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Sam Sawyer, S.J. June 10, 2019
Bishops listen to a speaker Nov. 14, 2018 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Bishops listen to a speaker Nov. 14, 2018 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. At last year's meeting, reforms regarding the investigation of bishops were discussed but not voted on at the request of the Vatican. When the bishops gather in Baltimore June 11-14 they will have major decisions to make that may determine how quickly they are able to rebuild trust with their fellow Catholics following a series of recent exposes, allegations and scandals regarding bishops themselves. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

When will the church be able to move decisively toward healing? When will the scandals stop being merely revealed and start being resolved? Last November, the bishops of the United States were surprised when the Vatican told them not to vote on their proposed reforms for holding bishops accountable for failures in responding to the sexual abuse crisis. At the time, I described the way that announcement was handled by all as a pastoral failure in communication. As the bishops prepare to take up the sexual abuse crisis again in their national meeting on Tuesday, the failure has, I am afraid to say, grown worse.

Last week, a devastating Washington Post story revealed that the disgraced former bishop of West Virginia, Michael Bransfield, who resigned last year under allegations of sexual harassment, had a pattern of using diocesan funds to make four- and five-figure personal cash gifts to other powerful U.S. bishops. Even worse, one of the bishops to whom he had given money was Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who, as his metropolitan archbishop, later oversaw the investigation of Bishop Bransfield after his resignation. Either the investigation should have been handed off to a different bishop, or at least such a potential conflict should have been disclosed as soon as it became known that Bishop Bransfield had used diocesan funds for the gift.

As the bishops prepare to take up the sexual abuse crisis again in their national meeting on Tuesday, the pastoral failure in communication has, I am afraid to say, grown worse.

But the conflict of interest is not the lowest point of this latest episode in the church’s recent year of crisis. The true low—for now—is another stunning failure of public communication that has damaged trust in our pastors. Archbishop Lori redacted the names of 11 prelates, including his own name, from his March report to the Vatican about the investigation into Bishop Bransfield. The other redacted names included Cardinals Raymond Burke, Timothy Dolan, Kevin Farrell, Bernard Law, Donald Wuerl—and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò (from his time as papal nuncio to the United States, prior to his attacks on Pope Francis).

Since learning of the Post’s reporting, Archbishop Lori has apologized for hiding the names, saying in a video posted to YouTube that “If I had to do it over again, especially at a time when we are trying to create greater transparency and accountability, the report would have included the names of those bishops who received gifts, including my own.” He has also returned the gifts from Bishop Bransfield to the diocese in West Virginia and asked that they be given to Catholic Charities instead. Such an apology and resolution to do better is certainly necessary, but it is not enough to heal the breach of trust that has been opened.

What the church needs—what the faithful are crying for—is to see that its bishops are courageous enough to face the anger of the people in the pews directly.

What the church needs—what the faithful are crying for—is to see that its bishops are courageous enough to face the anger of the people in the pews directly, and repentant enough to confess their sins to the church before an investigative reporter reveals them to the world. When they meet this week, the bishops need to ask each other what other kinds of ecclesial business-as-usual may, when the people of God learn of them, require such apologies in the future. And they need to find and express contrition for them now, without hiding behind lawyerly words and press statements parsed to minimize liability.

Better policies, while sorely needed, are insufficient to restore trust. For that, we need our bishops to be better pastors. The reason we ordain priests and consecrate bishops is that some missions—such as imploring God’s grace for God’s people through the sacraments—are so profound as to demand the gift of an entire life devoted to them. When we learn that such a gift has been partially withheld, indentured to the false gods of status, wealth, comfort and influence, to the worst forms of clericalism, the betrayal is profound. The only adequate response to such a wound is thorough conversion, for our bishops and priests to seek to understand how their actions and inactions have harmed their people and to respond by changing their lives and ministries profoundly and publicly.

This past Saturday in New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark ordained five of my Jesuit brothers to the priesthood. At the conclusion of the Mass, before the final blessing, he spoke of how the image of first responders running into the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 while others were running out has become an icon for people in the New York area, and suggested that these newly ordained priests were doing something similar in the face of the wounds inflicted on the church by the crimes and hypocrisy of other priests and bishops. We need our bishops to be filled with similar courage.

When they act with such courage, they will be following, not leading, the people of God. As a priest, I have learned during these months of crisis that preaching honestly about the ways the church has failed, about the ways we priests have failed, is a response to the faith of the people I serve, not a challenge to it. It celebrates their courage, not mine. Over and over again people tell me that they are keeping faith and remaining in the church because no priest or bishop, no matter how badly he fails, can stand between them and God.

May we be worthy of the courage of the faithful people we serve. And may God help our bishops be shepherds who respond to the courage of their flocks, who “smell like the sheep” and will face the wolves along with them.

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Donna Zuroweste
3 years 5 months ago

They should all resign for a full semester. The chancellors can run the dioceses for 6 months.

Each should be mandated to take an foundational graduate course in Ethics, a graduate course in Psychology, a graduate course in Counselling, and one unit of CPE (clinical pastoral education). All of these classes should be taken in plain clothes, no collar, no title, in dioceses outside their own, with aliases, so they can learn transparency, accountability, mutuality and boundaries, in the guise of the humble, foot washing, servant leaders they are supposed to be.

Each professor should be required to submit a one page report, rather than a grade, stating if or how the "student" has integrated the course knowledge. These reports should be sent directly to Pope Francis for one on one, face to face interviews with each prospective bishop.

If trust is to be rebuilt, this must be done. As with Lori, the faithful continue to see time and time again that they DO NOT GET IT (Lori is a high school level ethics failure). Time for mandated remedial education.

Alan Johnstone
3 years 5 months ago

Donna, it is not education they lack but virtue.
Prayer, fasting and penitence while they are in plain clothes is a thought however.

Donna Zuroweste
3 years 5 months ago

Alan, i respectfully disagree. Many of them only have MA degrees in theology. That means they had no psychology, ethics, or counseling classes. They did not even know what theological reflection was; the USCCB had to bring in a consultant to teach them how to do it!

They already had a week of "reflection" in Mundelein. Time and again they prove they do not understand the basics of any MDiv. degree. In the secular world, they would have been fired years ago. Enough.

Nora Bolcon
3 years 5 months ago

Amen. You can't teach those who do not want to learn. Shame on us for letting these crooks get away with this.

Donna Zuroweste
3 years 5 months ago

Alan, i respectfully disagree. Many of them only have MA degrees in theology. That means they had no psychology, ethics, or counseling classes. They did not even know what theological reflection was; the USCCB had to bring in a consultant to teach them how to do it!

They already had a week of "reflection" in Mundelein. Time and again they prove they do not understand the basics of any MDiv. degree. In the secular world, they would have been fired years ago. Enough.

Nora Bolcon
3 years 5 months ago

Oh please! - and I can't believe I am actually using a Trumpism in this response (but then stupid is as stupid does) but the only answer here is Your Fired! Bye Bye!

Then these conservative, thieving misogynistic creeps should be replaced by qualified women.

I am sure that the good Catholic lay people would be thrilled to know that their hard earned cash they gave to charity was spent on six figure gifts to other bishops (what the hell kind of gift would that even be? Do we have bishops driving around in Ferraris?) How could those gift getting bishops not know that the gifts could only have come from diocesan funds? If you believe that one, I have some great waterfront property to sell in Florida if you interested.

Any normal business and these guys would be gone, replaced, and sued by the business where they worked and made to pay back every red cent out of their own personal funds or go to jail for fraud and embezzlement of company funds.

When are the good laity going to wake up and demand justice for women and real transparency and accountability from our church leaders?

Richard Schubert
3 years 5 months ago

These are Very interesting ideas. Add to that virtue like mentioned. I suspect too much prestige is involved and too much personal ambition and a lack of dying to self. The diocese should elect their bishop and fire up them as well.

Richard Schubert
3 years 5 months ago

These are Very interesting ideas. Add to that virtue like mentioned. I suspect too much prestige is involved and too much personal ambition and a lack of dying to self. The diocese should elect their bishop and fire up them as well.

Alan Johnstone
3 years 5 months ago

How can we permit these men to remain in office?
Find out who the bad eggs are and then put them in ordinary houses, group homes without servants or handmaids, pay them a basic wage and give them the choice of resignation or between 1 and 3 years of penitential retreat.

What will the faithful lose by the absence of ministry from these carnal and corrupt men. Worldwide, they are the Judas of today and that is to say, the minority.
I know several bishops in Australia, none of them would deserve this penance but the people who have corrupt bishops know well who they are.

Richard Schubert
3 years 5 months ago

My observation of priests disregarding the abuse is a lack of courage and too often they make a loud noise to cover it up

Pat Seiler
3 years 5 months ago

During an Oct 15, 2018 interview with the National Catholic Reporter reporters, Cardinal Cupich said that a new national investigative body is needed to rebuild trust between laypeople and bishops and to make sure that there's not even the appearance of favoritism when a bishop is accused of sexual abuse or mishandling a sexual abuse case. I was shocked when, during the "not so fast" USCCB conference, Cardinal Cupich presented a proposal that the metropolitan bishops handle sexual abuse cases against one of their subordinate bishops. After the first failure of metropolitan proposal, I and other vigilant and skeptical faithful will be justified to repeat the words in a Pete Seeger song "when will they ever learn?".
Bill Seiler

Will Nier
3 years 5 months ago

Maybe the time for the secular priesthood is over and all priests be members of religious orders whereby taking vows for poverty, etc.

Peter Schwimer
3 years 5 months ago

Truth is that the ordained of the Church simply do not get the reasons for the anger on the pews. Catholics are not interested in phoney apologies. And that's what we get: phoney apologies.
As I see it the issues are the idiotic secrecy with which the Church is run. Pastors who refuse to give reasonable financial accounting, business plans that run 5 years out, and answer honestly when asked instead of couching everything in politically correct thoroughly spun mumbo jumbo. Bishops who would not know the truth if it hit them over the head but continue to spin and cover. Bishops love the word transparent but they know not what the word means so they continue to spin in the hopes that lay people will be so confused they will stop asking. That's what the pews are angry about. Few of the bishops would make it in the real world. So they live in the fantasy world called the Church.

Rudolph Koser
3 years 5 months ago

There is a crying need for outside and independent supervision of the clergy leadership from the Bishops on down. This self reflection and self regulation has failed time and time again. And we see this in other institutions as well. Maybe some lay "supervision" of the human end of the leadership as well inclusion of women in this role might help clean things up. Being responsible only to God doesn't seem to scare these people straight. Also local lay input into the selection of bishops might help. These men are picked by men who pick people in their own image who often kiss up to get these jobs but really lack the courage and morality to lead. Repeating the same actions and expecting a different result is insanity.

david_roccosalva@yahoo.com
3 years 5 months ago

"Archbishop Lori redacted the names of 11 prelates, including his own name, from his March report to the Vatican about the investigation into Bishop Bransfield. The other redacted names included Cardinals Raymond Burke, Timothy Dolan, Kevin Farrell, Bernard Law, Donald Wuerl—and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò."

Now there is a list of pompous untrustworthy individuals.

ed lucie
3 years 5 months ago

The bishops and clergy cannot police themselves (obviously). They are an outdated malignancy on the church. This should be a conference of laity (ie; the church) on how to be rid of the malignancy.

Molly Roach
3 years 5 months ago

Public penance: live in a parish rectory and be an associate pastor for a year. Don't be introduced as Bishop or Archbishop anything, but simply as "Father....." Do this in a diocese different from the one that you nominally lead. They have to get over themselves. They clearly believe themselves to be entitled to the good life and regard the people of the church as idiots. I look forward to testifying against the lot of them at the Last Judgement.

Craig B. Mckee
3 years 5 months ago

That toll-free number is:
1-800-YOUCAUGHTUSAGAIN
PRESS 1 if you're calling to report a predatory priest
PRESS 2 if you're calling to report a predatory bishop
PRESS 3 if you're calling to report a predatory archbishop or cardinal
PRESS 4 if you're calling to report a financial crime involving a priest
PRESS 5 if you're calling to report a financial crime involving a bishop
PRESS 6 if you're calling to report a financial crime involving an archbishop or cardinal
Operators (from a nearby cloistered monastery) are standing by to take your calls.

Timothy Hogan
3 years 5 months ago

Still missing the point, gentlemen.

https://dangerousintersection.org/2010/09/16/roman-catholics-must-reconcile-with-victims-of-abuse/

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