Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
I wrote most of this post before the open letter of Cardinal Ouellet was released. I will leave extended commentary on that letter to others for now, except to say that whatever scolding the cardinal issued to Archbishop Viganò, he does confirm a central claim made by the archbishop — namely, that allegations about Cardinal McCarrick were known well before June of this year and resulted in some sort of censure, even if informal. And this helps to confirm my main thesis here: that in these difficult days, many are compelled to speak out and express rightful anger. And, though these methods have become regretfully necessary, they are effective and must continue if reforms are to happen.
Even before Cardinal Ouellet’s letter, a communique from Rome dated Oct. 6 shows hope that the Holy See is increasingly aware of the seriousness of the breach of trust demonstrated by the clerical sexual abuse scandal and its alleged cover-up. Here are some key passages:
After the publication of the accusations regarding the conduct of Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick, the Holy Father Pope Francis, aware of and concerned by the confusion that these accusations are causing in the conscience of the faithful, has established that the following be communicated:
… The Holy Father ordered a thorough preliminary investigation … which was carried out by the Archdiocese of New York, at the conclusion of which the relative documentation was forwarded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. …
Moreover … the Holy Father has decided that information gathered during the preliminary investigation be combined with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.
The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues. However, as Pope Francis has said: “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead” (Philadelphia, Sept. 27 2015). Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.
… As previously made known, the Holy Father has convened a meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences from around the world for next February, while the words of his recent Letter to the People of God still resonate: “The only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God … ” (Aug. 20, 2018).
This communique exhibits a great improvement in the demeanor of the Holy See and the Pope. Up until this time, Pope Francis has brusquely refused to address the allegations that Archbishop McCarrick’s offenses were long known up to the highest levels in Rome. Those who viewed the allegations as credible and worthy of further investigation or who expressed concern over them were greeted with an announced policy of silence at best, and at worst were implicated by the Pope in his sermons as scandalmongers in league with the Great Accuser. This most recent communication, though, seems to accept the need for a thorough examination of documents in relevant dicasteries and congregations and of following the truth wherever it leads, even if such an investigation demonstrates poor decisions not in keeping with “a contemporary approach.”
This is great progress if the stated approach is in fact followed. However, we need to realize that this change in tone and policy is the fruit of active insistence by God’s faithful. Laity and clergy together must persist in this approach if the investigation is to be sufficiently thorough and true reforms are to be forthcoming. The communique itself states as much: “The only way that we have to respond to this evil … is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God… ” (Aug. 20, 2018).
So stay angry, my friends. Stay angry at sin, at cover-ups, and at different standards for the powerful and those at the top. Yes, stay angry.
Anger is an unruly passion, though, so be careful. Do not misdirect it to imprudent ends. Our anger is to be focused on opposing sin, the approval of sin, and any ambiguity that winks at sin. Scripture says, He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but one who frankly reproves promotes peace (Proverbs 10:10). Therefore, we may never make light of sin, but should direct our indignation against it and any approval of it. Our anger is to be channeled into reproof so as to promote peace, the well-being of all, and the repentance of sinners. Yes, may our heart’s truest desire be the purification of the Church and the conversion of sinners—including ourselves.
Persistence has gotten us this far, but we must not allow a mere statement to lull us into inaction in the future. It is action we must seek, not mere words.
Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register reports:
Sources have confirmed to the Register that the Pope is to meet privately on Monday with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop Jose Gomez, president and vice-president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Continue to pray for the many bishops who in stages and in ranks are insisting on what is right. We ought to affirm every sign of courage and progress and assure them of our prayers and support. We must also be prepared to hold them accountable for doing what is right.
Somewhere in this sad situation there is a potential good: God’s people are setting aside an unhealthy deference to authority and taking up their rightful role as members of the Body of Christ. We must never reject the divine constitution of the Church, wherein the Lord has set forth the Church as hierarchal, but the Church is head and members together not merely a head (or a hierarchy) all by itself. It is the obligation of all the members of the Body of Christ to ensure the proper functioning of the Church, both as those who receive direction from the head and as those who send important and urgent information to the head.
Even in our own individual lives, the members of our body must sometimes say to our proud head, “Slow down and rest,” “Eat less,” “Watch out for that temptation,” “Don’t touch that hot stove,” or “Pay attention!”
Yes, the body is head and members together. This is no less the case for the Church.
Stay strong, persistent, faithful and properly angry, fellow Catholics. Although it is a step in the right direction, one communique cannot solve this mess. Affirm it, but continue to demand action. Insist that that the communique be a true path forward both to the November meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the February meeting of Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences called by the Pope.
Like many of you, I feel awkward in this new role of loyal agitator. It should not be this way, but it has become necessary in a pontificate of weaponized ambiguity and often stubborn refusal to listen. The step forward represented by this communique has only occurred because we have refused to remain silent and have respectfully demanded accountability and a just investigation.
Yes, stay properly angry. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Pace and long-term determination are going to be critical.