately the Church itself – are merely collateral damage. Eventually, we and the Church will be healed – changed radically, almost certainly – but over the worst. If we ever see that day it is the children who will have paid the price.

    1. I agree with you, SteveG, that we must never forget the victims of child sexual abuse and their suffering, past, present and ongoing. But there is also a duty to ensure that everything is done to minimise the risk of a repeat of such evil in the future, and this surely does require a focus on those with power in the church, i.e. the bishops. (In the same way there was a determination at the end of the second world war never to forget the victims of nazi persecution and mass murder, but at the same time steps were taken to minimise the risk of a repeat of such evil in the future by focusing on those with power – I refer to the way the ‘Grundgesetz’, the 1949 post-war German federal constitution, was drawn up.)

      So I think Father Ed is correct to emphasise the importance of “help[ing] the hierarchy understand that accountability is essential to justice” (to quote from his post). But I wonder if it may be very difficult for the Catholic hierarchy to accept such accountability, as there is a long tradition of them being more or less a law unto themselves, accountable to nobody but themselves. Just consider, for example, the recent agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government about the appointment of Chinese bishops. The details of the agreement have actually been kept secret! So there is no accountability to the laity there. (Of course this is not the first time the Vatican has done a deal with a murderous totalitarian regime – as I have pointed out in my references to the Lateran Pacts in earlier comments.)

      In your final paragraph, SteveG, you say that “Christ is not the Church: the Church is not Christ.” But this appears to me to be a direct contradiction of Catholic teaching. Section 795 of the Catechism states “Christ and his Church thus together make up the ‘whole Christ’… The Church is one with Christ.” Indeed the Catechism goes on at this point to quote Joan of Arc: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing…” This is surely the exact opposite of “Christ is not the Church: the Church is not Christ.” I am no theologian and I would hate to accuse you unjustly of heresy, SteveG, so perhaps Father Ed could clarify Church teaching regarding the unity of Christ and the Church.

  4. Terry,
    Thanks for your comments. A few points by way of clarification and, I hope, reassurance:
    First, as I wrote, I think Father Ed is spot on in his remarks on accountability. There is danger, I think, in seeing the process in terms of distinct phases; in giving the impression that we think “Right, abuse sorted. Now, let’s sort out the hierarchy.” We run the risk of being seen as more interested in restoring the reputation of The Church than in past and potential victims. Even if we attribute the “best” of motives to those in the hierarchy who “covered up” (“I did it to protect the good name of the Church”), by not being seen to put the victims front and centre it will look as if we are making the self-same mistake: “See, they are STILL more interested in the Church than the faithful!”. It’s not a case of “either/or” – it is a case of both, contemporaneously.
    There is no doubt that the Church will be changed – “changed utterly”, to quote W. B. Yeats (albeit in a very different context. We both clearly agree on the impediment posed by the Lateran Treaty. Father Ed has pointed out how essential an external investigation is. Such change is threatening – understandably so. We must face the possibility – probability? – that it may never happen.
    In this context, my assertion that Christ and the Church are not one and the same, whilst lousy theology (“Guilty as charged, M’lud”) was intended to reassure. I imagine a small party of intrepid voyagers who, believing themselves to be on a “ship of fools” following the wrong course abandon it after much soul searching. Securing passage on a new ship – at no little personal and financial cost – they find a significant number of the crew are infected with plague, concealing the symptoms and thus allowing the contagion to spread. Helpful, perhaps, to remind them that – even if the worst comes to the worst and the whole ship founders – there is one lifeboat that is both unsinkable and free from all contagion the – the teachings and example of Christ himself.

    1. Thank you, Steve, for your response. I should emphasise that I intended absolutely no criticism of you with my remark about your statement “Christ is not the Church: the Church is not Christ.” Actually if we put aside any potential theological ambiguity, then it seems to me that the point you were making is perhaps rather similar to something Thomas Wenski, the Archbishop of Miami, said in a homily last month:

      “Our people still do believe in God; but they don’t believe in us.”

      He went on to say, “… if we are going to lead them – as bishops, as pastors and parish priests – they need to be able to trust us.”

      Which takes us right back to Father’s Ed’s point about accountability, I think.

  5. Vatican and the Chinese government:- some things to remember.
    The agreement is provisional and still in development. It is the current stage of a process started many years ago and fostered by the previous popes. The illicit but validly ordained Chinese bishops themselves seem to want to be united with the Petrine Office (as in the past). There are speculations in the Chinese ‘press’ about the nuts and bolts. Bearing in mind the ‘media’ concerned and the individuals quoted, we can get some idea of the current basis for development. We would have similar problems with bringing some bishops of some non-Catholic churches into full communion with the Petrine Office. Give the curent vague agreement time to mature and be finalised then judge. Numbers 11: 25 -29 and Mark 9: 38 – 48 would seem to have a bearing. After all, there is a history of agreements with dodgy governments which have resulted in the regimes fading into the mists and the church remaining and growing in strength. Just one example to contemplate is Oscar Romero.

    1. Thank you for your response, Pat. When it comes to doing secret deals with dodgy governments I feel that the biblical verse which is perhaps most apt is John 3: 20. Come to think of it, this verse applies also, of course, to the subject matter of Father Ed’s original blog post about accountability:

      “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

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