Thursday, February 21, 2019
I have delayed and delayed a post on MOJ’s anniversary…so much so it is past the anniversary week. My delay has not been due to lacking the right words to capture the importance of this blog. It is axiomatic that this blog brings to the legal dialog deep reflection on Catholic legal thought. This is a necessary component of legal education and contemporrary legal thinking.
Rather, this delay has been due to the near despair I have for our Church and its future. The wave of revelations regarding child sexual abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking of nuns, and sexual abuse of adults that have emerged in the last 6 months have been devastating to the faithful. The pain that these actions inflicted on the victims and survivors is immeasurable and matched possibly only by the institutional cover up by church leaders. These innocents, these children or other people, faithfully turned to the Church for help or to devote their lives, only to be met with victimization of sexual assaults. they then were victimized again by the very institution to which they turned when it engaged in a massive cover up. It is difficult to have hope when in 2002 the Church hierarchy apologized and asked for the trust of the faithful to address this horrible sin, only to learn that not only did they not seriously address it, but engaged in an even further cover up.
Early on in my blogging with MOJ I reported on the trial of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia. At that time, it was extremely unusual for MOJ to write about this muddy water of such a sensational trial. Regardless of how one felt about the merits of the prosecution, two themes emerged from those posts. First, the allegations of cover up and indifference were shocking and almost unbelievable. Second, I predicted it would be a watershed event that a clergy member could be held responsible not for abusing children but for playing a role in the reassignment of abusive priests. I thought at that time that it would be the rare occurrence that my criminal law research agenda would overlap with the subject matter of MOJ.
Now we know all of that was incorrect. As revealed by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report; 60 minutes, or admissions from the Holy See itself, the active cover up exceeds our worst imaginings. The cover up is not a thing of the past, but as demonstrated most recently here in Washington, it continues. By that I refer to Archbishop Wuerl’s 2018 statements that he knew nothing about his predecessor defrocked Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse. As was revealed in January, in fact he had reported McCarrick’s action in 2004. So even after the grand jury report and a new round of claims of transparency, the faithful received less than truthful information, incomplete lists of offending priests, and a website to defend the Cardinal. Fifteen years ago, we could not have imagined the abuse committed by the clergy and the lengths they have gone to circle wagons around the hierarchy rather than a circle of love around victims and survivors.
With the Protection of Minors in the Church meeting scheduled to begin tomorrow, the question remains, how does the institutional church arise from this crisis? Many have offered solutions. I myself have called for path with the minimal five hallmarks of independent review, accountability, transparency, survivor input, and execution of proposals. This includes a top to bottom outside analysis of causes, climates, and solution by an independent inspector general, followed by execution of solutions without delay. This necessarily requires a change in leadership and review of leadership on the diocesan level which may involve the reinstatement of some leaders, but not others. It also requires transparency and a transformative role of the laity, survivors, and those outside Church hierarchy to lay out the path forward. Others have called for many other proposals, addressing difficult topics such as the role of women, celibacy, and lay people.
During this pain, the Church hierarchy is at crossroads. Will it finally take the right actions, or will it fail as it did in Baltimore, Dallas, or previous attempts to address the issue ending in failure due to a lack of commitment? As is so often the case, there is a path forward. I would love to claim I created it, but I found it one weekday mass in the sermon of a new Jesuit priest. It was the day after the revelation that Archbishop Wuerl seemed to be less than candid about his knowledge of McCarrick – a revelation that again shook the Washington faithful. It also was a few days after the Epiphany. Here, in this small daily mass with about 20 parishioners, this parish priest offered the way forward.
“As I prayed this morning, the scripture that came to me…was where Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The truth. And if I am afraid of the truth – if we are afraid of the truth – then we are afraid of the One we have come to meet at this table.”
The path forward is as simple as that. The truth. I think MOJ has brought some of that to the Catholic legal dialog over the years. And I hope the Cardinals and the hierarchy listen to this simple guidance from a young priest: show the world the absolute truth. It is the way.