God has shown the strength of God’s arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
God has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
Statement of Catholic Theologians, Educators, Parishioners, and Lay Leaders
On Clergy Sexual Abuse in the United States
On Tuesday, August 14, 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a comprehensive grand jury report documenting the sexual abuse of over 1,000 children by 301 priests across six Pennsylvania dioceses. The document chronicles, with nauseating clarity, seven decades of clergy sexual abuse and systematic cover-ups by bishops and others in positions of power. The report comes in the wake of last months’ revelations of decades of sexual predation by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and in the long shadow of the sexual abuse crisis in Boston and beyond.
The crimes detailed in the grand jury report evince a horror beyond expression. The report summarizes the situation thus: “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” We are brought to our knees in revulsion and shame by the abominations that these priests committed against innocent children. We are sickened in equal measure by the conspiracy of silence among bishops who exploited victims’ wounds as collateral in self-protection and the preservation of power. It is clear that it was the complicity of the powerful that allowed this radical evil to flourish with impunity.
Today, we call on the Catholic Bishops of the United States to prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God’s People.
We urge them to follow the example of Chile’s thirty-four bishops, who resigned collectively in May of this year after revelations of widespread sexual abuse and corruption were brought to light. Through prudent discernment, Pope Francis ultimately accepted three of these thirty-four resignations. It should be noted that the active bishop-to-Catholic ratio is almost the same in Chile and the United States, and that the geographical scope of the crisis in this country appears to surpass that of Chile. After years of suppressed truth, the unreserved decisiveness of the Chilean bishops’ resignations communicated to the faithful a message that Catholics in the United States have yet to hear, with an urgency we have yet to witness: We have caused this devastation. We have allowed it to persist. We submit ourselves to judgment in recompense for what we have done and failed to do.
Some will feel that the resignation of all bishops is unjustified and even detrimental to the work of healing. After all, many bishops are indeed humble servants and well-intentioned pastors. This is an urge we recognize, but it is not one that we can accept. The catastrophic scale and historical magnitude of the abuse makes clear that this is not a case of “a few bad apples” but rather a radical systemic injustice manifested at every level of the Church. Systemic sin cannot be ended through individual goodwill. Its wounds are not healed through statements, internal investigations, or public relations campaigns but rather through collective accountability, transparency, and truth-telling. We are responsible for the house we live in, even if we did not build it ourselves. This is why we call on the U.S. Bishops to offer their resignations collectively, in recognition of the systemic nature of this evil.
If we are to say “never again” to this catastrophic epidemic of sexual violence within the Church, then structural change on a scale previously unimaginable is required. Many have offered sound proposals for specific reforms that would begin to convert this ecclesial culture of violence into one of transparency, accountability, humility, safety, and earned trust. These are proposals we wholeheartedly support, beginning with external investigations of every ecclesiastical province in the United States akin to the one just completed in Pennsylvania. At the same time, we recognize that truth-telling and repentance are prerequisites to conversion. This is as true of institutional conversion as it is of individual conversion. As a collective body, the bishops have given the faithful little indication that they recognize and take accountability for the breathtaking magnitude of the violence and deceit that has continued unabated under their leadership. Thus, we call on them to follow Christ’s example in offering to the people a willing abdication of earthly status. This is a public act of penance and sorrow, absent of which no genuine process of healing and reform can begin.
We, the undersigned, teach in Catholic schools, colleges, universities, and graduate programs. We work in parishes, retreat centers, and diocesan offices. We are parishioners, lay ecclesial ministers, liturgical musicians, catechists, pastoral care workers, youth and young adult ministers, chaplains, parish workers, community advocates, students, teachers, professors, librarians, and researchers. We are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters, vowed religious.
We are the baptized.
We stand in solidarity with the thousands of victims, named and unnamed, whom predatory priests, protected by the willing silence of many bishops, have raped, abused, brainwashed, traumatized, and dehumanized. We stand with those driven to alcoholism and drug addiction, to mental illness and suicide. We grieve with their families and communities.
We grieve in a different but no less profound way for our students, children, families, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and all of those we love who have left or will leave the Church because they have found its leaders unworthy of trust. We grieve for our parishes, communities, schools, and dioceses. We grieve for our Church.
The call we issue today is neither liberal nor conservative. It does not emerge from a particular faction or ideology but rather from the heart of a wounded Church. It is an expression of fidelity to the victims, to Jesus Christ, to the Church in whose service we have devoted our lives.
Thus, we call on you, Bishops of the United States, to consider this humble and public act of penance on behalf of us all. Let it be the first of many steps toward justice, transparency, and conversion. Only then might the wrenching work of healing begin.
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