Dear Catholic bishops: This is not the time to play defense
It has been a weird week to be a faithful Catholic.
Perhaps it is just weird to still be a faithful Catholic at all, especially after news of a serial abuser like former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick breaks and the new details of the abuse and rape of over 1,000 children by priests in Pennsylvania come to light.
It seems like every day brings another piece of information about cover-ups, consistent and repeated abuse, and cultures of dishonesty and manipulation. We who consider ourselves faithful, committed, card-carrying members of the Catholic Church watch as the rock upon which the church was built seems to sink further and further into the mud.
This is the church I love. The church I was raised in. The church in which I had my child baptized. The church I want to raise her in. The church I look to for guidance. The church I turn to for comfort. The church I’ve worked for. The church I’ve lived for. The church, I hope, I’d have the strength to die for. But I’ve found myself not only becoming frustrated, disgruntled and angry but also sad, heartbroken and remarkably let down by this church.
The church is not a corporation and she should not be run like one.
There is a deep, bleeding wound within this church—a wound caused by cover-ups and lies, rampant dishonesty, sickening selfishness and pride, sexual abuse and impropriety and perhaps worst of all, an attitude of “let’s quickly dismiss it as something that happened long ago” as many seem to be going on the defensive to prevent further bleeding.
The church is not a corporation and she should not be run like one. When there is corruption in a business, the people associated tend to “circle the wagons” and defend themselves to preserve the company. Justifications are given. Timelines are explained. A strong defense is made because without it, the business will cease to exist. Circling the wagons is the only way to survive.
But the church does not exist because of us or anything we do. The church, the very body of Christ, is made up of us but is guided by the Holy Spirit. If at this critical moment, the church—specifically the hierarchy and those in power—simply “circle the wagons” when there are very serious questions that need to be answered, the Holy Spirit will not be in control, and we will be no different than any other failing corporation that tries to justify and explain wrongdoing.
For the sake of the faithful who are hurting from these revelations, we need our bishops to speak.
We do not need a church run—or guarded—like a business. We do not need church leaders who read boilerplate statements drafted by lawyers or mumble half-hearted apologies to placate the masses. This is a moment of reckoning.
This is far bigger than just “who knew what when” in regards to McCarrick or seminary formation or failures of celibacy or abuse of all types. This is about the hearts, minds and souls of people who will question the very legitimacy of the church because of this type of dishonesty and corruption, who will look at every priest and bishop they see and ask, “What did you know, and when did you know it, and what didn’t you do about it?” and who will never cross the threshold of a church again because they are so disgusted by what has happened and been hidden.
I’ve been blessed to know many good and faithful bishops and priests in my lifetime. There were seven priests and a bishop at my wedding, all good men I’ve known for years. I have called on them in times of joy and sorrow. I love them dearly, and I know they love me, too. And in this critical moment of our church’s history, I look at each one of them with a broken heart, praying for them to be able to stand in the light themselves, remain steadfast in their vocation, knowing that they too ache with the revelations that some among their ranks have hurt the body of Christ and that others have lied to hide those horrors.
At this moment, we need our shepherds to stand with us, their flock, and not merely flock together.
For the sake of the faithful who are hurting from these revelations, we need our bishops to speak. Much needs to be done to heal the gaping wound and statements are merely band-aids—but enough band-aids can begin to slow the gushing blood.
I want to see every single bishop in the United States, whether his diocese is implicated in any sort of abuse scandals or not, make a public statement about his desire to root out corruption, stop cover-ups, prevent abuse of all types and weed out the horror of sexual sins happening at varying levels of the church. Yes, we teach this as a church already and accept this as a body of believers. Yes, the U.S.C.C.B. has made statements on behalf of all the bishops. But a personal statement is a pastoral action, and in my opinion, a necessity for each bishop in the United States, at this moment.
In this moment of crisis and doubt and confusion, the shepherd of each diocese speaking directly to his sheep could begin to heal this wound and comfort the afflicted.
Now is not the time to hide. Now is not the time to avoid further scandal. The scandal is here. The hiding already happened. Now is the time to be honest, to be seen, to be forthright and to lead us into the light.
We, the faithful, can only begin to trust again when our bishops say confidently and transparently that they will unearth whatever horrors remain secret and do everything in their power to prevent this from ever happening again. We can only begin to heal when we are confident that they can lead us far from sin and closer to Jesus because they are avoiding sin and seeking Jesus themselves. At this moment, we need our shepherds to stand with us, their flock, and not merely flock together.
This is the moment to walk confidently through the valley of the shadow of death knowing we are defended by the victory of Jesus Christ and led by shepherds who preach and teach him to us.