Dublin Reflects the Wages of the Abuse Crisis Writ Large

EDITORIAL: The pain of the still-unfolding scandal won’t be healed quickly.

(photo: Unsplash)

The 2018 World Meeting of Families (WMOF) scheduled in Dublin this week was supposed to be a shot in the arm for a demoralized local Church and a global celebration of Catholicism’s countercultural vision of marriage and family life.

No doubt, Ireland’s sharp decline in church attendance and priestly vocations, coupled with its recent legalization of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” surely confirmed the need for evangelization and spiritual renewal in what was once thought of as the West’s main bulwark of vital Catholicism.

But it is unlikely that the World Meeting of Families will produce the desired outcome, and that is because the Church’s cascading sexual-abuse crisis has rightly grabbed most of the headlines.

From Santiago, Chile, to Washington, D.C., new revelations involving the sexual misconduct of cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians (including minors and adults) — and their cover-up — have pulled attention away from the primary focus of the Dublin meeting.

Francis issued a somber “Letter to the People of God”  that pledged to undertake a thorough housecleaning.

“No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” read his Aug. 20 letter. The Pope’s words signaled that the unfolding abuse crisis was not only a problem for a handful of local Churches, but a source of shame for the entire Church and an impediment to its global mission to save souls.

Among the first scheduled events of the Pope’s Dublin trip this weekend is a visit to St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, where he will pray silently in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. There, a single candle burns in remembrance of the young survivors violated by clerical predators, a terrible and lengthy scourge that came to light during Ireland’s 2009-2010 abuse crisis, which led to the resignation of two bishops. The Pope will also tackle the scandals in at least one speech and is expected to meet privately with victim-survivors.

These steps are essential, as the Church continues to reach out to offer support and seek the forgiveness of those who have lived with deep wounds since childhood.

Yet the Pope’s formal gestures remind us of what else has been lost in the wake of this self-inflicted tragedy: the solace and security of a united community of faith and the moral credibility of the Church. Today, the drumbeat of abuse or cover-up revelations has left Ireland’s bishops thoroughly marginalized.

And so when the country debated the legalization of abortion earlier this year, some pro-life activists, fearing the Church would tarnish their cause, directed bishops and pastors to limit their comments to the pulpit rather than a public campaign.

Likewise, in the months leading up to the World Meeting of Families, an aggressive effort by activists to influence the agenda — and present same-sex unions as equivalent to marriage as a union of one man and one woman — offered further evidence of the weakened moral authority of Ireland’s Catholic shepherds. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the Irish-born prefect for the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and the Vatican’s point man for the Dublin event, said the pastoral congress was designed to accommodate shifting social currents and that families that didn’t fit the traditional mold would be welcomed, including same-sex couples. The change in policy offered an olive branch to “LGBT” advocates within and outside of the Church: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who is openly homosexual, had vowed to challenge Catholic teaching on same-sex “marriage” during his meeting with the Pope.

But the overtures from WMOF leadership to the “LGBT” community are unlikely to satisfy anybody, and the Pope has already been criticized for sending a confusing message to Catholics.

Truth be told, the unfolding spectacle in Dublin magnified the various ways the clergy-abuse crisis has contributed to the decline of the faith in the United States, as well as to the struggles of practicing Catholics who feel betrayed and under siege, fearful that loved ones will turn away in disgust from the Church.

As the parade of lurid headlines in the United States and elsewhere continues, Catholics question the ability of the bishops and the rest of the Church hierarchy to respond adequately to the problem. The faithful are sickened by the abuse that has been revealed, as well as by the cover-up, and their anger and disillusionment is palpable.

The steady flow of new reports of sexual-abuse allegations, homosexual misconduct and immorality among the clergy signal that the crisis will likely touch many U.S. dioceses. Some responses, like the decision by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia to investigate accusations of homosexual scandal at their diocesan seminaries, have been rapid. And the U.S. bishops have promptly endorsed plans for “an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints,” according to an Aug. 16 letter from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

But the pain of the still-unfolding scandal won’t be healed quickly. And the entrenched problems that have produced this crisis remain the subject of intense debate at the highest levels of the Church, with some prelates refusing to even acknowledge the impact of homosexual conduct in seminaries and the priesthood.

The rejection of basic facts and the tone deafness on display as bishops defend their flawed legacies suggest that many Church leaders have not grasped the lessons of Ireland: A culture can change very rapidly, and in frightening ways, when shepherds fail to protect their flocks and lose all credibility.

Lay Catholics, for their part, must brace themselves for a long journey toward restoration with their eyes fixed on the cross.

“The floodgates have opened,” Ralph Martin, professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, told the Register. “It won’t be a quick fix.”

Our faith will be tested, he said: “Jesus wants the Church to be holy, ‘without spot or wrinkle,’ and then he will present her to his Father. The Lord sends prophets, and if we don’t pay attention to them, he sends lawyers and newspapers.”

But as the faithful continue to demand justice and accountability, and pray for and aid the victims, he said, we also “need to get up every day and do God’s will for our lives. We still need to love the people in our lives, and we still have this treasure in earthen vessels. The Catholic Church is still the place where the treasure is, where the truth is. Jesus is there, and he will lead us through this.”