Some notes about the Catholic Church.
# There’s a bit in an early voiceover from Beasts of the Southern Wild where the little girl Hushpuppy is musing on aurochs, enormous wild pigs who became extinct after an environmental catastrophe. What if the end of the world is coming? she fears. And then realizes that for some people, “the end of the world already happened.”
When I became Catholic I assumed I was living in an ordinarily-bad time and place for the Church. Not great, full of sin both personal and structural, but not the worst. After all, there were times and places where most of the Catholics you’d meet owned human beings as chattel, or hated Jews and cheered their (our) deaths. I don’t think, now, that this is only an ordinarily-bad time. And we can’t expect our hierarchy to respond well; the safest assumption is that most of them will respond badly.
But it was a worse time before the Boston Globe’s reporting; before the Pennsylvania grand jury report; before the heroic efforts of abuse survivors and journalists who exposed evils done in the name of the God Who is Love. Those who suffered at the hands of priests and their cronies already know the worst the Church can be. When their apocalypse is revealed to us, we can only be grateful for the chance to live in truth.
# Like many in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, I believe our Cardinal should resign. This is in part because covering up abuse and seeking to silence survivors is not just one additional harm on top of the harm of the abuse itself. If somebody abuses you, but then everyone rallies around you, if you’re believed and encouraged and reminded that God is on your side, that sends a powerful message about what the Church is, what love is, who you are; who God is. Whereas the message sent when you’re treated as an obstacle and a source of scandal, and your abuser becomes a pastor or a bishop or a cardinal, truly devastates people. It’s the cover-up, more even than the abuse itself, which shatters trust. It’s the callousness toward victims which truly makes people feel unloved and worthless. It’s the indifference toward justice and truth which destroy people’s faith.
Cardinal Wuerl showed humility and good sense when he asked that his name be removed from a school whose sign was vandalized. (And I agree with those who have suggested that the school be renamed for Bl. Laura Vicuña.) At this point I suspect the best way he can shepherd his people is to stop defending himself, lay down his red hat, and do penance. He may not even realize how much good this would do, for him and for his flock.# By the way, as someone on twitter asked, why on earth was a school named after a living person in the first place? It’s a synecdoche for the pursuit of worldly power and fame. Ex-Cardinal McCarrick and Fr. Marcial Maciel were good fundraisers for the Church; maybe this is why they were protected despite sins which lead us to cry out, Don’t you fear God? Don’t you know that you will die?
# That said, those who have abused others and violated their trust are also a part of the Body of Christ. As far as I know, there are no canonized saints who are also rapists. And yet we know repentance is possible for all people, no matter what they’ve done. Don’t encourage in yourself a desire to see the population of Hell increase.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been praying, when I remember to, for the man who killed Maria Goretti to intercede for abusers and their protectors, so that their hearts may be transformed as his was. I won’t name him here to make the point that her story does not belong to him, but his name isn’t hard to find; and his story, too, belongs to God.
Without Christ’s mercy all of us stand condemned.
# As lay Catholics organize for reform, transparency, and penance in the Church, I worry that we’re unintentionally replicating the usual Catholic divisions by forming siloed movements. Are the people involved with the St Peter Damian Society at all in touch with Adrienne Alexander and #CatholicsForAction? The people who know about Leah Libresco Sargeant’s call-your-bishop campaign on the Vigil of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 14) seem to know about the Siena Project, but what efforts do people in my circles not even know about? In general, please do get in touch if you know of efforts to address our crisis, especially events in the DC Archdiocese. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org .