The Church Scandal; The Laity’s Role?

I am sure all Catholics are thinking about this crisis. McCarrick, the Pennsylvania AG report.  Silence from the USCCB and from Rome.  Several thoughts, starting with defensive ones.

First, the enemies of the church are having a good time. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Grand Jury project once again displays the sins of the church’s recent past, but says nothing about the present or future.  The report rehashes what has already come out in many (most? all?) dioceses’ victim settlements, including that of my own diocese in Helena, Montana.  The PA AG made a big deal about the scandal he has uncovered; it should help his reelection.  The NPR commentator/expert today was asked “Are these abuses continuing today?”, and he answered “The Grand Jury would probably say yes.”  Without any evidence.  That is the anti-Catholic sentiment we are up against.

But the Church has created this problem, and we cannot complain too much when our enemies use it to attack us. 

Many of the faithful bemoan the “abuse crisis”.  But, as many have noted, we are dealing with a sexual crisis, not just an abuse crisis.  The general absence of new cases charging current-day abuse of altar boys/girls or catechumens is noteworthy; in the present environment, they would be all over the news.

The current focus of the ongoing crisis appears to consist of two active scourges:  homosexual molestation of male seminarians by senior clergy, and continuing cover-up of such molestations (an echo of the past cover-ups).  This crisis is summed up in the scandal of Cardinal McCarrick, and of the higher clergy’s apparent ignoring of this detestable “open secret”.  While sexual abuse of minors is obviously criminal, sexual molestation of adults who employ them or are otherwise in authority is a grey area in criminal law (remember Clinton/Lewinsky?). But it is clearly a mortal sin.

The Church will only suffer further degradation and loss of credibility until this scandal has been addressed and fixed. And it will not be fixed by new organizational policies or training programs or public relations gimmicks.

As with any mortal sins, there can be no forgiveness without repentance and penance from those committing the scandalous molestations and those who failed in their responsibilty to stop it.  Unfortunately, the Church has failed to convince anyone that it has demanded either repentance or penance.

Crime, of course, must be dealt with in a different way. Criminal abusers must expect punishment; our legal system deals in justice, not mercy.  The higher clergy who engaged in covering up criminal abuse would appear to have committed obstruction of justice (at least).  Statutes of limitation generally block prosecutions for these crimes of the past.  But the Church must not recognize any such limitation in dealing with institutional corruption and individual sin of such magnitude.

This brings us to the question: what is to be done.  Specifically, as lay members of Christ’s Church, what are we to do? 

First of all, we must pray for our clergy and our Church.  We must ask God to forgive our sins and to heal his Church. 

But we have a duty to do more.  It is not a matter of our presuming to direct Jesus in healing His Church.  As we know, the Church is a divine institution run by weak, fallible, confused human beings.  They can be in error, and they can and do sin.  We are not only children of God, but also citizens of the Church, the City of God.  We, too, have responsibilities.

It would be wonderful if we could look to our Pope to take the kind of dramatic action needed to stop this sexual scandal.  Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables, to take back God’s temple from those who were profaning it.  But the likelihood of our current pope doing this seems remote.

So here we stand, the laity watching helplessly as scandal succeeds scandal.  Most priests must feel similarly powerless. Bishops and Cardinals have the power to act, but seem unwilling to do so.

So what is the role of the laity in ending scandal?  What are we to do? Perhaps we must simply begin this conversation.


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