It strikes me that defenses of Catholicism such as
When I recount the reasons I became Catholic, I find nowhere among them “the bishops are excellent Christians.” I also find all the same reasons still hold.
— Michael Pakaluk (@mpakaluk) September 10, 2018
which came across my twitter feed, increasingly have as a theme, the core idea that this isn’t the first time bishops and possibly even the Pope have been shown to have feet of clay, both respect to the individual bishops who have reassigned abusive priests without even any particular repentance afterwards or who have been abusers themselves, and with respect to the bulk of the bishops who are dragging their feet on putting into place concrete actions in response, not to mention the Pope’s refusal to open up the archives which might settle questions of Vigano’s accusations. We’ve had plenty such bishops and popes yet the Catholic faith has continued on despite them.
Now, as a brief digression, I should say that I am not particularly pleased when this mutates into statements (paraphrased) of
Reports of corruption by bishops (or abuse by priests) will never cause me to lose my faith, because my faith is in God, not men.
If someone says they lost their faith because of clergy scandals, they never really had faith in the first place, because they put their trust in men, not God.
You’ve likely seen these as inspiration memes with flowery text coming across your twitter feed. And while there is a kernel of truth, at the same time, at the same time, exactly how often have we heard that tired bit about “use words if necessary” and the claim that we don’t really have to talk about Jesus in order to preach the Gospel because we can just be upstanding people and everyone around us will say, “wow, she’s so loving and caring and really works hard to help other people; if this is what Christians are like, maybe I should consider being one”? If we expect that the saints are our role models, and good, upstanding Christians in our own time can bring people to Christ, then it is entirely reasonable for others to say, “if being committed to following Christianity doesn’t help one behave in a less sinful way than everyone else around them, what’s the point?” when we have such visible instances of sinfulness. I mean, sure, we could put together a statistical analysis of the level of corruption and scheming for money and power among churchmen vs. in the secular world, but we all know that we process things by looking at individuals rather than statistical analyses.
But here we are. The Pope is prattling on about the virtue of silence and preventing investigation of Vigano’s claims. The USCCB has announced its intent to have an investigation at some point in the future and seems to think that’s good enough. Individual bishops are calling for more — but, let’s face it, those seem to be individual bishops of small dioceses, and hence, men without the power to actually have an impact, in the unfortunate system of assigning to archbishops of archdioceses with the largest populations, the greatest power. Cardinal Wuerl has pretty much given the middle finger to the Catholics in his diocese, with an open acknowledgment that “the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership,” but hoping that he’ll be able to distract everyone with a “Season of Healing.”
And I’m starting to wonder if one possible path this all takes, if bishops and the Pope continue along a path of silence and inaction, along with professed support for victims and a Cupichian desire to make it all go away in order to continue with their political agenda, and if Catholics who seek the truth about cover-up accusations are stymied at every turn, is that we as Catholics begin to look at our leadership as, well, men who are there to accomplish the practical tasks of running the church, who are chosen for their ability to money-grub and politick, to be judged for their success in church-running metrics, not for their holiness, not the examples of their lives, not that far apart from the way many Trump supporters (or Trump accepters) view him: “of course he’s not a role model for his behavior in his personal life; that is all quite troubling. But the economy is strong, and he’s placed one person on the Supreme Court, and will shortly have placed another, who we expect to protect us from more far-left decisions like Roe or Obergefell, and that’s what I judge him on.”
Of course, given that the so-called “Francis effect” of people lavishing praise on the Pope did not extend to any concrete effects in terms of mass attendance or numbers of people identifying as Catholic in polls, it’s hard to consider this a success either.
Image: from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/113018453@N05/14037472464