The Scandal That Just Won't Stop: Sackcloth and Ashes II

One of my intentions for the forty days of prayer and fasting for #sackclothandashes has been that ALL of the evil in our Church that has been hiding in shadow will be brought into the light. . . . But I did not expect this.

I respect the Church as an institution and the many, many good priests and bishops who are upholding their responsibility to sheperd their flocks. I echo the words of Joshua from today's first reading, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Here's what's happened now. On the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the day that we began our movement of prayer and fasting, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio, released the following testimony. I saw it for the first time last night.


It's long, but I encourage everyone to read the whole thing. News articles summarizing it really don't do justice to the scope and breadth of the report. It is just one man's testimony, but it includes an extraordinary amount of detail, and he indicates that many of those he names as able to corroborate his story are willing to go on the record as well.

There is a lot of information in this testimony. But the most surprising and disturbing and saddening, is the claim that on Archbishop Vigano's advice, Pope Benedict had placed severe sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick in 2009 or 2010: "Pope Benedict had imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis: the Cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance." Those sanctions were lifted by Pope Francis in 2013, despite Pope Francis' knowledge of the allegations against McCarrick, and McCarrick became free to again abuse seminarians and influence important appointments and policy decisions in the United States.

It's a real gut punch.

First and foremost, there is no excusing these acts. Not the abuse, certainly. One can argue that fifty years ago, perhaps, there was a lack of understanding on how to treat people with disordered sexual desires, and that bishops were acting in the way that they thought best. But that wasn't the case ten and twenty years ago, and we are seeing that the cover-ups continued. From local bishops perhaps all the way to the Pope. It's not okay. It is a great and grave failure of individuals and the Church hierarchy.

At the same time, it would not be right to believe that any of this is new. Priests have proven themselves just as capable of failure as anyone else since the very first moment it was possible. Jesus instituted the sacramental priesthood at the Last Supper, and the table wasn’t even cleared before one of the priests had become a traitor, unworthy of his post. Sexual abuse is, unfortunately, not a rare tragedy. We can see the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution throughout our current culture.

We heard in the readings at Mass today, Jesus' question to us. Will we stay with him despite scandal and outrage? And the verse that follows the reading, is his acknowledgement that even his handpicked disciples will fail him, and us.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil? --John 6:67-70

As devastating as it feels, as devastating as it IS, I take solace in two aspects of this. The first, is that it is a good thing that we are shining a light on this and other sexual scandals. We do not want evil hiding in the shadows. As painful as this process is, it’s worth it to begin the process of healing for the individuals, families, and communities who have been affected, and to protect future generations of children and adults from suffering the same abuse. Secondly, as backwards as it sounds, I am comforted by the fact that the Catholic Church has been scandal-ridden for . . . ever. We’ve had bad priests, and bad bishops, and bad popes, and bad regular folks in the pews throughout the last two thousand years. And the gates of hell have not prevailed against us.

As Cardinal Ercole Consalvi is reported to have asked Napoleon Bonaparte, when the French emperor threatened to crush the Church, "If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?"

If we believe that the Catholic Church is the One True Church, that the Eucharist is the True Presence, we are stuck with it. We must say with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

So, here I am and here I will stay. Wounded, bewildered, but Catholic.

God hears us, and suffers with us. The first reading, from Ezekiel, on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, leaves no doubt that God's justice waits for those shepherds who betrayed their flocks and their Lord.

The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.

Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep,
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.

For thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

It is perhaps too early to know for sure how grave was Pope Francis' sin. It's possible that deep political and ideological differences made him unable to see the truth because of who communicated it to him. But it's clear that we have not received the protection and leadership we deserve. It's clear that we must call for the resignation of some of our Church leadership.

I am turning more than ever to the support of good Catholic priests and religious, and my solid Catholic community, online and in real life. I am convicted more than ever that the Sackcloth and Ashes movement is exactly what we need. It's never too late to join in. And we must not give up hope.

As Archbishop Viganò said in the closing of his testimony:

Even in dismay and sadness over the enormity of what is happening, let us not lose hope! We well know that the great majority of our pastors live their priestly vocation with fidelity and dedication. It is in moments of great trial that the Lord’s grace is revealed in abundance and makes His limitless mercy available to all; but it is granted only to those who are truly repentant and sincerely propose to amend their lives. This is a favorable time for the Church to confess her sins, to convert, and to do penance.

I know many of us are also wondering about practical issues. The questions I've received most often are these.

1. Should I let my children be around my priest?

We the faithful can and should protect our children around priests the same way we would around any other people. We need to avoid the clericalism that helped get us into this mess. Priests deserve to be treated with respect by virtue of their consecrated office, but that doesn't mean blind trust. We get to know priests before our kids are alone with them. We teach our kids to trust their guts and to ALWAYS come to us if the ever feel uncomfortable and to RUN AWAY if necessary.

2. Should I continue to support the Church financially?

As for donations to the Church, each family must make their own decision there. If we don't give, Catholic schools and parishes will close. Bad ones, perhaps, but good ones too. I'm intrigued by the idea of a tiny underground Church, meeting in dusty catacombs and secretly in people's houses like in the early days of the Church. The Church would survive like that if necessary. But it would break my heart to see our buildings sold off and put to other uses. It would break my heart to see good pastors lose their parishes and their flocks. So, we continue to give. I believe that our archdiocese has implemented good policies to help prevent abuse and coverups. With that, we don't feel the need to hold our donations back.

3. Must I pray for these sinful priests?

It's always okay to start where you are most comfortable. Pray for good priests and bishops. Pray for the whistleblowers. Pray for the children and young adults who suffered at the hands of predators. Pray for their families and communities. Then, my trick is always to pray, "God, if you want me to do this, help me to want what you want."

To everyone reading this. I know how hard it is. I can't think of anything in my life that has disappointed me more. But know that our continued faith in the face of these repeated tragedies is a gift from the Holy Spirit. We must pray and act and persevere.