The trouble with blogging is that readers come and readers go, entering and exiting in the middle of conversations, which makes it difficult to understand a writer’s complete position on an issue, unless that writer reposts her credo every day. Which most of us don’t. So to the multitudes coming from NRO, and for my own benefit, let me clarify my views on The Situation. As if my views matter. But you’re here reading them, so you might as well have an accurate picture.
The problem the bishops will be confronting on Thursday and Friday seems simple. Tragic and horrific, but simple.
Some Roman Catholic priests have sexually assaulted children and young people. What should be done with these men?There are two aspects to solving the problem: policies and action.
Policies are the focus, and I think policies is where the bishops would like to keep our attention. But the fact, paper-strong policies have been on the books in most dioceses for years. Yet the priests have remained, remained until lawsuits and the press caught up with the guilty dioceses and their administrators.
So what is at issue this week is twofold: How should the policies be tightened - the primary issues here are reporting to civil authorities and laicization and (whether the bishops would like to admit this or not) how Catholics can be certain that the policies are being enforced by every bishop in every diocese.
Lots of pundits have and will be offering opinions on “what the bishops must do” in Dallas, and while that strikes me as a presumptuous stance, I’ll go ahead and join in:
What the bishops must do in Dallas is reassure the Catholic faithful that their primary concern is Christ and that it is His voice which they are discerning and are committed to follow.
For you see, over the past decades, for scores of reasons, the Catholic faithful have come to doubt very much that their leaders, from bishops on down, can be depended on to be led by Christ alone.
This is who they have perceived to be in charge and to be the minds leading the bishops, priests, educators, hospital administrators and religious orders, male and female instead:
Lawyers and accountants.
Real estate advisors.
Purveyors of secular educational fads.
The secular media.
Secular mental health professionals
HMO’s and insurance companies
the Democratic party
Not to speak of needs: The need for the approval of the secular media and the elites in the cities in which the cardinals and Important Bishops have their big houses and attend their Important social events. The need to be perceived as “progressive” ideologically, in education and everything else. The need to compete with evangelical styles of youth ministry and worship.
The need to justify one’s own private misbehavior by maintaining a public silence on sin and “controversial” moral issues.
The need to not offend one’s comfortable middle class parishioners, lest they leave our parishes and take their children out of our schools. The need to be quiet about the sins of fellow clerics and religious for fear of one’s own sins being publicly vetted.
All of this, instead of listening to Christ.
In a way we are shocked, in a way we are not. We’re shocked because although we had our suspicions, we thought that since they said they were listening to Christ, and they were constantly telling us to listen to Christ (in a vague way, yes, without reference to any of the stuff that would make us uncomfortable, but still….), they must have been.
But this series of revelations, not just about the priests, but about the “orthodox” bishops who shuffled them, protected them, and authorized the intimidation of victims, has shaken us. It has shaken us because we see that the categories to which we were accustomed to thinking – the “progressive” and the “orthodox” were false, at least when it came to the ordained. They all spoke of Christ, with their own particular twist, giving some comfort to those of us who sympathized – the liberals had Mahony and Weakland, the conservatives or orthodox had Law and (without knowing him too well) Egan, they thought. But so strangely, when confronted with the files of their brother priests and the pleas of victims, had the same reaction:
Forget Christ. Forget Christ who speaks of nothing but the need to protect the little ones, the need to suffer, the absolute requirement to tend to the suffering and to view the suffering as Christ, wounded. Forget the souls of the victims and potential victims. Forget the damage done to God’s children.
Instead, gather the lawyers, intimidate the victims, get the sympathetic MD to sign off, write the checks, and send the priests away with a warm letter of support.
Stop it. Give us good policies, but moreover, give us the assurance that you will just stop it. And what’s the best assurance? Asking us to trust you? No. You’ve been asking us to trust you for decades, and look what’s happened: victims scattered throughout the land. On other fronts, Catholic schools producing children who don’t know and don’t believe the Faith. Catholic hospitals that turn away the poor and treat patients like inconveniences. Catholic colleges that are nothing but con games played on unsuspecting parents.
You’re right. You do need to regain our trust. And how?
Who am I to say, but this might do it:
The tightest policy possible within the constraints of canon law.
A process for dealing with bishops who are revealed to knowingly violate the policy. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. It can.
A few resignations. You know who you are. (It's only right. It would be a truly galling site to see bishops who permitted pederast priests to continue in ministry vote to punish those priests and not bear some punishment themselves.)
A public show of penance. Of meaningful penance, involving divesting unnecessary diocesan resources (i.e. those that exist to make the prelates’ lives worthy of the cities in which they reign and hobnob) and giving them to victims.
A public recognition that all of this is part of a piece:
We gave in. We had problems before – we had our share of predators in the priesthood before Vatican II, and we know it. But something happened in the years since, in which we lost our nerve completely, and we apologize. We tolerated egregious sin of all sorts within our own ranks, and, as a result maintained silence on those same sins before you. Our actions have resulted in untold harm to the victims of clerics and indirect harm to millions who have heard a diluted Gospel for years because we couldn’t preach it, lest we hear it ourselves and convict ourselves.