Things are unfolding quickly in the Catholic church, what with the new allegations against Pope Francis. Writing a weekly column means playing catch-up; this was written after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
In light of the scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S., what can one say? Words like sorrow and sadness for the over 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by about 300 priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania seem wholly inadequate.
What about those who, for decades, covered it up? That’s much easier: Words like anger and rage come quickly to mind.
That’s the sentiment one easily finds when reading reports in both the church press and mainstream media.
“It's impossible to step into the sickening whirlpool of that Pennsylvania grand jury report . . . without feeling angry,” wrotelong-time U.S. religion reporter Terry Mattingly.
Some of the details in the report are so vile and lurid they would have been rejected from the writer’s room of says Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer at National Review.
“Awful, disgusting, horrifying, sickening—one runs out of adjectives in describing the actions of abusive priests chronicled in the just-released Pennsylvania grand jury report,” addedJesuit priest Thomas Reese for Religion News Service (RNS).
Just as disconcerting, he added, “is the failure of many bishops in the early days of the crisis to respond appropriately to the abuse. The best you can say about them is that they should have known better.”
Why didn’t they know better? The most obvious reason was the wish to avoid scandal, to keep up the pretense that the church was better and more holy than it really was, or is.
This is something all faith groups have done, to their detriment. The scale of the problem might not be as bad as what is happening to the Catholics, but every group has experience with covering up problems—including, sadly, sexual abuse.
But this particular moment belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. They are the ones on the hot seat today. They have much to answer for, and many people to answer to.
One of those groups are their own priests, many of whom are feeling the impact of this scandal.
There are over 400,000 priests in the world today. The vast majority do their jobs quietly, decently and with dedication to their faith and their parishoners.
Only a tiny fraction have committed crimes against children, like have been revealed over the past number of years.
Today, as I think about those crimes, in Pennsylvania and other places, I wonder how those many other priests are doing, and how they are handling being unfairly vilified for the actions of a few.
Imagine how betrayed and angry they must feel not only at the perpetrators who have tarnished their profession, but also at those in the hierarchy who covered it up.
As Fr. Phillip W. DeVous of Kentucky put it on Twitter: “I read the papers or catch the evening news and I see cardinals and bishops that I know for a fact are lying with impunity deploying weasel words and fake emotions.”
He expressed gratitude for the media, noting that without it “the bishops would still be lying, obfuscating, and making asinine and entirely forgettable remarks about economics and immigration while ignoring corruption, abuse of power, criminal carnality, abortions procured by predator priests, systemic homosexual predation, pedophilia, sexual harassment, and rape in their own ranks.”
It must be hard for many priests to go to work each day, wearing their clerical garb in public, knowing how so many people feel about the actions of their church.
Let’s hope what happened to Fr. Goyo Hildalgo of Las Angeles doesn’t happen here.
Writing on Twitter right after it happened, he posted that he was walking in a store when “someone yelled at me, ‘pedophile priest’ . . . I am still paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do or say.”
Those of us who aren’t Catholics might be tempted to ignore the scandal—not my church, not my problem.
But just as acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam tar all Muslims around the world, this scandal puts a dark cloud over all of Christianity, and maybe also over all of religion.
Right now the ball is in the court of the Catholic Church, and especially with Pope Francis.
If that church wants to move forward, it will need to confront this darkness head-on—for the sake of those who were abused, for the sake of all those innocent clergy who are now swept up along with the scandal, and for the sake of all who consider themselves to be people of faith.
From the August 25, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.
From the August 25, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.