Awful, outrageous, infuriating, heartbreaking, shameful.
And not surprising.
'The most important scene in Godfather III is Michael’s conversation with Cardinal Lamberto. Walking by stone pillars and fountains surrounded by pigeons, Michael explains his Vatican problem to Lamberto. Agreeing how this is scandalous, the priest reaches into the fountain and pulls out a stone. “Look at this stone,” he says. "It has been lying in the water for a very long time. But the water has not penetrated it.” He breaks the stone open, showing it to Michael. It’s dry. Michael motions into his pockets, then pulls them out, unsteady. Lamberto continues. “The same thing has happened with men in Europe. For centuries, they have been surrounded by Christianity. But Christ has not penetrated it. Christ does not live within them.” '
Christ entrusted His Church to men. Not to angels, not to beasts, but men. Men with concupiscence, pride, temptation, lust and greed. Men, who with God's grace can become reflections of His divine light, or the darkest of miserable creatures.
There are many facets of this current scandal, and I can't begin to address them all. The reports from Pennsylvania span decades, and reveal the horrendous details of actions perpetrated by priests. And some were not just sick men who succumbed to temptations and victimized innocents, but thoughtful planners who organized a dreadful network of crimes.
But then there were the revealed crimes of McCarrick and how he preyed upon young men and young seminarians under his authority. And allegations of bishops trafficking men from South America to be groomed for homosexual relationships. And allegations and reports of priests and bishops in scandalous relationships themselves acting like the mafia, using their power and authority to squash those who might shed light on their misdeeds.
And now allegations that Pope Francis himself acted to protect McCarrick despite knowing what he had done and placing him back in a position to shape the future of the Church.
It gets worse and worse.
And I say, rip the scabs and let it bleed.
I was, for a time, a seminarian for my diocese. I spent two years at St. John's Seminary in Boston, graduating from the college program in 2001, just as the first waves of scandal were starting to come to light there. In my time in seminary, I got to know men from all over New England and the Midwest, some from Mexico, Vietnam, and Haiti. And some of the priests and seminarians I got to know there are some of the finest men I have ever met. Faithful, devoted, and ready to lay down their very lives.
And there were some that were asked to leave.
My own understanding from what I learned at that time was that many (though I know not all) of the misdeeds that had happened were mainly in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, and that the bishops who had handled allegations of priestly abuse relied heavily on the advice of psychologists who advised that these men could be treated and even cured. They were sent for treatment, then given a bill of health and reassigned, until new allegations arose, and they were sent for more treatment. (To be fair to the bishops and their advisors, it seemed that no organizations at that time really had a full grasp of how to deal with sexual abuse in a full way.) But soon enough, it became clear that the standard treat and release approach was neither helpful nor responsible. And so quietly, the bishops removed offending priests and stepped up the screening process for new candidates to the seminary.
When I applied to study for the priesthood, not only did I have to undergo background checks, collect character referrals, and submit myself to psychological testing, but once I was in seminary, it was very clear that while spiritual direction was a closed forum (confidential) time to explore my vocation, everything else was fair game for the faculty to assess and scrutinize my suitability to become a priest.
And while many of my classmates graduated and did not continue on to the priesthood, we left on good terms, realizing that the priesthood was not what God had intended for us, but nonetheless strengthened for our vocations that God had prepared. And yet, there were some who were asked to leave immediately.
But the process isn't enough. Protocols aren't enough. Charters by the USCCB and lay oversight boards aren't enough. What is required is radical. What is required is sacrifice, humility, reparation. Whitewashed Catholicism, gentrified toward respectability after leaving the ethnic ghettoes of the early 20th century, is hollow.
I've heard it said that young people desire more than anything else, sincerity, and no wonder so many have left the Church. They see a bunch of rules handed down by people who don't really believe in what they're saying, all the while pandering to youth with one more fun and accessible activity meant to just get kids in the building. Fluffy Jesus, coloring books and rock concerts.
I know many adults who have only a 3rd grade understanding of their faith because that's as deep as their catechesis went. We can't make it too hard. We can't make it uncomfortable. We can't expect too much.
But Christ expects much of His Church. Christ laid down His life for the Church. And we had better be ready to do the same. God, by your grace, help us to be ready.
As I said above, I want all the ugly truth to come out. There is much more at work here than just incompetent bishops bungling their responsibilities. Some have outright abdicated their responsibilities. Others have abused their positions for their own corrupt gain, whether that be money, fame, power or sex. It is not new, but it must stop. They have made this temple into a den of thieves. It is time that we start overturning the tables.
Bishops and priests who are guilty of abuse need to go. Those guilty of crimes need to be handed over to authorities. And bishops need to start leading like the God-given shepherds they were ordained to be. The times ahead are going to be hard, very hard. And many innocent people are going to suffer, and many will have their faith tested beyond their strength. These are the times that try men's souls, as it's been said before.
Innocent priests, and many lay people of faith will suffer rejection and persecution because of the acts of heinous men. But it is their suffering, and maybe even their martyrdom, united to that of Christ on the Cross, which will win the graces that will replenish the Church.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us in our hour of need.