Dear Catholic bishops: This is not the time to play defense

Storm clouds pass over a a Catholic church in Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report Aug. 14 on a months-long investigation into abuse claims spanning a 70-year period in six dioceses, which included Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Jason Cohn, Reuters)Storm clouds pass over a a Catholic church in Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report Aug. 14 on a months-long investigation into abuse claims spanning a 70-year period in six dioceses, which included Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Jason Cohn, Reuters)

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.

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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.

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Philip Pia
2 months ago

Dear Ms. McGrady, could you please provide us with examples where a bishop has "mumbled a half-hearted apology" following the recent Pennsylvania grand jury findings?

Christopher Lochner
2 months ago

I cannot give evidence in this case but it may result from the hierarchy of the church refusing to acknowledge the depth of the problem. Recall when Pope Francis himself referred to the accusations against a Chilean bishop as calumny... and we all know how that turned out.

Monica DeAngelis
2 months ago

Dear Katie: Thank you for your heartfelt letter, which I am referring to our Committee Very Much Against Bad Stuff, because as you know, I'm that kind of guy. If you have any other requests, please do not hesitate to write.
Sincerely yours in Court,
Bishop (fill in the blank)
cc: Mel's Insurance Company
Cheatum & Howe, Attorneys at Law

arthur mccaffrey
2 months ago

dont' forget the silent partner="Dewey (Cheatum and Howe)" !

Dan Riley
2 months ago

Katie,

The corporations I have worked for had very responsible and secure ways to report abuse. We also responded very quickly to bad behavior because we understood that our reputation was our most important asset. I worked with many highly secular CEOs and other executives whose personal ethics went far beyond that of many members of the hierarchy.

arthur mccaffrey
2 months ago

a great argument for having secular, lay CEOs run a Church of the People (the latter will have the authority to hire and fire their CEOs 'for cause'. )

Mary Casey
2 months ago

One day I hope to go to mass and at The Prayer of the Faithful the victims of this tragedy would be the topic of prayer.

Judith Miller
2 months ago

Katie, you wrote that the RC Church should not behave like business nor a corporation. Those are, I think, misleading analogies. The Church is in fact an absolute monarchy...one of seven in the world. The other 6 are Islamic...either Gulf states (UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc.., or Brunei or Swaziland. And the behaviors are to me very much typical of an absolute monarchy.

Lisa Weber
2 months ago

I hope that the church gives some serious thought to the process of selecting bishops. The problems at that level could be alleviated by a better selection process. It is absolutely astounding that someone like McCarrick could be promoted after settlements had been paid to victims of his previous sexual abuse.

Dina Janis
2 months ago

This is a moment when a real discussion of allowing women a greater presence in real leadership roles- and a real voice- is upon us. If more women were given equity in the institutional decisions and protocols of the church- I dare say- we would see real change. Let women lead. Let women have more full representation in the various bodies that govern. Women deacons would be a truly uplifting presence- because frankly... they are not abusers generally. As is true in the non-religious world- and in this #MeToo moment- the solution is that women need to be given equitable representation in the RUNNING of this institution- which has now become as corrupt as possible and may have no real way of redeeming itself without radical change.

Jeanne Bergeron
2 months ago

I disagree. If Jesus had wanted women priest he would have chosen his mother. As a woman I have no desire to be a priest, deacon, extra-ordinary minister of communion. I have no desire to be in a leadership role. The way I see it is women are being "pushed" into these roles put of sorrow for past hurts and we are forgetting the men and there role. When you go to church do you see a lot of men. The answer is no because women have taken over the
roles of the men. We don't have to be "doing something" to participate in mass. We just need to be present.

Marion Sforza
2 months ago

I keep hearing what the hierarchy can do better to avoid cover-ups in the future and what steps can be taken to bring about change in the handling of these abuse cases. What I have not heard is how to avoid them in the first place. I think much of the institutional structure must change and that will be difficult to bring about because it would have to be brought about by the very people who have thrived in the structure and the system. Women MUST be brought into the picture in a very meaningful way. Not as "consultants." Not as one or two members on a 10 person committee. They should teach important subjects in the seminaries. They should head powerful departments in the Chancery. They should be ordained deacons. Nothing will change until the culture changes. And the culture will not change unless and until women are taken seriously. The good old boys club must end.

William Atkinson
2 months ago

"No Child Left Alone" as harsh and drastic as it sounds it just has to be the norm. Then leadership must change the norm of clerical life to emphasise God's 1st command to Mankind, "Be Fruitful and Multiply" with heavy emphasis on married clerical lifestyle and just why Jesus, chose a married man with children to lead His Church. Rhetoric and prayers are great, but it's time for ACTION. 1st for victims, damaged in body and soul. 2nd:. For saftey and protection of children of all ages. 3rd:. Alter norms for clerical state, live in community with their shepherds (Bishop), utilize resources like KC for support, fellowship and commanionship. Readmit priest that have left to marry back into full clerical state. Jesus was an Acting Person. Act.

rose-ellen caminer
2 months ago

Get off your high horse , laity. The sexual abuse and cover up scandal that pervaded the Catholic Church did not occur in a vacuum. The secular world from which these people came from was one where up until maybe three decades ago, homosexuals were persecuted. By we the laity; we as police officers, as shrinks , as parents telling our kids that gayness is a perversion , we calling gays faggots.We "the faithful ,we the people of God, we the good Christian lay folk" created the conditions in the world for gays in denial, in shame, in alienation to seek refuge from us , and run to the church ,for what better safe refuge for persecuted gays then the all male clergy? The gays who entered the church during this anti gay persecution time were, one could say, refugees from oppression, from persecution. by we the laity, The scandal of pervasive sexual abuse and coverup is therefore
BLOWBACK and FALLOUT of our own lay culture of oppression towards gays. And regarding pedophilia , the belief at the time was that it could be cured as any illness could [ like what was said about homosexuality].
Many gays joined the clergy to escape the worlds condemnation of them, in denial or in shame or in desperation, Some thought they could sublimate their shameful sexuality, or some thought that it would be a safe refuge to find other like minded people they could be sexual with. The bishops if they were not one of them too, out of love for their priests protected them from the worlds persecution. They had the Christian compassion that the world didn't for gays.
Regarding pedophilia , many at the time including the pedophiles themselves, believed that no great harm was being done , or that they could stop themselves next time, or that they could be cured with some psychological help. These beliefs were part of SECULAR beliefs as well. So you all with your holier then though indignation that these iniquities existed for so long in the institutional church remember that it was fall out from our own persecution of gays , as well as genuine ignorance regarding pedophilia and of the harm that is sexual abuse of children.[ The good lay folk believed beating children was acceptable, remember]? We the laity , the secular world, created the conditions for this clergy scandal to occur. Now that we all know better, now that we all accept and celebrate gayness, gays need no longer run to the church to be safe from the world, Now that we all know better, pedophilic incidences will not be treated as mere lapses or as curable mental obsessions but recognized for the intrinsic disorder that it is. So the whole conditions that created a corrupt church , conditions that we the laity in the world are responsible for ourselves, no longer apply. The church will not be attracting gay refugees of the persecuting world , or pedophiles that get a pass .

We the lay people should not be throwing stones at the bishops for we were part of the problem ,we society at large sinned against gay people creating refugees who found home in the Catholic institution.

Kathleen Macpherson
2 months ago

Many religious orders allow clerics who have been adjudged guilty of sexual assault and crimes against children to remain in the religious order for the rest of their lives with free room and board. These disgraced clerics should be tosed out on the street.

Chris Thomas
2 months ago

It has not just been a weird week to be a faithful Catholic...it has been a weird year. You might also note the funeral for Bernard Law at St. Peter's Basilica with Pope Francis offering the final prayers, or the pope's description as calumny the victim's outcry of their Chilean abuser, Karadima (whom I believe is still a priest) and his dear friend, Bishop Barros (whom I believe is still a priest), as well as the resignation of every Chilean bishop. I very much support and appreciate Pope Francis but these world wide revelations across nations and cultures at the highest levels of the hierarchy are breath taking.
While visiting the Vatican City and awaiting our Scavi tour last October, a dear friend made a point of smiling and greeting over a dozen priests who walked past her on their way to work through the private security gates into Vatican City. Not a single one acknowledged her as a person in absolutely any way - a simple nod, eye contact or smile would have sufficed. They actually made a point of turning their backs on this well dressed woman who had traveled thousands of miles. For me, it was the beginning of a weird year.

Will Niermeyer
2 months ago

In order for the Church to be credible Wuerl and O'Malley must forst resign for their part in allowing priests and seminarians to continue this sad behavior. Also an outside agency must investigate every Bishop. Cardinal in the world to find out how many of them have also not come forward with what they know about their priests who are .have abused children or adults.

Bill McIntosh
2 months ago

Hey can we acknowledge the humongous homosexual elephant in the chancery, sacristy, in the admissions office of the seminary and that this enemy, inside the gates and is queer, proud and on the prowl and networking to get homosexual hook ups? Is this uncharitable if we the laity have to continue to put up with this obvious problem? We put hard earned money in the collection basket and gay clergy get the diocese in hot water and OUR parishes are converted to prime real estate to cover LAWSUIT PAYOUTS. Most victims are adolescent boys involved with homosexual priests who NEVER should have been ordained in the first place and we faithful mourn for their innocent victims and the good seminary candidates rejected from admission or chased out for being "rigid" or "homophobic"! The gays running the show want sex future/current sex partners in the seminary!

John Mack
2 months ago

Until the pope removes dozens and dozens of US bishop his statement on child sex abuse is more meaningless PR. The bishop of Syracuse, for instance, has said the children are at fault because the Catholic church puts the age of reason at 7, and therefore the children knew what they were agreeing to.

John Mack
2 months ago

Why not? They always get away with it. The pope does nothing except talk. The state does no prosecute them and imprison them. Peoplestill go to church. Playing defense has no bad consequences for the bishops.

John Mack
2 months ago

Corporations are run a lot better than the Catholic church wen it comes to sexual offenses.

Thomas Severin
2 months ago

Dear Katie.
I am tired of hearing Bishops speak to us or at us about the pedophile scandal, no matter how eloquent or heartfelt their comments.
It is time for bishops and our clergy to begin entering into an ongoing dialogue with the faithful on every level of the Church regarding this crisis.
Bishops, pastors and resident priests need to her the anger, the pain, the sadness and conflicted feelings of the laity and respond "person to person" to their suffering.
It has to stop being about what the bishops or lower clergy are going to do about this crisis. It must be what "we together" are going to do about it. Otherwise, we will just end up with more of the same from the past.

JOHN GRONDELSKI
1 month 4 weeks ago

Let EVERY bishop come out NOW and admit who has been hid under the carpet in his diocese. Yes, in this instance, I am very much in favor of coming OUT....

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