Catholics ponder a crisis in their church


In the months since a searing Grand Jury Report on clergy sexual abuse was released, Catholics throughout western Pennsylvania have been contemplating the causes, the cures, the pain created, and the complicity of action and/or inaction of their leaders, and of themselves.

According to the Report, in the six decades, from 1940 to 2002, 300 PA priests were accused of actions ranging from child rape to inappropriate attention to 1,000 children. While some of those accused are innocent (some had even been cleared), undoubtedly more are yet to be discovered.

Listening Sessions were held at several parishes and church organizations. The five sessions I attended were all heartwrenching. Yet, those who spoke talked about a certain healing, just “not to be ignored any longer.” Many said it shook their faith in the institution. None said it shook their faith in God. All wanted to know “what are the next steps?”

Four levels of concerns were expressed.

First was the need to address the widespread crime of the abuse. A sin, a crime, and a violation of human dignity and rights. And the need for Justice to be served.

Second, and more important to many, was the need to address the failure of Church leaders to protect the children abused during that period. And the need for Justice to be restored. (A much smaller number of cases were cited after 2002, when the reporting process changed, reducing the complicity of Church leaders after that date, but certainly not eliminating it.)

Third was the need to address the violation of trust that the laity – and the honorably practicing priests – had placed in their leaders, leaders who put a higher value on the reputation of the institution than they put on the care and protection of the faithful.

Fourth was the need to address the inattention of the lay members who had granted unchecked privileges to Church authorities; and the need for the laity to ensure that they not become complicit going forward, by not speaking up now.

Church leaders have referred to wellintentioned mistakes, treating problem priests with psychological counseling, once thought to be the solution to the “illness.” In any case, the consequences of such bad “good intentions” are horrendous – so horrendous they cannot be ignored. And they should have been stopped sooner.

Both Pittsburgh’s current Bishop Zubik and previous Bishop (now Cardinal) Wuerl were named in the report as having transferred accused priests. Both cite that new procedures are in place to report any allegation of abuse immediately. In fact, Wuerl was a pioneer in changing the old policies that predominated in the Church across the country. One problem, that of timely reporting of accusations, has been fixed. They can take credit for that. Unfortunately, that is not the only problem.

Restorative Justice is a process of making the victim, and for that matter even the perpetrator, whole again – and not just in a financial sense. For the victims, some who have passed the damages on for generations, more than counseling will be required.

To make the Church whole, it will take courageous leadership. And dialogue with the Laity.

In that dialogue, Church leaders will have to deal openly with the problem of clericalism — the excessive pride in the institution and the personal attachment to the emoluments of the offices held. They will also have to acknowledge that the inclusion of women in positions of high influence may result in greater protection of children. They will also have to address how the mandatory requirement of celibacy contributes to a culture of secrecy and how the recruitment and training of seminarians, and even of Bishops, needs to involve the Laity.

Unselfish leadership is required.

When the Pope accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation, he praised his unselfishness, helping the Church move forward. Not every Bishop need resign. But every bishop must own this crisis.

Twenty years ago, it is said, 80% of the people in Ireland identified as Catholic. A commentator for the Pope’s recent visit reported that today only 20% so identify.

This may be the greatest crisis in the Catholic Church since the loss of the Papal States in 1870. But most agree, the Church emerged from that crisis a better Church.

If the Church in the US, and in particular the Laity, ignore this opportunity, it may go the way of Ireland. On the other hand, there is an opportunity for it to emerge stronger.

And for the Laity, follow up sessions are already being planned. There is a common theme. It is time to reclaim the Church as the People of God. A retreat is being planned by the Social Justice Seekers on Nov. 16-17.

For information, contact

Jim McCarville is a member of the Thomas Merton Center and the Association of Pittsburgh Priests.

(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No. 9 November 2018. All rights reserved)



Categories: News

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