U.S. bishops must address the crisis of pastoral courage

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.

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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.

Donna Zuroweste
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day ago

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

Oz Jewel
1 week 1 day ago

Donna, you seem to believe that virtuous behaviour depends on knowledge and education, that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That is calling Catholicism the faith according to Aquinas and Augustine and the like and you can be forgiven for thinking that it is, but it is most definitively not.
These men are up to their eyeballs with learning, more of the same is pointless.

Donna Zuroweste
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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

Jeffrey More
1 week 1 day ago

This is the only intelligent article I have ever read in this magazine.

Pat Seiler
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day ago

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

Oz Jewel
1 week 1 day ago

All the victims of clerical sexual abuse that I have treated were violated by men who belonged to religious orders.
Augustinian, Hospitallers of St John of God, Passionist and Scalabrian and Christian Brothers,

Peter Schwimer
1 week 1 day 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.

J Jones
1 week 1 day ago

This piece is the first step toward a courageous statement I have read by a cleric on this issue. The first fully courageous step will be when clerics at every level start publicly blowing the whistle - publicly naming names - making direct calls

1) to the police and their district attorneys about sexual abusers and sexual assaulters;
2) to the police, their district attorneys, their state Attorneys General and the IRS about the embezzlers, tax cheats and bribers; and
3) to the newspapers about the harassers, the bribers, the bribe-able and the homophobic sexually active clerics (straight or gay) who are making life miserable for celibate gay priests; and
4) committing in your homilies and articles and classes and speeches to get the forests out of your collective eyes before YOU come to Christ's table, before YOU approach the Eucharist rather than haranguing and condemning and turning us against each other in the lines for communion and at funeral masses because of the splinters in our eyes, the splinters of love in a remarriage, the splinters of love for someone of our own gender
for coming. How about committing to police yourselves rather than turning us into police patrolling other Catholics?

----- rather than waiting to see if those fellows will do it themselves.

They won't.

You are ALL culpable because you are representing and doing the bidding of what you know is a corrupt hierarchy, a hierarchy we ALL know wittingly tolerates among its members criminals --- the embezzler, the sexually violent, the harasser, the liar, the tax cheat, the briber, the bribed.

The only other truly courageous statements I have read from priests of late have been the celibate gay priests who have publicly identified themselves; the priest who blew wide open the secrets of the criminal McCarrick; Roy Bourgeois who the Maryknolls and the Vatican threw out just like the Jesuits and the Vatican threw out John J. McNeill.

Jim Martin, I used to include you until you threw a tantrum in these pages and accused James Carroll of criticism akin to anti-semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry. Get over yourselves. I would love to see you come to your senses and retract that as a wild overreaction to what I am sure is distress and fatigue.

Distress and fatigue that so many good men have hitched themselves to so many criminals and dismay that so many of you put your heads down rather than take action and take action and take action and take action and take action and take action until you exposed the criminals in your midst to the civil authorities, even if you ended up on the Cross like that guy I think they call Jesus. You guys might want to look him up sometime.

Matt Malone and the other America editors, I would appreciate if you would spend time meditating on how your collective ability to look the other way while embezzlers and sexual abusers abound in the RCC and among RC clerics may have impacted the way you think about and talk about and write about the women whose lives you so routinely reduce to a "pro-life" talking point. Does the ability to pretend that children and adults are not being abused by and stolen from and lied to by your fellows and leaders make it easier to forget you are talking about LIVING, BREATHING, WALKING, TALKING, PRAYING HUMAN BEINGS when you contribute to the ugliness about women who have had abortions and about celibate gay priests; to the violence against the LGBTQ community, to the ostracism of gay teenagers on the verge of suicide, to the cruelty of parents on the verge of disowning those gay teens, on and on and on. Have you considered how your own tolerance for corruption by the RCC and RC clerics may have caused you to imagine corruption in all of the above, when in fact there are only human beings doing the best they can while you all choose your own jobs at the expense of others' lives?

Sam Sawyer, I would love if it you continue to focus on THIS and leave pregnant women alone.

Oz Jewel
1 week 1 day ago

are you trying to say that women are not sexual abusers?

J Jones
1 week 1 day ago

Are you trying to say that my dog rode a ferris wheel in Madagascar yesterday?

Rudolph Koser
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 1 day 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
1 week 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.

J Jones
1 week ago

I don't want these criminals to be MY parish priests. They need to be removed from all public ministry, if not the clerical state. I wonder what priests think about the idea that you punish criminal bishops by making them priests?

Mister Mckee
6 days 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.

J Jones
5 days 12 hours ago

Ron, if there was a genuine recognition of and commitment to the necessity of an immediate and appropriately handled report to law enforcement, the hotline contract would include the following contract requirements:

1) staff on that RCC-contracted hotline would be qualified, trained and obligated to refer DIRECTLY to the police any reported allegation of child abuse, sexual assault, physical abuse or financial crimes by the RCC and then provide that referral report # and contact information to the person making that report;

2) the law enforcement agency in receipt of that report - but not the RCC-contracted hotline - would be responsible for communicating with the RCC about that allegation so that the identity and the safety of reporters and alleged victims would be appropriately managed and protected and so that the RCC would have no opportunity to destroy or altar records or alert reported suspects or superiors;

3) the hotline would report to the RCC at the end of each quarter, say, only that it had referred _ number of allegations of criminal conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The RCC-contracted hotline would be prohibited from disclosing directly to the RCC any information about criminal complaints.

This would be an easily created and managed process. Every state in the country has a child abuse and neglect hotline and there are best practices that are separate from the well-known difficulties and failures of agencies to deploy effective solutions to the reports received. The hotlines themselves - best practices in structure, process, staffing, training, documentation - are available and I cannot imagine any expert in the field not JUMPING at the opportunity to design an effective reporting hotline for the RCC, one of the most notorious repeat institutional offenders against children and others, thereby protecting persons against the crimes and cover-ups these men are known to have committed again and again. You don't give raw reports of allegations of crimes to persons who work directly in any capacity with the person accused. And you sure as heck don't do it in institutions that have been proven to be corrupt over and over and over again in an endless number of ways.

Timothy Hogan
4 days 17 hours ago

Still missing the point, gentlemen.

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

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.]

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