Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick visits Central African Republic in 2014 (Whitney Wilding/via CNA)
Could it be that the Church does not yet have a plan to deal with the sex abuse scandal and the crises of confidence because self-preserving, narcissist personalities stand in the way? Humble servant leaders dedicated to shepherding are not adept at handling that.
Priests and bishops creating personal fiefdoms put themselves above others; even God. Their goal is self-enhancement and they establish a network of like-minded friends in high places. Hard-working, and hard-praying clergy are not working to form powerful networks. Their own honesty also leads them to take others at their word which is a disadvantage when dealing with the duplicitous. For instance, most never imagined the hypocrisy of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s speech (at the 1:20 mark) at the Dallas Charter in 2002 when he expressed a desire to clean up the Church all while sullying it with behind-the-scenes decadence.
Stakes are High
The narcissists have brought suffering to the entire Church. In the U.S., there is divisiveness, confusion and money getting withheld. There are plans for more state attorney general investigations and threats of RICO, and many Catholics who remained loyal through previous scandals are now leaving.
A potentially globally disastrous consequence also looms due to the last-minute intervention at the opening of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) fall meeting. The bishops intended to vote on two measures responding to the sex abuse crisis, but the Vatican instructed them to stand down and await a meeting of global episcopal conference leadership with Pope Francis in February.
That move may have undermined a previous defense used by the Vatican to avoid responsibility for damages when victims of clergy abuse sue. The 2010 suit O’Bryan vs. the Holy See attempted to depose Pope Benedict XVI in the U.S. district court in Kentucky. A Vatican lawyer argued successfully that the Vatican is not responsible for the U.S. bishops’ policy on protecting children, and nor is it responsible for day-to-day operational policy.
So now, what will be the Vatican’s defense on a new class action suit filed Nov. 13 against the Holy See and USCCB? Six men claim they were sexually abused by clergy as children and are asking financial damages as well as public contrition and reparation from the Church. The suit claims that the Vatican and the bishops covered up for the “endemic, systemic, rampant, and pervasive rape and sexual abuse” of the plaintiffs and others.
Our bishops’ failure of leadership and the Pope’s demand of control over their attempt to handle the crises has set them up for this lawsuit. One of two attorneys on the case told the Beaumont Enterprise that the “time was right” to file this lawsuit since something needs to be done about this problem.
Also, a federal lawsuit demanding the Church name predator priests was filed from Minnesota on Nov. 13. Attorneys say in 120 of 197 dioceses, lists are incomplete or nonexistent, allowing the truth to remain hidden. The lawsuit wants the Church to name accused priests, give details, and reveal church leaders who may have covered up the crimes.
Example of Incorrigible Behavior
The guilty and complicit are not repentant so no one should hold their breath waiting for it. Consider the report on Buffalo, New York, Bishop Richard Malone who spent $200,000 upgrading his new sprawling home and keeping it mostly to himself. He had to have hardwood floors and spent $46,000 bill for an addition to the garage and a parking spot for staff despite a large, publicly accessible parking lot adjacent to the complex. Emails show that he has also ruled out any other events or groups in the building—even Mass in the chapel— in the converted convent that once housed 35 nuns.
This was after having to sell the previous bishop’s mansion to help pay settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse. If Bishop Malone’s name sounds familiar, it might be that you saw the 60 Minutes episode with testimony from a former clergyman and a former executive assistant providing extensive documents proving that he knew of abusive priests yet failed to remove them from service.
Some bishops are not waiting for others to make the right moves. A statement by all five bishops in Missouri and cover letter to Timothy L. Doherty, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People expressed skepticism that the USCCB and Pope Francis will be able to restore trust. “A culture of silence and cover-up by the hierarchy has brought the Church to this moment of crisis,” they wrote. It was sent to Doherty Oct. 6 and made public Nov. 12 after the USCCB complied with the Vatican’s request.
One bishop accomplished more by staying outside the USSB November meeting. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, remained outside and prayed “because some of my flock asked me to.” On the inside, the bishops accomplished nothing to instill confidence in them. They even voted down the resolution encouraging the Holy See to release the McCarrick files by 83-137, with three abstaining. Objections were that the resolution was redundant and ambiguous.
Many priests, including Msgr. Charles Pope, have been beating the drum for reform. People from every sector of the Church are dismayed, according to him and they are on the firing line of questions like: “What’s wrong with your Church?” In his article, A Cry of the Heart to Our Bishops: Please Restore Order to the Church!, he stated: “Our collective cowardice must be transformed into a clear, loving witness that is willing to endure the scorn of the world to reassert the truth of the Gospel.”
In that spirit, every bishop should read Janet Smith’s article: To the US Bishops: A (Friendly) Call to Repentance and Reform proposing how to address the sexual abuse crisis. “The problem is so wide and deep, and the diocesan culture so ill equipped to handle the problem, that reform requires unprecedented and radical measures,” Smith said. “It requires, though, that the bishops be humble and courageous in ways that have been expected of few people ever.”
Also worthy of the bishop’s attention is the booklet, “What We, the Laity, are Reading that has Shaken Us to the Core,” which recommends “A Year of Promoting Chastity.”
The laity pleading for change need to be listened to, and our good clergy need to rise to this occasion with an unrelenting demand for change. The narcissists will not give up willingly so it’s going to be messy. But at least, let it be courageous.