A couple of weeks ago we heard that Ireland had brought forth legislation that would require priests to break the seal of confession and report cases of child abuse. Australia is considering something similar. Other countries are bound to follow.
Why do you think this is happening? To me, the answer is pretty obvious: the Church did a horrendous job of handling the sex abuse scandals over the past few decades. Secrecy, lies, obfuscation, coverups. Clergymen were more interested in protecting themselves and the image of the Church than caring for the safety of the children. There was also a good dose of ignorance about pedophilia. All told, can you honestly blame society for not trusting the Church on this matter? I can’t. Society has given the Catholic Church a well-deserved “F” on the sex abuse scandals. We’re being treated as we deserve.
When I use the word “we”, I don’t mean to implicate the laity, necessarily. Most of us were not directly involved. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Church is one body. We rise and fall as a group. The laity are shouldering the burden of the abuse scandals just as much as the clergy, or perhaps more so, since it’s the the laity that pays for the lawsuit settlements, it’s the laity that worries if their children are safe, it’s the laity that is out in the world on a daily basis facing the sarcastic howls of the world.
The laity also bears a larger responsibility on this matter than we like to admit. We haven’t prayed sufficiently for our priests and bishops. We haven’t been supporting the good priests. We haven’t done enough fasting and sacrifices on their behalf. We haven’t reported the suspicious behaviour of clergymen. We have failed to challenge the clergy when they clearly violate Church teaching or abuse the sacraments. Too often, we’ve stood by in silence, paralysed by some misguided “respect” or perhaps intimidated by the fact that they’re wearing a Roman collar. We are partly to blame. Remember the words of Bishop Fulton Sheen:
Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.
—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, before the Knights of Columbus, June of 1972
We’ve been given a mandate to act.
Not getting better
The problem isn’t going to get better by itself.
If the politicians in Ireland or Australia paid attention to how the Church continues to operate in other areas, they would find no cause for reassurement. For example, the Development and Peace scandal has shown that Canadian bishops continue along the exact same modus operandi of coverups, lies and secrecy.
My friends, the culture among the episcopacy hasn’t changed. Ask any specialist in corporate management and they’ll tell you that the culture in any corporation is much more important that the rules written down on paper. If the employees haven’t interiorized the values of the organization, the rules-sheet doesn’t mean squat. Staff will find ways to bend the rules like Beckham. The Church is no different. We may have more rules in place to protect the children, but the fact that the culture remains unchanged makes me worry that other scandals could erupt in areas not related to child abuse. Who knows what secrets lurk in the dark corners of the Church.
By the way, the predator-priest scandals are not over, not by a long shot. I was just browsing on Catholic Culture’s website and came across these headlines:
Skeletons keep dropping out of closets. It never seems to end. Do you want this to continue for another 20-30 years? That’s where we’re headed unless radical action is taken now. We need to expunge everything now, rather than continue with a steady trickle of fresh revelations for a couple of more decades.
And do you want the dissenters to keep trampling unabated on the authentic teaching of Jesus Christ? That’s what will continue to happen unless we take action now.
Thanks be to God that the Vatican has taken serious action on the sex abuse scandals. But the job isn’t finished. We need to clean out all the skeletons that remain in any closets of the Church. If you know anything about a possible sex abuse scandal and are not bound by the seal of confession, you must come forward and speak to your bishop immediately. Don’t let any excuses stop you. Don’t be afraid. You’ll be doing the people of God a tremendous service by helping us bring justice and healing.
Also, thanks be to God that the Vatican is beginning a shakedown of the episcopacy on the separate problem of dissent. We need to feed into this process and help the Vatican. We need to be more insistent with our clergy than we have been up to now. We need to become importunate widows that are relentless in dealing with our priests and bishops. You’d be surprised how responsive some priests can be if you speak to them respectfully and in private about your concerns.
If they are unresponsive, talk to your bishop.
If your bishop doesn’t take action or respond to your complaint, then take it to the next level by sending information directly to the Vatican, with a c.c. to your bishop. If your bishop was unresponsive, make sure to mention that in your message to the Vatican. Send your messages to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine Faith
Prefect Archbishop William Joseph Levada
Piazza del S. Uffizio 11
00193 Rome, VATICAN CITY
I’m talking about serious problems here, not small details. Problems that undermine the Faith or the sacraments. Don’t go complaining about trivialities.
Most importantly, remember to thank the faithful priests in our midst. Give them encouragement and affirmation. Make sure they feel loved and appreciated. Why not invite them over for dinner once in a while? If you have a faithful priest, you are truly blessed. Don’t take it for granted.
This is an important time to act. The Vatican has signaled its willingness to move on dissenting clergymen. It’s up to us to be the eyes and ears of the Vatican on the ground to provide them with information.
If you need help in gathering evidence or preparing correspondence, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s rock the boat and make something happen.