With the revelation of more sex abuse cases in PA, and the recent (though let's hope short lived) reluctance of Pope Francis to comment on the subject, the Catholic Church is poised for yet another period of repentance, reformation, restitution and, most likely, divine purging. It is long overdue. The Grand Jury report of clergy abuses in PA contained some of the most disturbing cases we have seen—cases that represent a level of depravity that is only eclipsed by the hierarchy's seeming willingness to pass the buck, as it were. My own city of Rochester, NY has not been immune from this scandal, as reports surfaced as recently as June about several priests in our diocese who allegedly committed sexual crimes against children.
No one believes that the explosion of cases in PA is the end. My fear is that it is just the beginning. Attorneys General in a number of other states are already looking into ways they can assess the situation in their states. And we can only imagine that the current Vigano/McCarrick/Pope Francis revelations will likely lead seemingly reluctant prelates to a "David Moment" (See Psalm 51:1-9) in an effort to fix this mess.
That said, I offer a couple of things we should all keep in mind as this horrible affair continues to unfold:
- It should not surprise us that bad people do bad things. No matter the office or position in society, sin is pervasive. It is very easy to attack and point the finger the sins of others while at the same time failing miserably to recognize and face our own sins and the sins within our family.
- Laypeople need to demand (really demand) that bishops in the US and around the world do their duty as overseers of their respective diocese. For far too long the episcopacy has passed the responsibility for oversight to psychiatrists or lawyers. In the end, and by virtue of their ordination, Bishops, not psychiartrists, are responsible for protecting the flock, not feeding them to ravenous wolves (sheep's clothing notwithstanding). It is time that bishops do the job they were called to do or resign.
- As part of that oversight, bishops should demand that the priests of their diocese be faithful to the Church, her teachings, her behavioral beliefs (morals) and practices. Sadly we have all seen priests who get a little loosey-goosey in what we might perceive as small things like how they say Mass, hear confessions and the like. This needs to stop. If a priest can't be faithful in something small, like following the rubrics or reading the Missal at Mass, what is to keep them from not following other rules, more serious rules. Think of the saying in Luke 16:10: "He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much." Bishops need to demand that priests be faithful in how they "do" their faith, particularly as it relates to the faithful. Faithfulness, faithfulness, faithfulness is the key. The laity needs to demand it and the bishops need to enforce it. That is their duty; that is their job.
- Parents need the reminder that perpetrators of child abuse are most often known by the family. And yes, that includes religious people who are friends of the family. Just because someone is a priest or pastor does not automatically excuse them from the possibility of bad, even criminal behavior. Parents need to be vigilant in this day and age. A friend of the family who is priest or pastor is just as capable of these crimes as is a friend of the family who is an engineer, truck driver, scout leader, doctor or any other occupation. And that means we all need to do our duty as parents, monitoring the interactions of others with our kids. As a parent of 5 "above average" children, I appreciate everyone who pays attention to my kids. But I should never be lulled into a false sense of security. We need to pay attention.
- Finally and on a more lofty level, I think it is important to remember that the Church (the Catholic Church) is and claims to be both human and divine. She is the institutional and incarnational embodiment of Christ himself. She is not "part" of the Church; she "is" the Church. Throughout the ages, and for reasons that are mysterious, God has chosen to accomplish his will through people who sometimes/often do bad things, sometimes really bad things (think of David, Moses, Peter, Paul, etc., etc.). Although this might be hard to understand in the midst of a crisis, it is a mark, I believe, of the divinity of the Church, that over the course of 2000 years, she has been protected, not from disaster, but in spite of disaster, both from within and from without.
Some may remember Napoleon's supposed comment to a Catholic Cardinal: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” To which the Cardinal responded: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
We need to remind ourselves of these realities, demand reform and pray, as David did, for God's mercy.