Pope, Bishops to Catholics: You’re on your own

Pope, Bishops to Catholics: You’re on your own November 15, 2018

You’ll understand if I’m a bit grumpy today, after several days of watching the latest developments with the latest bishops’ meeting, at which they profess to care about regaining the trust of American Catholics, even though the Pope forbade them from voting on measures designed to do just that, even though Cardinal Roger Mahoney — Mahoney! the cardinal from Los Angeles, censured in 2013 for covering up abuse — attended and gave remarks urging bishops to be more collegial (wasn’t that part of the problem in the first place?), even though they punted on a resolution that merely requested that the Pope release documents related to McCarrick.  And you’ll pardon me, I hope, for not diligently sourcing the comments that follow, and I’ll, in turn, recognize that I’m not being as persuasive as I might be if I dug up sources and links.

I’m sure that many of the bishops recognize the urgency of responding to the crisis.  Others speak as if it’s a nuisance.  Pope Francis seems to think those bring up the issue are led by demonic forces.  I find myself torn.

With respect to abuse of children, I do have every reason to believe that the protocols put in place are effective, in the same way as I believe that about the Boy Scouts’ requirements, though I know that no such set of regulations is ever foolproof, and children whose home lives leave them vulnerable to adults grooming and molesting them are still at risk, though with heightened likelihood of other adults stepping in by the greater understanding everyone has after their multiple hours of training.  I can also believe that bishops are much less likely to shrug off and reassign abusive priests, if for no other reason than that they know it’s not going to work, and I hope that parents and other people in a position of trust will listen to a child who reports abuse rather than, as happened in the past, shrugging it off because of the respect accorded the adult.  Is the Catholic Church free of child molester-priests?  Have they figured out how to ensure potential molesters are never ordained in the first place?

With respect to priests (even bishops) engaged in sexual conduct with adults, I don’t know what to think.  I simultaneously hear claims that any such conduct is grounds for harsh treatment, though, depending on the circumstances, room for reinstatement, but always accompanied by the firm acknowledgement that such actions are wrong.  At the same time, I read claims that bishops accept their priests’ sexual activity with a wink and a nod, so long as it doesn’t scandalize anyone.

And on the third hand, when it comes to past misconduct, I don’t know where to draw the line between ensuring justice is done and seeking vengeance on covering-up priests and bishops.

But yet here we are multiple months after the fact and, so far as I know, even bishops who were closely connected to McCarrick have all said, “I didn’t know anything,” or maybe “gosh, I heard rumors, but figured they were just coming from someone who had it in for him.”  No one has said, again, so far as I know, “I apologize for having ignored these reports.”  Everyone is professing that they feel really, really bad about the situation, but no one is admitting any personal fault, just these bland apologies on the part of institutions that drive me batty.

And then they turned to the next item on the agenda, a pastoral letter telling us all to be less racist.

Fine, I get it.  No rabbit holes, etc.  They can’t put everything else on hold.  And maybe the letter has some worthwhile points for self-reflection, though it seems to have a lot of the “drafted by committee” feel, based on my admittedly quick skim of the text itself — it provides examples of discrimination, tells us that racism is sinful, suggests that parishes should implement affirmative action in hiring and that priests should give homilies against racism and educate parishioners on “diverse” Catholic saints, calls on Catholics and the Catholic Church institutionally to support political action against the effects of racism, and the like.  It’s a whole set of agenda items, many of which are good or at least harmless, some of which are suspect, if this becomes a declaration that good Catholics must support the Democratic Party, but which, in general, still pretty much misses the point.  (It also seemed weirdly addressed solely at white Catholics, telling us to not be racist and make amends for our country’s past, even though this group makes up only 55% of American Catholics and is on track to be in the minority.)

How, after all, can you convince people of whatever it is you want to convince them, if they no longer believe you offer valuable insight and wisdom?  There was nothing in this letter that said, “here’s a new insight that will help reach out to people.”  It took if for granted that they still have the same captive audience as, say, 50 or more years ago, that a bishop can demand of parishes, “you’re going to spend your time on anti-racism initiatives now” and everyone will just set right to work at it.

As far as I’m concerned, the leadership of the church has two jobs:  the mechanics of running the church and preserving doctrine, and the more intangible job of providing spiritual leadership.  They might be doing perfectly fine at the former (though presumably this is largely delegated) but their effectiveness at the latter is highly suspect when they shrug off declines in numbers of Catholics, declines in the number of professing Catholics who are active, and endless increases in the number of ex-Catholics.  Whether they cop to it or not, it’s easy to believe that they have comforted themselves decade after decade that the number of people leaving the Church (which is not even remotely balanced out by converts to Catholicism) is offset by new Catholic migrants coming in, so not really a big deal, or, alternately, that drops in membership are just natural and a decline that must simply be effectively managed.

Which is why I say that the core message is “you’re on your own.”  If something that the Pope or your bishop, or another bishop, says, speaks to you, that’s great.  But we can’t rely on them to fix anything — not about the sexual abuse issue, and certainly not about the issue of people leaving the church.  I mean really:  if you’re like me, you encounter your bishop/archbishop/cardinal in two circumstances:  when your parish is forced to play his recording asking for money, and when he’s on the news about some political cause.

And, yes, here locally, Cardinal Cupich has his “Renew My Church” initiative, which claims to be about equipping parishes to be more effective at ministering, but the only outcome I’ve seen so far is the assignment of “church groupings” and the periodic announcements of church and school closings.

But, again, I’ve sent out yet another e-mail asking for help with serving after-mass donuts.  And I’m still discouraged at the prospects for any sort of rebuilding at the parish level — or, at least, some parishes are doing great and others are full of Catholics whose attitude towards volunteering is, as seems to be the norm for Catholics, “someone else can do it,” and whose attitude towards evangelism is “as long as I’m nice to people and periodically mumble something about praying for them on facebook, that’s good enough.”

So that’s the end of my rant.  Please feel free to jump in with comments.; By Ng556 [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

"It is lovely and looks almost like a watercolor. Oia is such a pretty town ..."

Santorini (a vacation sewing project)
"I'm not a fan of Cupic but his explanation does seem reasonable to me. Even ..."

Three Cardinal Cupich Updates That Make ..."
"Do Jews need to accept Christ as their saviour or not?"

Is the cruelty the point? Cardinal ..."

Browse Our Archives