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James Martin, S.J.March 31, 2010














I find myself more and more depressed by the news about the church, including the increasing tendency to blame the media for the church's problems, as if without The Boston Globe the Catholic church would have ever addressed the sexual abuse crisis in this country with such vigor.  Without the Globe's coverage there would have been no bishops's meeting in Dallas and no Office of Child and Youth Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Now there is of course some lingering anti-Catholicism in the media (which I've written about) and the media do get things wrong.  But we will make a grave mistake if we start blaming the messenger, as we first did in 2002.  Last night, a friend tells me, one bishop told the congregation at the Chrism Mass, of all places, not to read The New York Times. 

Beyond the question of blaming the media for our problems, comes something much more important: the overwhelming need for the church to recognize its need to set aside the culture of power, privilege and secrecy that led to the sexual abuse crisis.  As we approach Good Friday, the church may need to ask itself what needs to die in order that we might live life anew.  And what is needed now are saints to show us the way.  To that end, I found this picture, sent to me on Facebook, deeply moving. 

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Servant of God Dorothy Day, you who embraced a life of humility and simplicity, you who stood outside the power structures of the church, and you who embraced true spiritual poverty, pray for us now and forever.

James Martin, SJ

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Vince Killoran
12 years 6 months ago
Thanks for your post Fr. Martin-and a powerful photograph (I think the person on the left is Eileen Egan, a Catholic Worker and co-founder of Pax Christi).
Peter Lakeonovich
12 years 6 months ago
Power, privilege, and secrecy led to the sexual abuse crisis? Really, is that true? Is that supported by the facts? What power? What privilege? I disagree Father. This is a problem (or crisis if you prefer the trendy word) of faith and fidelity. Because I don't know what power, privilege, and secrecy you are talking about, I cannot imagine what it would mean for the Church to set them aside. Can you describe what that would be exactly? In any event Father Jim, I don't mean to take issue with you but there are far too many generalities in this debate which don't help us in our analysis. And don't the specific facts of today point in the other direction? Didn't an audit show that the Church has practically rooted out all abusers today? Isn't it true that vast supermajority of priests and religious were not abusers? Isn't it true that semanarians are being subjected to greater scrutiny? Isn't it true that our Church (i.e., our bishops, priests, and lay community) mourns the suffering of those who have been abused and is greatly sorry? I agree with you that we need prayer and would ask St. Joseph to pray for us.
Claire Mathieu
12 years 6 months ago
Archbishop Martin's homilies, posted online, are encouraging. Although he is not my bishop, I find myself looking to him for some direction. (He also went through Pope Benedict's letter to the Catholics of Ireland, and carefully extracted all the good bits.)
James Lindsay
12 years 6 months ago
Dealing with the "crisis" means the need for reform goes away when the crisis is dealt with, hopefully by dealing with the victims and adding procedures. The Church should do this.

The Church should also seek reform in matters having nothing to do with the crisis that isn't (since no one, to my knowledge, has been found molesting an altar boy at the Vatican in the last month).
12 years 6 months ago
The media has served it's place by bringing past incidents of abuse to light and in helping to inform much needed change and reforms that have made the church (now) one of the safest insititutions for children in society.  (of course the press does not report these numbers or positives)
However, Fr. Jim, to say that this current crop of misleading articles in the Times trying to link the pope to abuse in Wisconsin are anything but character assassination it shameful.  The press - during holy week no less! - it doing its best at attack Benedict and with old charges and contorted facts in to weaken our standing in society as we (Catholics and the Church) remind them of the commandments of God they would like to pretend do not exist (as evidenced by their displeasure with our voice in the healthcase debate).
If you want to see hate and slander, just look at this piece by Dowd:
To say that the liberal media does not seek to portray the Church in a negative light - especially in the last week - is a form of denial on a grand scale. Not to be mean, but maybe your associations and friends at the Huffington Post, the Colbert Report and NPR have caused a certain amount of blindness in you?
Vince Killoran
12 years 6 months ago
As with all human rights abuses, justice must be secured and the mechanisms that made them possible must be changed. To Peter's question "what power, privilege, and secrecy?": the failure to disclose abuse unless others reveal it (the fresh cases today are in Italy), the reluctance to take responsibility (why haven't the bishops responsible resigned?), and the tendency to blame the media for what is cleary a failure within the hierarchy.
How could faithful Catholics have confidence in church leadership today with this record? This is systemic, not merely a case of certain clerics lacking "faith and fidelity" (a code, I think, for "don't rock the boat").
12 years 6 months ago
Thank you for asking us to go back to our roots , preferential option for the poor.. during this troubled time,, ...James see that the exact same idea leads Commonweal blog. No race just the Spirit working,,
see link on how a huge Franciscan Church has homeless sleep on back pews every day [during Mass too;] replicate this in cities during this crisis and the Church lives on..
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
12 years 6 months ago
A lovely picture!

I've always liked knowing which saints other saints were devoted to, (St. Benedict to St. Martin of Tours, e.g., St. Therese to St. Theophane Venard, St. John Berchmans to St. Aloysius, etc.), but this is the first time I've seen a picture of two saints together.
12 years 6 months ago
"you who stood outside the power structures of the church"
Perhaps Fr. Martin has forgotten who's church this really is - perhaps he is confusing the human shortcomings (indeed, evil) of some of the clergy and bishops for the divine totality of the Body of Christ and her healing sacraments and holy teachings.
An individualist and grave confusion, indeed.
12 years 6 months ago
In 2002, the media was attacked viciously by the church.  The Vatican and our American bishops claimed that the exposure of the sexual abuse scandal was another example of anti-Catholicism.  Were it not for the reporting of the Globe and the work of other investigative reporters as well as prosecutors, there is no reason to believe the bishops would have policed themselves.  They were brought kicking and screaming to the table of accountability and decency.  A cover-up is precisely what secrecy is.  This is not to say that there has not been unsubstantiated and inaccurate reporting.  The recent New York Times articles on the abuse scandal and the pope’s involvement are an example of shoddy journalism. 
The sexual abuse scandal, in my opinion, is not a crisis of faith, but rather a crisis of leadership.  While the bishops adopted needed procedures for protecting children from predator priests, they have never accepted responsibility for their actions.  Predator priests have been removed from ministry and, in some cases, laicized and sent to prison, but nothing has happened to any bishop.  The bishops continue to claim that they made mistakes, received bad advice, and that the standards of decency (my wording) did not apply in the ‘50”s to 2002.  Rape of a child in the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, etc., is rape pure and simple. 
The only bishop I can think of who has called “a spade a spade” is the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.  He has said that “the sexual abuse of children was, is, and will always be a sin and a crime.”  The predator priests committed a crime, and, therefore, so did their enabling bishops.  Archbishop Martin has called for the Irish bishops who were part of the cover-up to examine their consciences (that, of course, presumes they have a conscience) and do the right thing, namely resign.  The Holy Father should have called for the resignation of every bishop who enabled predator priests to continue abusing innocent children. 
Yes, the scandal has exposed the power of bishops and the Vatican.  Any organization that can by-pass the laws of decency and the laws of their country has immense power.  When police and prosecutors  allowed the church a pass, that certainly speaks of the church’s power and privilege. 
The clerical culture needs an overhauling.  I am convinced that if the church had allowed women priests and married priests, there would have been no sexual abuse scandal.  What father or mother would allow another father or mother’s child to be abused by a fellow priest?   Clerical culture will be reformed when the laity have equal power with clergy. 
david brockman
12 years 6 months ago
As we approach Good Friday, the church may need to ask itself what needs to die in order that we might live life anew.  And what is needed now are saints to show us the way.  To that end, I found this picture, sent to me on Facebook, deeply moving. 
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Servant of God Dorothy Day, you who embraced a life of humility and simplicity, you who stood outside the power structures of the church, and you who embraced true spiritual poverty, pray for us now and forever.
Fr. Jim...your words, the picture, your prayer brings me to my knees in humble prayer
Pearce Shea
12 years 6 months ago
While I agree that shooting the messenger doesn't help, I also think it's fair to put things in perspective. There are really two issues going on here:
The culture of secrecy (which extended well beyond the Church, let alone the pew) which not only enabled these predators to get away with their horrible crimes, largely unpunished by the Church and rarely prosecuted by civil authorities is indeed part of the problem. That such a culture is really rare these days is a good thing. That the seal of secrecy over the past has been peeled away to reveal all the nasty horrors of the past in the US is a good thing. That it is beginning to happen abroad is also a good thing. So we have these abuse cases coming to light and older abuse cases, nominally addressed or never really addressed at all, being brought forward for closure. And these are good and healthy things.
That the Church in the US is a model for civil institutions and other religious institutions of how to combat this scourge is largely because of very aggressive efforts from the CDF headed by the now-Pope is also true. This is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any of the daily articles from the NYT (some of which just repeat the assertions from yesterdays articles). That there is no clear, direct link between the Pope and either cases mentioned in th NYT is also true. That there is no real evidence that the NYT is at all interested in how a dicastery works (to suggest that the Pope ought to have known about, much less directly done something about the Fr. Murphy case is out and out ridiculous - when I send a letter to a director of a government office and her Secretary responds- I know it's being handled and that it's the Secretary's job to handle it) is also true. That the Fr. Huller case is still cited as an instance of neglect by the current Pope when the diocesan official in charge of handling the case admitted that he had screwed up and can't even be sure that the Pope new much or anything about it at the time (this was before the scandals in the US broke and the common assumption among much in the hierarchy was that such problems were rare). That facts (like those in the Fr. Murphy case) are muddled with assertions (for example: Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to Abp. Weakland's question about abuse of the Sacrament of Penance [fact] therefore Cd. Ratzinger was hoping the issue would go away or worse [assertion] - indeed, an odd assertion as it was the CDF that waived the statute of limitations and repeatedly encouraged perusing a trial) and those assertions are piggybacked onto to make some pretty bold statements (for example, a recent editorial suggests that the Church "did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States" when addressing the Fr. Murphy case - another odd statement given that the entirety of the Fr. Murphy issue was considered over in 1998, some time before the US scandals "broke") in these NYT pieces. So that is also true. That the two primary sources on the matter do not seem to have been vetted by the NYT, that they are very much interested sources, that the evidence the NYT presented was used on the very same day it appeared in the NYT by SNAP protesters at the Vatican suggests some questionable journalistic practices and after a primary piece of evidence presented by the NYT is suggested to be a forgery by the Church-appointed judge to whom it is attributed - he claims it is not even in his handwriting and it doesn't match the facts as he recalls them- the NYT does nothing to address this assertion, are all also true. 
So, in the interest of calling a spade a spade, the leadership and clergy in the Church have done some terrible things in the past which they are still paying for. And it's also true that much of this has just really started happening in Europe. But the NYT isn't particularly interested on reporting on this matter (indeed, it's questionable as to what they are actually the messenger of). Rather, they seem much more interested in a) denouncing the Vatican itself and b) trying to link the Pope to some of these crimes. So, while I agree that shooting the messenger doesn't help, I'd also suggest that everyone (including those poor victims in Europe whose travails are largely ignored by the press here in favor of juicier fare) is better served by some serious inquiry into just what is going on at the NYT  than simply swallowing what Maureen Dowd has to say as if all the faithful deserve such stuff (I currently subscribe to the NYT and will continue to subscribe, but  have also sent a couple of letters to them asking, more or less, in very civil terms, what exactly is going on with their reporting on the Pope - I've gotten no response, btw).
12 years 6 months ago
Father Martin, I too am depressed and sickened by this tragedy.  The care, protection and advocacy of/for children has been my life's work for over 50 years.  I encourage you to keep writing and speaking and I thank you for the picture of my favorite saints, Teresa of Calcutta and Dorothy Day.  Dorothy Day has been my model since she visited our college campus in the 50's and I learned of her work.  (and how poorly I have followed her example!).  Maybe, I'd amend your prayer a bit to say that they worked within the power structures of the church. 
I agree that the reporting of the Boston Globe was the impetus for the "breaking down the wall of silence" in the American church.  I also do not think that the media should be  blamed for the church's problems and that rigorous examination of the causes and needs for changes must be accomplished.  I do think that the NY Times needs to be held to the high standard of journalism that it has set for itself.  Their reportage is more than shoddy, it is incompetent.  The paper lost its credibility for me when I learned from a Bill Moyers' report about its incompetent reporting prior to the Iraq War.  At a time when Americans needed objective reporting and some of us were protesting in the streets, the NY Times failed us.   In the present situation, it seems to be resorting to the Dan Brown school of writing.  What concerns me most is that people, Catholics and non-Catholics read the reportage as truth.  And what the NYTimes prints, the rest of the media parrot.  I'm also concerned about the timing, the end of Lent and Holy Week.  And I do not think it is paranoid to worry that there are forces in society that would like to see the destruction of the Catholic Church.  When Christ told Peter he was the Rock on which he would build his church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail over it, he knew what was coming.  It is now quite unsophisticated to speak of evil and satan as the personification of evil, but the whiffs of sulfur are in the air.  Christ also said he would not abandon us.  We live in faith and in hope .
12 years 6 months ago
Thanks very much for this post, Fr. Martin.
12 years 6 months ago
“After God, the priest is everything. Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts…When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion".
-Catechism on the Priesthood
by St. John Vianney
from “The Little Catechism of the Curé of Ars"

I know that quotations are not deemed appropriate in this forum; however, this seems so apt. I agree that sexual abuse is a function of infidelity. Some dismiss this argument as pietistic, as if true fidelity is something anyone can achieve. These naysayers would be wrong. This fidelity costs “not less than everything”. Faith, if it is real, must cost something. Faith is not only something we believe, it is something we do.

A priestess priest cannot be faithful; he cannot offer himself as a victim at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If he doubts the validity of transubstantiation, if he doubts the validity of Confession, if he doubts that Christ instituted the Sacraments, if he doubts that Christ intended that men, and men only, could offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, if he denies the fundamental teachings of the magisterium, he cannot hope, as a true and self-sacrificial victim, to intercede for his flock. John Hardon SJ, Servant of God, provided no finer example of priesthood in the modern era. It was he who said:" there are no ifs in Christianity”. Once the priests introduces *conditions* then he is ripe fruit for the Enemy. The Enemy knows that he “gets no where alone”. Not by accident has the Enemy attacked priests. A priestess priest is easy prey and with comes all ill effects of sin.

Molly Roach
12 years 6 months ago
Pain is speaking right now, looking for any outlet available.  The New York Times-fine. A Vatican press conference-swell.  Holy Week homilies-why not?   Untended pain, pain we wish away,  pain we do not afford care for, this is pain that grows because there is something behind pain-there is injury or illness.  In this case, it's injury to those who were sexually assaulted by priests.   I know that people are saying that this isn't happening anymore so what are these people talking about but the truth is that the victims have not been tended to - their pain has been wished away.   If this wasn't the church, maybe people would just go find another place to be but this is the Church.    Our Bishops are having a terrible week because this pain is accusing them of neglect at best and of crime at worst.   And they are answering with their own pain.  We need to pray for everyone, pray for each other, try to avoid name calling, try to avoid trivializing what is going on by dismissing one side or another.  This is a true impasse and everyone who is directly involved needs a lot of prayer and a lot of consideration.  This is about pain folks. 
Livia Fiordelisi
12 years 6 months ago
To reduce this problem to the-devil-made-me-do-it type of magical thinking is not helpful. Priests, bishops, and the pope are adult men who know that it is wrong to molest, rape, or seduce children or adolescents, and also know that it is wrong to cover up or enable these acts. Why is this even a topic for debate?
Winifred Holloway
12 years 6 months ago
The NY Times did do a poor job of clarifying just who was responsible for the offending priests at the time, especially with regards to the horrific abuse in Wisconsin.  And in so doing have targeted the current pope as the person responsible.  In fairness, this seems not to be accurate.  However, the Vatican is its own worst enemy.  What is needed here is some honesty, some humility.  The Vatican always has a ''position'' on moral issues.  What's wrong with saying out loud what adults generally know - sometimes we just don't know what to do.  It takes time, discernment, listening to figure out what is the best course of action.  Why not just acknowledge that we are puzzled about how all this mess occured.  The next step is to say that we will try to find out why these abuses were so prevalent, even if that investigation should point to the deeply embedded attitudes and cultural assumptions of the hierarchy.  I say this knowing full well how unlikely this scenario is.  I think, in their gut, Catholics concerned about this issue, know that the Vatican is unable to admit to either making mistakes or having to rethink a previous position.  So sad.  Because I believe just such a posture would be more reassuring for the laity than the current ''we have all the answers'' position that the governors of the Church hold.
Barbara DeLorenzi
12 years 6 months ago
Maria, while the Cure of Ars might have meant well, he was factually incorrect. For 200 years, the Catholics of Japan were without priests due to a purge that saw the martyrdom of the Jesuit Paul Miki and others (including children and lay catechists). When missionaries returned to Japan, the hidden Catholics of Nagasaki inquired if they were ones who had taught their ancestors about the Lady. Having only the sacrament of Baptism and using hidden rites and symbols they maintained their faith for 200 years.
For God all things are possible. God can love and use the layfolk as well, if God so wills.
Bill Collier
12 years 6 months ago
I agree with Eric Stoltz. A high-resolution file of the photo would be wonderful to have available. Moreover, the person in the foreground, as well as the street scene outside, shouldn't be cropped. They add an ordinariness-of-life perspective to the extraordinary depiction of the meeting of two saints that elevates the photo from the great to the sublime.
William Lindsey
12 years 6 months ago
Thank you for writing this, Fr. Martin.
I find the defensiveness-and the defense of the indefensible-deeply painful and alienating.  It demonstrates to me as a Catholic who already feels marginal in my church that many of my brothers and sisters still don't get it.
They don't get the pain they are inflicting on many Catholics by their continued defense of the indefensible.  And they don't appear to get the loud, clear message they are giving many of their brothers and sisters: that we have no place in their church.
The defensive, tribal, circle-the-wagons response that appears to equate the pope and the bishops with the church itself-and even with Christ-is appalling.  It demonstrates a deep lack of basic theological knowledge on the part of many Catholics, including even influential Catholic journalists.
Most of all, though, I am appalled at what the defensiveness implies about the moral awareness of many of my fellow Catholics.  The secrecy, the ongoing abuse of children, the refusal to treat survivors of abuse who have come forward to tell their stories justly and compassionately: how do these attitudes flourish so strongly even among Catholics of the center?
I seem to have very little in common anymore with those who can so easily leap to the defense of an institution and people in which such a deep problem of abuse of children is taken for granted.  This is an Easter in which I feel shoved further away from my church than ever before-and not merely by those who have covered up the abuse.  Perhaps most of all by the defenders of the indefensible who keep leaping to their defense, and making common cause with segments of the church that appear callow re: the abuse of children, and who also want to continue bashing their gay brothers and sisters in their defense of the indefensible.
12 years 6 months ago
Molly has good points.
The bishops covered-up. Why.. Try this answer..We laity could not be told that abuse was present in the clergy. Why couldn't we be told, why couldn't we 'stand the truth'
Remember the line in the movie A Few Good Men when Jack Nickolson  the Marine Colonel yelled ' You Can't stand the truth!' I and many of you were raised in the golden era of Catholic triumphalism Notre Dame vs Army was the biggest game there was,  the subway alumni, blue collar NY and NJ Catholics couldn't get enough.[late 40s 50s ] Catholic colleges were tearing down Quanset huts and building real buildings. Catholic HS , parishes sprouted  up in the suburbs and Fulton Sheen beat out Milton Berle on Tueday evenings, If our Catholic teams started to lose we gave scholarships to Protestant African American athletes and still called our teams the Irish and Crusaders. 
We could not stand the truth.. Yes.. sure the weak bishops covered-up but they thought they had a bunch of dumb triumphalist sheep to keep happy. We Still have too many dumb Catholic sheep that want to hide their heads in the sand and shout out that  everybody does it [abuse].. say hello to the Catholic League, Bill Donahue . 16 million dollar budget .. [and who gives that guy that kind of money?] any Catholic League members here?... see Matthew 5 and see where the true treasure is found. We need this Church purging...Let's  say thank you to the Holy Spirit..
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 6 months ago
Thanks, Fr. Martin, for this short and sweet blog from the heart.  I share your pain on this whole thing.  We're all in this together. 
Dale Rodrigue
12 years 6 months ago
The hierarchy knew the rumors, the whispers and the telling behavior of some priests.
They knew it existed,it was always there. For decades upon decades they did NOTHING to stop the behavior.
They knew that children were being raped on a regular basis but did NOTHING to stop it and only acted only when a priest got caught. Then only a transfer to rape other children.
It's that knowledge that strikes at the heart of all Catholics.
Benedict and the hierarchy all knew the rumors and whispers but didn't do anything to stop it, Benedict didn't investigate this culture, he turned his back and looked the other way until the next one got caught. That's the Rub. It's not how he handled the 2 cases in Munich and Wisconsin, it's how he looked the other way for decades knowing this behavior was going on in the Church.
Tens of thousands over decades and they didn't do anything.
I just don't understand it, I just don't.
60 Minutes went to Rome and exposed Maciel and JPII looked the other way.
If this was IBM or another multinational then we can blame it on secularism. But the Church?
Were the trappings of the Imperial episcopacy too tempting to risk losing it? The souls of children less important than that cappa and those Prada shoes?
I just don't understand it. Just don't.
Even more depressing, I think we know more is coming, we're waiting for the other shoe to drop and it will make a big bang when it does.
Good article Fr. Jim. I think we all are depressed. Maybe it is fear of change?
12 years 6 months ago
Molly,  I appreciate your comments on pain very much.  There is much wisdom in what you say. I retired 11 yrs ago from Child Protective Services and thought I had pretty much healed from the experience.  I was wrong and yet I know my pain is miniscule to the pain of the victims and their families.  And I include all victims and all families.  In the church our priority must be to find the means to help these vulnerable people in their search for healing.  Whatever it takes.  As citizens we must engage in our society's efforts as well as our church's to  find the causes within our church and within our society for this scourge and apply whatever resources are needed to eradicate it to the fullest extent possible.
Linda, if you were referring to my comments, I must say I would never ever give the bishops who covered up the tragedy the out of saying "the devil made me do it".  I was commenting on a reality in our world that I personally experienced, the evil of the abuse of children.   When you are in the muck of it, as I was, you get a keen sense of evil.  That is the only way I can explain it.  You judge the behavior of the abusers as evil and try to understand, never excuse  them.  As Catholics we look upon every person, the Imago Dei, as someone worth saving, and believe me that is very very difficult.  It was only my faith in Christ, imperfect as it was, that helped me to survive.  On Good Friday, we as the People of God will bring our suffering to the Cross and in union with our Savior, ask for God's mercy on us all.
Eric Stoltz
12 years 6 months ago
Thank you for this message of hope amid a trying time. The photograph is fantastic! America should make a high-resolution file of it available so that it can be used as computer wallpaper. I for one would like to see that every day over the coming months.
12 years 5 months ago
Barbara: Martyrdom is the seed bed of Christianity.

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