What Catholic leaders should give up for Lent this year
“Night is coming, when no one can work,” says Jesus to his disciples in John’s Gospel (9:1). Indeed, Lent this year comes at a time of deep darkness for the Catholic Church: Endless waves of disclosures have exposed the endemic character of the cover-up of sex abuse of minors; cardinals have either been forced to resign, been sanctioned or even been condemned to prison; a painful awareness is growing concerning the widespread sexual abuse of nuns and women religious by priests and bishops. The “work” of the institution as a whole is threatened because its credibility is in tatters. The church has been exposed as an institution incapable of dealing with its internal demons unless forced from the outside by the media and the justice system.
In this context, however, something unprecedented has happened. Unexpected actors have been allowed on the center stage. During the recent Vatican summit on the abuse crisis, both liberal and conservative commentators agreed in their praise of the astonishing speech to the bishops by none other than a journalist, Valentina Alazraki, who did not mince her words: any external observer of the church, she declared, feels “indignation and anger for the systematic concealment, for the silence, for the deception of the faithful and the suffering of victims who, for decades, had not been listened to, were not believed.” She added: “Behind the silence, the lack of healthy, transparent communication, quite often there is not only the fear of scandal, concern for the institution’s good name, but also money. Secrecy is strictly tied to the abuse of power: it is like a safety net for those who abuse power.” Concealment, secrecy, corruption, denial, abuse of power: a disheartening litany, especially because of its pervasiveness in a body that calls itself holy and is supposed to speak and act in God’s name.
With the beginning of Lent, we are all called to focus on one of the spiritual aspects of this crisis that underpins all the others: namely, the tragic failure to see.
There are serious institutional, theological and ethical dimensions to this crisis that theologians, journalists and commentators are patiently and relentlessly trying to unravel. With the beginning of Lent, however, we are all called to focus on one of the spiritual aspects of this crisis that underpins all the others: namely, the tragic failure to see. As wave after wave of revelations reach the public through investigations and legal reports, a question persists in everyone’s mind: How can all this have been hidden for so long? How can it be that nobody inside the institution has realized how morally dysfunctional the system had become? We know for a fact that there are many bishops and priests striving for integrity and holiness: How can they, too, have become complicit with the institutional denial? Pope Francis himself was forced to acknowledge that he had been in denial after the outrage caused by his comments on the Chilean situation and had to apologize publicly.
John’s Gospel offers a vivid picture of this spiritual failure in Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees after the healing of the blind man. In this passage, as in many others in the Gospels, it is not difficult to equate the Pharisees with religious leaders and clergy of all times. If Jesus spends most of his time arguing with them it is not because they are worse than his other interlocutors—the apostles often come across much worse in the Gospels where they appear as bickering, wishful, hesitant and thick. The Pharisees, however, exemplify the most dangerous temptations of clerical systems of all times, namely, entitlement, condescendence and the claim to know better than anyone else. When they ask in vexation “Are we blind?” Jesus exposes their real problem: “You claim that you can see” (Jn 9:40). They monopolize the center of the stage, presenting themselves as the experts, feeling entitled to question, intimidate and silence people. They refuse to listen and keep asking the same questions because the obvious answer threatens their value system. And when they are challenged by the brave man who has been healed by Jesus they dismiss him: “How dare you lecture us!” (9:34).
Too many of the actors in this crisis, including commentators, have kept acting like the Pharisees.
This time, however, bishops let a brave journalist do precisely that: lecture them! They did not balk, even when she accused them of the same denial that Jesus denounced in the Pharisees. “How many times have I heard that the scandal of abuse is the press’ fault,” she said, “that it is a plot by certain media outlets to discredit the church, that there are hidden powers backing it in order to put an end to this institution.”
Too many of the actors in this crisis, including commentators, have kept acting like the Pharisees: They claim that they know better and that they can see. Few accept that there is a time where we should, first of all, repent and listen, leave the center stage to the victims rather than keep dominating the discourse with our narratives and our solutions. The unexpected positive impact of the recent Vatican summit on the abuse crisis can be attributed to this conversion: For the first time the pope and the bishops have acknowledged their blindness and allowed the stories of the victims to frame the conversation and sink in. They let “a journalist, a woman and mother” tell them uncomfortable truths: “The more you cover up, the more you play ostrich, fail to inform the mass media and thus, the faithful and public opinion, the greater the scandal will be. If someone has a tumor, it is not cured by hiding it from one’s family or friends; silence will not make it heal”.
No need to search for Lenten resolutions this year. We all are the Pharisees in this situation and need to repent of our unwillingness to see because we are too afraid of what it might entail for us and for our value systems. Let us accept to leave the center stage for a while, suspend our narratives, accept the discomfort of this displacement. Only then we might finally be able to hear Jesus through all those we have silenced so far: “You have now seen me: I am the one who keeps trying to speak to you” (9:36).
“With the beginning of Lent, however, we are all called to focus on one of the spiritual aspects of this crisis that underpins all the others: namely, the tragic failure to see. As wave after wave of revelations reach the public through investigations and legal reports, a question persists in everyone’s mind: How can all this have been hidden for so long? How can it be that nobody inside the institution has realized how morally dysfunctional the system had become? We know for a fact that there are many bishops and priests striving for integrity and holiness: How can they, too, have become complicit with the institutional denial? ”
But all of that makes one wonder: if they could be so blind for so long, why should anyone give them a second chance to be blind, to enable paedophiles, to prey on people, and to do all the other evil things they have done ?
Do they think that those they have wronged are complete fools ?
“We all are the Pharisees in this situation and need to repent of our unwillingness to see because we are too afraid of what it might entail for us and for our value systems.”
That is an attempt to tar the Church at large with the blame and the guilt that belongs only to the paedophiles and their enablers among the religious and the clergy, It is an attempt to displace the responsibility from the evil-doers, to their victims. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, repentance and conversion.
Plenty of the laity want change - but change will be impossible, as long as the wolves are in charge of the flock; and they cannot be got rid of, because the Papacy holds all the power in the Church, and it is the Papacy that put the wolves in place. But the Papacy cannot be disciplined or judged, Unless the Papacy is abolished, reform will be impossible.
"You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church." No rock, no Church. What you will have is Protestantism, from which you already have 30,000+ churches and denominations to choose.
i disagree with several of your contentions.
First, you invoke blindness as shorthand for not seeing or detecting dirty deeds done in darkness deliberately concealed.
We were not blind, we were intentionally deceived.
Next, call it what it really was and is, sinful sexual activity in epidemic proportions by persons vowed to celibacy.
Take clues from the visionaries, just those approved, who were told that Satan was given permission to enter the institution for about a century.
Remember, God's ways are not our ways; there is a New Testament teaching where a wrong doer is to be confronted privately by one person, if no repentance then several together are to do so and if the offender remains stiff-necked and hard-hearted, brought before the whole community and if remaining stubborn in the sin, expelled from the community and the wording is "handed over to Satan!"
This is not metaphor or poetry but a directive from the King to people of his kingdom.
Jesus is not president of the church, but King as we know from the Absolute Monarchs of Christendom.
No, the Pope and the Curia do not have all the power - money and adulation from the people of God is still in the hands of the people of God, and a vast number are humble devout disciples of Christ whose prayers and sufferings delay much worse punishments.
The church militant has been handed over to Satan as they did not repent of the spirit of Vatican ONE which claimed dictatorial and absolute power to the papacy and stressed obedience over a properly informed conscience.
The abusers of sex and power and money since the end of WW2 were all Vatican I (One) Catholics.
Vatican 2 was a last minute crisis rescue mission by an infinitely loving and merciful God.
“You can fool all of the people some of the time. If you are clever, you can fool some of the people all of the time. But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” -Abraham Lincoln
The hierarchy and clergy who perpetrated this scandal either can’t or won’t actually do anything about it. They love their own power over their “ sheep” to do so. But what happens to their much coveted power when people stop caring about it and them? A future iteration of Catholic Christianity will be one without clergy. Their days are numbered even if all of us will not live to see it come to pass.
How pathetic! We are supposed to be gleeful because they let a woman talk to them! Really we have the lowest expectations of these bishops. What should our leaders give up? Try the active enforcement of hatred against all our women in the form of patriarchy now! Cease trying to push married male priests on us or permanent deacons until we have cured the abomination of sexism from our church hierarchy by ordaining women priests, bishops, and cardinals. Only through treating women the same way with exact same sacraments and role expectations, as men wish to be treated and allowed will the evil of both child and women abuse start to end. Demand an end to the hate now and the evil that accompanies that hatred will begin to end too.
That was not a woman talking to them, it was a well seasoned, experienced, conscientious veteran journalist of Vatican and Curial affairs.
It is all too apparent Nora that you are the sexist, seeing nothing but the sex of the person.
“What Catholic leaders should give up for Lent this year”
Those, who are ineffective leaders (for whatever reason), should give up their leadership positions and resign (for good).
LENTEN PENANCE: Force all priests, bishops, cardinals to watch Leaving Neverland about how Michael Jackson (and all predators) groomed his victims. Then make them aware that Sexual Abuse is the tip of the iceberg: 1, Priests more often commit emotional and verbal abuse--control over. 2. Priests have self as the most important people in their lives. 3. Priests have severe emotional/mental issues. In my 70 years, here is my report card on the priests in the various parishes to which I belonged: Priest 1 - lived with housekeeper. Priest 2 - Dictator. Priest 3 - Severe mental problems, especially spending money. Committed suicide. Priest 4 - Abused children and caught. Priest 5 - Had an affair with married religious teacher and left priesthood. Priest 6 - Said the Mass in less than 40 minutes to get on with whatever. Priest 7 - Authoritarian and controlling; His way or highway. Associate Priest 8- Charged with sexually abusing boys and kicked out. Priest 9 - Grew up only 5 miles from my childhood home and a real psycho (former church parishoners kicked him out without bishop's permission) who at pulpit called a religious teacher "an evil one" because she was a former nun married to a former priest (couple sued and won). Priest 10 - Lived his faith in both giving and sharing, even taking bus every day to be with the poor. Priest 11 - Hopefully a good guy. Priest 12 - Total Narcissistic Personally Disordered Self-Centered Imperialistic Power-Seeking Sop who verbally and emotionally abuses the meek and humble, had affair with married women, took a sabatical, returned because in his words, "I missed the Power". Then there were/are in our Diocese: 1. Priest sexually abused my female cousin 2. Priests who had/are having affairs in our diocese 3. Those who are active gays 4. Priests who embezzled parish money. 5. Alcoholic/substance abuse priests. This report card is HORRIBLE! So dealing with the pedophile scandal is only phase one. Every priest is responsible because he knew/knows who are the predators and who aren't and doing nothing. Enough. Let priests marry and women at least become deacons. Jesus declared the light cannot be hidden.
Well Jennifer, it sounds like you and I are in absolutely the right place, amidst sinners and disabled and outcasts and rebels and swindlers: just the crowd that swarmed around Jesus in his public ministry.
Maybe I am only speaking for myself as knowing I am one of them.
I have only been in close proximity with three of the successors of the apostles and they, all three, were very good men. The first was Cardinal Suenens when he visited our Catholic residential College at the University of Sydney where I was a Science and Medicine undergraduate, the second was an assistant priest in our parish charismatic prayer group who is currently Archbishop of Hobart, Archbishop Julian Porteous (persecuted by the press for defending traditional marriage in a pastoral letter and threatened with arrest for it) and Bishop David Walker who was the bishop of my last diocese of Broken Bay who was a prayerful and faithful shepherd of the flock, on whose Pastoral Council I served before coming to the wilderness to minister to the poor and marginalised in remote rural Australia.
I have had close encounters with numerous sexual abuse issues amongst Catholics; one monastic priest is now in gaol for sexually abusing women in the guise of psychological counselling, in Sydney two monastic parish priests having sex with parishioners and one made pregnant escaped despite my communications to the highest authorities and a Passionist Brother appointed as Youth Pastor evaded trial by feigning old age senility which I personally and professionally know to be fraudulent.
That compared to more than a dozen simple parish priests faithful to their Lord and their flocks.
I think this column is one of the best I have read in America Magazine. I take exception to only one point. The use of the pronoun "we" in the following sentence, "We all are the Pharisees in this situation and need to repent of our unwillingness to see because we are too afraid of what it might entail for us and for our value systems." Amid so many decades of secrecy in Diocesan offices, how can "we" the laity be held responsible or accountable?
What the Catholic leaders need to give up not just for Lent but forever is their power. This is the root cause of the problem. Power corrupts. We have an autocratic male hierarchy modeled on the Roman Empire. The problems exhibited are almost inevitable given that model.
The thing is that the Catholic Church knows this! In its Social Teaching, it warns against excessive power and calls for democracy. It also calls for equality for women. It proclaims much higher standards for the world at large than for the Church. This has got things backward. The male hierarchical system has to go, but of course those who hold power aren't going to give it up on their own. The faithful need to stop giving to Church institutions and instead create people's institutions with the money. Insist on real change!
Maybe the religions need to give up the lying for a change!!
In the 21st century, evidence is required for claims in business services and for the efficacy of products produced.
It is time to require religions to come up to expected standards!
In other words - actually prove their claims of their gods.....!
"The church has been exposed as an institution incapable of dealing with its internal demons unless forced from the outside by the media and the justice system." The best sentence in this article, meaning that this Church can only be healed from the outside--its blindness is chronic and irreparable. Next, the "serious institutional, theological and ethical dimensions to this crisis" cannot be solved by the blind VPs--again, the medieval model of governance needs to be replaced by a model of accountability driven by the laity. The Pharisees were too blind and selfish to see, so I am not convinced that more prayer is the solution. And "WE" are not the ones who need to see--we can see only too well! It s the Pharisee Bishops and Cardinals and Pope who are blind, and no amount of Lenten exhortation is going to change that. What Catholic leaders should give up for Lent this year is their jobs!
There is so much vituperation within these comments, I feel our clergy need some defense. Apparently, some commenters have mostly known abusive priests. While the abuse problem turns out to be worse than I imagined, I can say no priest or brother or lay teacher has ever attempted a sexual encounter with me or any friend with whom I am still in contact - this includes all parishes, Catholic all boys high school, Catholic college, Catholic summer camps and one year in seminary. These priests and brothers have been role models and mentors to me.
I assume the principal audience of America Magazine is America. I believe since 2002 US bishops have come a long way preventing abuse by clergy and employees, and cooperating with legal authorities. The issue now is ensuring bishops are held legally accountable, and determining who should keep his see, which ultimately, is in the hands of the Pope. Almost all accusations of abuse and coverup are pre-2002.
As for being pompous, authoritarian, etc., that may be in the eyes of the beholder. I have seen many people get angry with priests for preaching the Church’s teaching, especially people who want abortion, contraception and homosexuality normalized. As Chesterton says, we don’t need a Church that agrees with us when we are right, we need a Church that disagrees with us when we are wrong.
Which gets to my last point. Most laity do not attend weekly mass and contribute little or nothing to their parishes. Many of them, however, are very loud and accusatory of our clergy; so, when Brother Gioia says “we are pharisees”, we is the right pronoun. Instead of feeling self-righteous, we should be helping bishops complete the transform and certainly, give our opinions on how to ensure bishops are held accountable in the future. For the most part, the laity should be supporting American bishops, not fanning the flames. The American Church is much better today in fact, than it is in our minds, but the less we support the Church, the worse it will become.
Out of the ashes will raise a new church based in truth, faith and compassion. It is starting and this is a good time to be Catholic. Amen.
Never lose hope. "The Wheels of Justice turn slowly but exceedingly fine."
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Everyone *wasn't* blind to what was going on. People like Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, spoke up about the problem in the 80s and 90s ... "Doyle was once a rising star among the church hierarchy, serving as the canon lawyer for the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. But he lost his job soon after submitting a 1985 report detailing the severity of the problem of pedophile priests ..." Priest blew whistle in ‘80s on abuse. The church has always known what's going on but it's only now, when civil authorities are finally holding them accountable, that they are pretending to care. They still do nothing to fix the problem.