Tuesday, August 28, 2018
A friend asked me what I thought about the Catholic Church's "current crisis." I thought, and I said, "what, exactly, do you mean?" It seems to me that (at least) the following issues/problems/trials/"crises" are happening and also that it's important to distinguish among them, even as we recognize that at least some of them are connected with others:
First, there is the awful, scandalous fact that some Catholic clergy (and lay Church employees) exploited and sexually abused children. My own sense -- I'm not an expert, and I'd welcome correction if I'm wrong -- is that this abuse (the "causes" of which I'm not addressing) has been very, very rare in the last, say, thirty years, in part because of policies and practices implemented in response to revelations. That is, my sense is that Catholic schools, parishes, etc., are, today, very "safe environments" for children - safer than, among other things, public-school environments.
Second, there is the awful, scandalous fact that some Catholic bishops and dioceses, with the help of some lawyers, covered up this abuse and helped to perpetuate it precisely by covering it up and failing to remove abusers from ministry. We were confronted with this fact after "Boston" and are being confronted with it again because of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Again, my sense is that this happened more in the past than in recent years -- in part because, again, most of the abuse cases took place many years ago. I am not aware -- but, again, I'd welcome correction -- of substantiated claims that current bishops have covered up or facilitated or otherwise badly handled recent (say, post "Boston") cases of the sexual abuse of children, although it continues to be the case that some past cases are not being appropriately acknowledged.
Third, there is the widely shared impression among Catholics and others that the bishops are generally out of touch, over-concerned with careerism and advancement, prioritize collegiality and gladhanding and fundraising over the faithful exercise of their office (which Patrick Brennan described nicely here), are ideologically divided, and are jaw-droppingly tone-deaf about how it looks when, say, a diocese that serves many poor people buys a multi-million dollar Silicon Valley home for a retired bishop. This impression is unfair to some bishops, but it seems to me to be warranted in too many cases, and that's depressing (even if, looking back over the Church's long history, not unprecedented).
Fourth, there are the allegations that Ted McCarrick sexually exploited, for years, seminarians and other young men, that this exploitation was known to (inter alia) other bishops, and that he nonetheless advanced and exercised a great deal of power and influence in the Church.
Fifth, there is the concern that exploitation like McCarrick's has been, and perhaps still is, a not-rare feature of the culture of and life in Catholic seminaries and that this feature of the seminary experience has been covered up or "looked away from" by Catholic generally and, more particularly, by bishops who were and are responsible for the wellbeing and formation of seminarians.
Sixth, there is the worry of some that "networks" of clergy, including bishops use secrecy, influence, and pressure to (among other things) prevent responses to various problems, including those described above and below. (This worry pre-existed, of course, the recent testimony of Bishop Vigano and this worry, as I've encountered it, is related to but is also more specific than the impression set out above, after "Third".)
Seventh, there is the concern that, in fact, many -- not just a few -- Catholic clergy are sexually active, notwithstanding their vows and the moral teachings they profess to embrace and are charged with proposing and defending, and that this fact is widely known among clergy (including bishops) but "winked at" or ignored.
I'm sure there's more. And, of course, these are not simply (and never have been) problems or issues for the Church in the United States; nor are they problems that only emerged after the Second Vatican Council or after the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.
My own concern is that much of the press coverage I'm seeing, and a lot of the online (and other) reactions I'm reading, talk about "the crisis" -- or the "sex-abuse crisis" -- without distinguishing and disentangling these and other matters, each of which (it seems to me) needs to appropriately addressed.