Gird yourselves with sackcloth And lament, O priests; Wail, O ministers of the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God . . . ~ Joel 1:13
When I am disturbed about world events, I head to my computer, looking for something to read. I read for facts, for analysis, and to process. Fortunately, in such times as these, others are moved to write to provide for this need.
So I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the sex abuse crisis in the Church, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve read with you, hoping to provide insight, suggestions, and comfort as well as inspiring discussion.
Including a link here does not mean that I in general am a fan of the publication in which the piece appeared, or of the author, nor that I agree with or can confirm the truth of every position taken, as I will qualify below. I’m a little hesitant about sharing from some of these sources, frankly. I read from a variety of publications, some “liberal” and some “conservative” for lack of a better way to describe them; I feel very uncomfortable with using political terminology to describe matters of faith but I think we all know what I mean by these shortcuts in this context.
I don’t agree with the aims and philosophies of every source, nor do I endorse every word written. I’ve included links to author bios when available and to the home page for each publication so you can decide for yourself what weight to give their words. I’m including along with the link to each piece a quotation that gives a preview of the article so that you can decide whether you’d care to read more. Every article either helped me, informed me, or gave me something to think about as I deal with this. I hope that you may find them useful or at least interesting, and I’d love to know your thoughts.
I’ll start with some of the most challenging and thoughtful articles I’ve read, pieces that engage with some very difficult questions. All of us want to understand how this happened and how to put an end to it for all time. Everyone has his pet theory: It’s celibacy! It’s the gays! It’s the lack of women in the priesthood! (None of that is what I think, for what it’s worth.) Some of these perspectives are represented in the writing that follows. I don’t pretend to have the answer to any of this, and I cannot confirm the truth of every story, although all of it appeared in trustworthy publications. Brace yourself before reading the personal accounts of priestly formation. If even ten percent of it is accurate then I don’t even know what to say about the future of the priesthood.
I. From Eve Tushnet on Patheos:
A Closeted Subculture
There is no way to have a church without gay priests. What you can have is a church where the only gay priests are those unscrupulous enough to lie about their orientation and longings, plus those so frightened and ashamed that they couldn’t bring themselves to admit those longings even to themselves. You can have a church, in other words, with only the most damaged (and vulnerable) gay priests possible.
II. From Paul Blaschko in Commonweal:
Inside the Seminary
From 2008 through 2010, I was a seminarian in St. Paul, Minneapolis, an archdiocese now entrenched in its own abuse scandal. My experience there led me to believe that the problem of priestly sexual abuse is due, at least in part, to the failure of seminaries to provide adequate human and sexual formation to men studying for the priesthood.
III. From Rod Dreher in The American Conservative:
Inside the Seminary Closet
I would have held anyone’s secret in order to keep my own from being exposed. The reason I lay these stories bare now it because of my strong belief that this pervasive dysfunctional culture is at the deepest core of the cover-up, abuse, and scandal of all forms–not just sexual–that continue to be rampant in these church circles.
IV. From Massimo Faggioli in Commonweal
Trent’s Long Shadow
This new phase of the clerical sex-abuse crisis is more a crisis of the Tridentine church than of the Vatican II Church, because the church in which that abuse took place is, in terms of its institutional structure, still essentially Tridentine. The effort to reform the church in light of what we now know about sexual abuse and abuses of power must look back further than the Second Vatican Council, which did not so much open a new era as begin to close down an old one whose remnants are still with us.
V. From Simcha Fisher of I Have to Sit Down:
Would a Female Priesthood Disrupt Sex Abuse?
It’s not the evil of maleness that is the problem. It’s the evilness of humanity. It’s the weakness and corruptibility of human nature. We don’t need more women on the inside. We need more clear-thinking, courageous women and men on the outside, willing and able to see clearly and speak loudly, and, most importantly, capable of bringing the guilty to justice.
VI. From Andrew Sullivan in the Daily Intelligencer:
Cleansing the Catholic Church of Its Sins
We may still believe in Jesus. But precisely because of that, we can no longer believe in the church. No one is untouched. . . . This is no time to shore up the institution. It’s time to open it up and cleanse it.
How should the Church respond?
There is no shortage of opinions on this question. And end to the silence, as I wrote myself last week, is the centerpiece of every article out there. Also prevalent is the need for a thorough housecleaning with massive resignations. Once again, I don’t agree with every word in every piece and I have highlighted some of what struck me.
I. From Simcha Fisher of I Have to Sit Down:
Dear Priests, I Am Begging You to Speak about This Scandal
We need to know that you are as struck with horror as we are. We need to know that you would be on our side if we were the ones calling the police. We need to know that you care for us more than you care about falling afoul of some toothless pastoral directive from above. We need someone to be with us in this free fall of horror.
II. From Peter Jesserer Smith in the National Catholic Register:
Erie Bishop Models What a Real Apology to Victims Looks Like
You may be aware that we recently unveiled new policies and implemented procedures to ensure that this criminal behavior is stopped. . . . But this is not the moment to focus on our efforts. Today, I simply stand before you, humbled and sorrowful.
III. From Courageous Priest:
Finally, A Faithful Apology from the Pulpit
You can laugh at me and think I am crazy but when I heard the news about former-Cardinal McCarrick two things surfaced in me at once: (1) anger; and, (2) the thought that I should sell all my belongings, shave my head, live in a stone hut, and start a new religious order. How will we rebuild from this mess? Who will do it? The answer throughout all of history in the face of moral crises in the Church has always been saints. Everyday people make a more radical decision for Jesus and that starts healing and repair and roots out the corruption and evil. I’m probably too weak to be a St. Francis of Assisi… I don’t know… but we need some new men and women who will radically reform their lives and that of the Church.
IV. From ChurchPop:
What Should a Priest Do When a Stranger Yells “Pedophile!” at the Store?
We’re all rightfully angry at these crimes and their cover-up. Catholics, lay and clergy, shouldn’t get defensive.
V. From Rosary Bay:
**I am certainly not in agreement with what seems to me to be the radical traditionalism espoused by this publication, and I am not even sure this rite is valid any more, but it would be satisfying to see it used on a few bishops, anyway.
Rite of Degradation of a Bishop
Next, one of the assistants gives the degrandus a crosier, which the degradator takes from the man’s hand, saying: “We take from you the shepherd’s staff, to indicate you no longer have any claim on the pastoral office which you have mismanaged.”
VI. From Mark Thiessen for the Washington Post:
The Catholic Church needs a #MeToo moment – and it should start here in Washington
The episcopacy as an institution has been corrupted. A culture of silence allowed a culture of abuse to flourish. Bishops consumed with what the pope called “the thirst for power” have through both action and inaction allowed evil to spread through the church. That evil must be rooted out. It is time for the Catholic Church to experience its own #MeToo moment. And it should start here in Washington – the modern symbol of earthly power.
VII. From Elizabeth Scalia of The Anchoress:
How Can We #RebuildMyChurch? Cardinal Wuerl Accidentally Points the Way
It’s very clear that too many bishops and cardinals have shown themselves to be untrustworthy overseers; they need to learn how to be priests again, and there is no better way to do that than to toss them out of the cushy offices, greatly reduce the number of personal assistants, end the entourage, discourage the gold cuff links and the bespoke shirts and the limos. Send them forth with a pair of good shoes and a working phone, into the mission territory of their parishes.
How should the Church NOT respond?
I. From Sohrab Ahmari in the New York Post:
In the face of horror, the Catholic Church is worried about PR
The most painful aspect of all this is the blasé response of many American hierarchs and especially those, like Washington Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, who are implicated in the report. Wuerl and his colleagues have treated the report as a PR headache rather than a moral and spiritual wake-up call. They have acted like corporate reputation managers rather than successors to the Apostles.
II. From Jake Tapper and Clare Foran on CNN:
Pennsylvania AG: Cardinal under scrutiny over report on priest abuse ‘is not telling the truth’
In a statement to CNN, Shapiro said, “Cardinal Wuerl is not telling the truth. Many of his statements in response to the Grand Jury Report are directly contradicted by the Church’s own documents and records from their Secret Archives. Offering misleading statements now only furthers the cover up.”
How should the laity respond?
I know, I know, it isn’t our fault. But we are the Church, and we are called to respond to this crisis. Prayer should always be our first response, but not our only one. Following are some ideas for prayer and other actions.
I. From Paul Begala on CNN.com:
Catholics in the Pew Must Unleash Their Anger
Like so many Catholics, I am reeling. I am praying that Pope Francis will institute reforms with teeth — yet I also believe that the Church is the People of Christ, and so the laity must lead.
II. From Dr. Susan Reynolds on Daily Theology:
** I chose to sign this letter.
Statement of Catholic Theologians, Educator, Parishioners, and Lay Leaders on Clergy Sexual Abuse in the United States
Today, we call on the Catholic Bishops of the United States to prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God’s People.
III. From Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas:
What Can *WE* Do About the Abuse Crisis?
If one thing is clear, it is that now is the time to become a saint. That’s what the Church needs. I pray that the Vatican and the bishops will do the hard work that must be done to protect the innocent and bring justice to victims. But we need St. Catherine of Sienas to rise up.
IV. From Emily of Our Home, Mary’s Mantle
Silence IS NOT Always Golden…
Protect one-another. Pray for each other. Show love and kindness. And please, don’t leave our Faith. As imperfect as leadership may be. Let’s take our responsibility and no longer be complacent, but reticent and watchful.
V. From Pray More Novenas:
Novena for the Abuse Crisis | Accountability, Transparency and Healing
This novena is meant to help us pray for the victims of these terrible acts and for the Church. We will pray that all the abuse stops and any priests and bishops involved will be held accountable.
VI. From my post last week:
Sackcloth and Ashes
I know many of you are tired of hearing folks offering thoughts and prayers whenever there is anything bad happening in the world. I agree that when people who have the ability to act ONLY offer prayers, that’s an insult to God, who gave us brains and hands and blessings in order that we would cooperate with Him in bringing about good in the world. But that doesn’t mean prayers are useless!
VII. From Anni of A Beautiful, Camouflaged, Mess of a Life:
25 Ideas for Non-Traditional Fasting
Yesterday, the Pope called for the faithful to a period of fasting and prayer. The Catholic bloggers and artisans were already planning to kick off #sackclothandashes. . . But, I am nursing a little guy . . . So, I had to get a little creative. These are all things I have done to “fast”. . . The purpose behind fasting for faith (not medical purposes) is to be intentional! Offer up your desires and will to God. . .
VIII. From Laura of A Drop in the Ocean:A Litany for Our Church in Crisis
If you’ve not prayed a litany before, it’s a style of prayer with a list of intentions and responses. The response for each group of intentions is given in italics after the first line and is repeated after each individual intention. It can be prayed individually, or in a group where one person reads the intention and other say the response. It is meant to be prayed slowly as we reflect on each specific intention.
I will close with some outcries from the hurting heart of a faithful Catholic, reflecting the devastation and betrayal we all feel, as well as some words of wisdom and comfort from a friend.
I . From Mary Pezzulo of Steel Magnificat:
Better the Millstone: On the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report
Our shepherds have failed us. They have sinned horrendously. They have sinned, and if they don’t repent they will burn in the pit of hell, and that will be nothing more than justice for them. And they did it over a thousand times. I don’t know where to go from here.
Sanctissima: Meditations on a Dark Assumption Day
If things go on as they are– if no changes are made, if the bishops keep stammering their “sadness” and “concern” without repentance, without resigning and going away, if everything goes on as it is– where will I be next year? On Assumption Day, Anno Domini 2019, will any of us still believe in things invisible?
II. From Jeffrey Salkin in Religion News Service:
An open letter to my Roman Catholic friends
As difficult as it is now, as betrayed and as befouled as you might now feel – I urge you to cling to the idea that your faith might yet be more powerful than the malfeasance of those whom you once might have trusted. God stands above our humanly-created structures. God alone deserves your faith.
These represent only a fraction of what I’ve read. They have brought pain, challenge, conviction, healing, confusion, doubt, and conviction to me. I will continue to read and pray and I welcome your suggestions.
The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers, a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight. ~Hilaire Belloc