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When I read the reports of Archbishop Vigano’s accusations concerning Pope Francis late Saturday night, I felt physically sick.  I think I have made it pretty clear here and elsewhere that I love Pope Francis.  And because I am a faithful and obedient Catholic, albeit a bad one, I would have been sickened by such allegations levied against any Pope, because I really believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church.

So at first I felt spiritually unmoored.  For the first time in all of these scandals, I felt a shaking of my faith.

But again, as a faithful Catholic, I felt bound to give the Pope of all people the benefit of the doubt, to withhold judgment while waiting to hear more.  By morning when the mainstream press was unable to independently corroborate Vigano’s statement with documentary evidence, I started to calm down.

See, I don’t know much about Church politics.  I mean, I know they exist, but I hate to think about such petty and worldly concerns being mixed up with God’s Church.  I don’t like the bandying about of terms like “liberal” and “conservative” Catholic, even though I know what people mean when they say that.  I’ve been accused of being “liberal” but I see myself as quite orthodox and challenge anyone to point to any occasion I have ever dissented from any Church teaching, feeling quite confident that they won’t be able to.

So when I saw that a person of some prominence in the Church had accused Pope Francis, my initial reaction was to believe him, because why would he not tell the truth?  But then I realized that he was the person who set the Pope up with Kim Davis, and I learned of his reputation of being too involved in U.S. culture wars.  And I started to think about where the accounts had been published–usually the first thing I look at in assessing news, but which I had overlooked in my distress–in sources I know from my own experience to be right wing and slanted in their reporting.   I noticed that the mainstream press wasn’t finding anything to write even though they were investigating hard.  Finally I saw exactly who was–not sorrowfully, not regretfully, but eagerly–leaping on the anti-Pope bandwagon and I thought I could see what was happening.

I’ve been downright horrified since this Pope was elected to see some of the things people have said about him on social media–people purporting to be faithful Catholics and held up as holy by many.  I’ve even had to unfollow some people and pages that seemed to me were bordering on heresy in their comments about our Holy Father.  I had always thought that respect and reverence for the Pope is a baseline qualification for being Catholic.  I personally wasn’t all that excited when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected, but as soon as he became Pope Benedict, that was it for me.  He became my Pope and I gave him my respect and my obedience.   And yet it was obvious that Francis-haters–some long declared as such and some who had been staying quiet out of, one presumes, respect for the office–were leaping out of the woodwork to announce their unqualified belief in Vigano’s testimony.

Do you remember the Steele dossier?  Remember how the mainstream press wouldn’t release it because they couldn’t confirm it?  I think it was BuzzFeed that leaked it initially.  Why do you think Vigano’s representative disseminated his testimony through the outlets he chose?  Why do you suppose he didn’t call The New York Times or The Washington Post with his bombshell news?  Because he knew that the mainstream media would have sat on it, as they did on the dossier, and rightly so–until they could confirm it.  Perhaps he knew that would never happen.

I waited anxiously for the Pope’s response, and I have no trouble admitting I was disappointed at first; but now I think he was being very smart.  First of all, he did not allow himself to be forced into making intemperate remarks on an airplane–as he sometimes has in the past–which seems clear to me is what his opponents were hoping to orchestrate by releasing the document when they did.  If he had openly denied the allegations, what would have made his detractors take his word over Vigano’s anyway?  Therefore, he offered the equivalent of “I am not going to dignify this gossip with a response,”  and he asked the journalists to investigate the claims, knowing that this is the only way his name will ever be cleared.

Think about it–we can and should ask the Vatican to investigate; we can and should ask the Bishops to investigate–but who really believes any of them anymore?  The USCCB came out with a statement which seems supportive of the Pope while also calling for further investigation, but not only is the credibility of the bishops at rock bottom right now, how much credence will anyone give to a show of support to the man who has the power to fire them all?

And let’s remember who else isn’t talking:  Vigano.  Why is no one upset about that?  He made allegations and now refuses to be cross-examined about them.  How can an investigation go forward under those circumstances?

Amidst calls for the Pope’s immediate resignation, I found it telling that the founder and spokesman for Bishopaccountability.org, a site dedicated to providing transparency regarding charges of sex abuse in the Church, is not yet among them.  Even though Pope Francis doesn’t have a spotless record on the site from his days as a bishop, Terry McKiernan told Our Sunday Visitor that he believes “Archbishop Vagano has ‘an axe to grind,’ [and] that there still should be a thorough investigation into what the pope and bishops knew about former Cardinal McCarrick, and when they knew it.”

Until that happens, I’ve been “investigating” myself the only way I know how:  by reading a wide variety of sources and trying to understand what is going on.  I have linked several of them below.  I am prepared to be accused of providing “liberal” sources.  I don’t believe that is accurate, but if it is you can chalk it up to the fact that the stories I am linking and the points of view they showcase seem to me to be underrepresented in what I’ve been reading on Catholic Facebook.

My “investigation” leads me to believe that conservative culture warriors have seized this opportunity and hijacked this crisis in an attempt to bring Pope Francis down.  They attack the Pope, his supporters respond, and now the conversation is about church politics instead of the abuse, the cover up, and the victims.  This, I believe, is one reason Pope Francis did not immediately answer the accusations–because he wanted the focus to remain on the sex abuse crisis, as it should.

Now, many faithful Catholics I know are sincerely alarmed by Vigano’s testimony and confused by the Pope’s response, and either don’t believe or may not realize that they are being manipulated by people who don’t care one iota about the sexual abuse or the victims but are playing politics and trying to split the Church into factions, much in the way our country has become divided along harsh partisan lines.  This is in itself a symptom of a sick sinfulness in the Church that exists alongside the sex and the silence.

Tactically I think the Pope’s response was the correct one.  Pastorally, not so much.  People are confused and upset and they want, need, and deserve answers.  I feel the Holy Father has always intended to provide them but I think he needs to do so sooner rather than later.  If there is never any documentary evidence, though, and if the people who could confirm key parts of the testimony–like Pope Benedict and Theodore McCarric–refuse to speak, I have to wonder whether the choice of whom to believe will continue to break along those same tired ideological lines, and whether the political divide in Christ’s Church is the real sin we need to be discussing.

I’ve always been on the side of the truth, ALWAYS.  I’m the obnoxious person who goes so far as to correct misinformation being passed around in emails and on Facebook, even when my own confirmation bias is triggered.  But right now, when we can’t know the truth, as a devout Catholic I stand with Pope Francis until I have more than gossip to go on.

RELATED LINKS

From the Associated Press:

Document in hand, Tosatti then set out to find publications willing to publish it in its entirety: the small Italian daily La Verita, the English-language National Catholic Register and LifeSiteNews and the Spanish online site InfoVaticana.

All are conservative or ultraconservative media that have been highly critical of Francis’ mercy-over-morals papacy.

The English and Spanish publications translated the Italian document and all agreed on a Sunday morning embargo, coinciding with the second and final day of Francis’ trip to Ireland, where the Catholic church’s sex abuse and cover-up scandal dominated his trip.

Tosatti said Vigano didn’t tell him where he was going after the article came out, knowing that the world’s media would be clamoring to speak with him.

From The Washington Post:

Pope Francis has long faced criticism from traditionalists — a group that includes academics as well as cardinals — who say the church is too willingly following the whims of the anything-goes modern age.

Much of the dissent has remained within the Vatican walls, as Francis’s opponents worked to stonewall reforms. A few high-ranking church leaders have questioned him publicly about his teachings. But the simmering opposition has suddenly exploded across the Catholic world, with a former Vatican ambassador accusing the pope of covering up sexual abuse — and demanding that Francis step down.

From Vatican Insider in La Stampa:

That it is not simply the outburst of a Church man tired of the rotten things he has seen around him, but of a long and carefully planned operation, in an attempt to get the Pope to resign, is demonstrated by the timing and the involvement of the same international media network that for years has been propagating – often using anonymous ones – the requests of those who would like to overturn the result of the 2013 conclave. This is attested by the same testimonies written in the various blogs by the journalists who published the Viganò dossier: always in the forefront in the defense of the traditional family, but careless to drop the bombshell on the very day in which Francis concluded with a great mass the international meeting of families. 

From Our Sunday Visitor:

In his letter, Archbishop Viganò also wades into ideological battles roiling the Church in the United States. He singles out several bishops who were appointed by or are close to Pope Francis, questioning their sincerity and commitment to rooting out sex abuse. And in a time when the role of homosexuality in the clergy sex-abuse scandals is being hotly debated, the archbishop accuses some prelates who are close to the pope of belonging to a “homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.”

McKiernan, of BishopAccountability.org, called Archbishop Viganò’s long statement “a uniquely comprehensive salvo in the Catholic culture wars.” He added that clergy sex abuse cuts across ideological lines.

From The New York Times:

The clerical sexual abuse is not only a personal and professional tragedy, but an institutional one, said John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

“We need to find out who knew what when, and what they did or did not do to protect young people,” Mr. Carr said. “The weaponization of the sexual abuse scandal uses the suffering of the vulnerable to advance ideological agendas and makes a horrible situation worse.”

From Steel Magnificat:

For a moment, it was all about the victims. Not people who dislike the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite or people who believe conspiracy theories, the actual victims. People who were raped or molested and then shamed into silence because it was more convenient to pretend they were lying than to work for justice.

Then the people who didn’t care about the victims found a way to make it all about them, and what they want the Church to look like, and how much they hate Pope Francis.

And I’ve heard barely a word about the victims since.

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Hope is one of the great theological virtues, one of the three things that last.  Its opposite is despair, which I have often heard referred to as the one unforgivable sin.  The temptation to despair is great right now.  Every day brings some new reprehensible revelation or confusing controversy.

But this painful purification of the Church is necessary, and we must hold onto hope.

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths.

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In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth; On their housetops and in their squares.  Everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears. ~ Isaiah 15:13

If you are a Catholic who follows any Catholic pages on Facebook, I’m guessing you have seen this graphic, because it is everywhere right now.

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Spearheaded by Kendra and Bonnie, it started as a way for Catholics with a platform to DO SOMETHING about the current scandal in our Church.  Here’s the pledge:

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Now, when I first saw friends talking about the campaign on Facebook,  I had a knee jerk reaction that went like this:  Why should I pray and sacrifice?  I haven’t done anything wrong! This is just like the laity being forced to take all those safe environment classes when we weren’t the ones who molested anyone.  

I’m far from being the only person who felt that way.  Eventually I decided to join in for a few reasons.

  • 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!
  • I AM acting–to the best of my limited ability–in using my platform to write about the scandal, but as a Catholic layperson in an institution run by a hierarchy, my powers are limited.  THIS I can do!
  • I felt called to do something, and I feel like this is a moment when the efforts of the laity are definitely called for.

And it also helped when I got a better understanding of what it means to pray in reparation, which you can read about right here:

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And then Pope Francis even suggested we should be doing this!  That’s quite the endorsement!

So for the next 40 days, starting today, I’ll be praying more and making small sacrifices each day.  If you’d like to join in, here’s a good prayer you could say first thing every morning:

sackcloth 2

Or you could say this beautiful Litany for the Church in Crisis–there’s a printable available and I am keeping mine on my desk.

You can also use your rosary to say a Chaplet of Reparation:

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If you want to make a sacrifice you should know that it doesn’t have to mean giving up food.  Anni has some great suggestions here.

And you could share this post, or the images from it, to let more people know, because the more of us who are praying the better.

In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth; On their housetops and in their squares. Everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears. _ Isaiah 15_13

 

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You swore to yourself a long time ago
There were some things that people never needed to know . . .

And you can’t talk about it
Because you’re following a code of silence . . .

That’s not the kind of code you’re inclined to break
Some things unknown are best left alone forever . . .

You’re never gonna to lose the anger
You just deal with it a different way

But you can’t talk about it
And isn’t that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you’ve really got a lot to say?

Excerpt from Code of Silence by Billy Joel

***************************************************************

Father Frank Richards was the principal of Knoxville Catholic High School when I was a student there.  He was a big bear of a man, soft-spoken with a kindly smile.  My Senior year, he presided over the special outdoor Mass at our retreat, the one where we all held hands.  He presented me with a plaque and congratulated me after I made the valedictory address at Graduation.  He also raped three boys.

Of course, none of us knew that then.  Nor did we know it the next year, or the year after that.  I learned the sordid truth from an article in the local paper over fifteen years later, about the time that I and everyone else in our Diocese learned that our beloved former Bishop was also guilty of decades-old sexual abuse, after one of his victims decided to go public despite having been paid over $100,000 by the Church for his silence.

Catholics seem to operate with the understanding that silence is golden when it comes to anything at all that could bring bad publicity upon the Church.  This attitude extends to more than cases of priestly sexual abuse.  I’ve continued to encounter this attitude throughout the Catholic education of my older children.  On several occasions, teachers left abruptly under mysterious circumstances and neither parents nor children were given any information or explanation, but were rather left to sort through the rumors or, in one particular egregious case, read all about it in the local paper.  The thought process seemed to be that if we didn’t talk about it at all, maybe it would go away.

As for Father Richards, they simply expunged him–the video put out to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary just leaves him out of the list of KCHS principals, skipping right over the 1981- 1985 school years without comment.   Bishop O’Connell, having founded our diocese, couldn’t be forgotten so easily, but they took his name off a building.  And everyone tried to forget.

And why not, right? After all, we’d suffered so much embarrassment over the abuse scandal.  Some had even left the Church over it! Protestants were saying bad things about Catholics and looking suspiciously at every priest, even though we all knew that priests are no more likely to abuse children than anyone else.  We instituted Diocesan policies and took our Virtus classes so that we could continue our volunteer work and put up signs forbidding children to use the church bathrooms alone.  Why couldn’t everyone just move on?

Many of us really did think we could put this all behind us.  We didn’t know that more revolting revelations were forthcoming.

But many people did know.  The priests who had committed abuse and continued in ministry.  The people who had reported being abused by priests and bishops.  And Bishops who ignored victims, or didn’t believe them, or paid for their silence, and moved abusers from place to place–in some cases watching them advance in stature and responsibility–instead of removing them from the priesthood or reporting their crimes to authorities.  They knew, and they chose to remain quiet, one presumes from a misguided belief that their silence would avoid scandal.

In our Catechism we learn that scandal is “an attitude of behavior which leads another to do evil . . . [it] takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized . . . [it] is grave when given by those who by nature of office are obliged to teach and educate others” [CCC 2284-2285].

Our Bishops have failed dismally in their obligation to teach, educate, lead, protect, and shepherd the faithful.  My faith in the Church is unshaken, but my faith in its hierarchy is at an all-time low, and I am not alone.  The faithful laity will no longer be satisfied with apologies and committees.  We must demand change–accountability, penance, resignations, and complete transparency.

Bishops, the silence IS the scandal! It’s time to shed some light.

Silence IS

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