CREDO: A New Evangelization Witness
By Fr. Bob Schreiner
August 19, 2018
Just when I was leaving for, and thereafter throughout my vacation, the news was filled with gut-wrenching new revelations of corruption at the highest levels of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States. Abuse of power, malfeasance of administration and the most abhorrent of personal moral failings are stories now tumbling out after decades of fearful, terrorized silence (or appallingly – voluntary and willful silence) which muted the truth of it among those who knew.
Two things you need to know: There is so much more yet to be revealed. And I’m certain it will be worse than we’ve yet heard. Any other Pollyanna-like expectation is simply naïve and ill informed. I’m heartbroken to say it.
I have many, many thoughts about what’s going on. And for the past couple weeks I’ve been wondering what you may or may not need your pastor to say about all this. I want you to know, I have ALL the confidence in the world that the lay-faithful are more than capable of deciphering for themselves what to make of these revelations. And for the truly angry, I would be horrified to be perceived as yet another clergy member assuming otherwise of you. Yet, shepherd-leadership entails guiding the flock. So – let’s make a deal: if you don’t want another member of the Catholic clergy commenting on issues concerning their own – then stop reading here. I wouldn’t blame you. But before you stop reading, I would please ask you: pray daily for the Holy Spirit to continue to bring the light of truth to our beloved Catholic Church for her purification, but especially for the purification of her clergy. For the rest of you, here are some of my personal thoughts for your consideration as we journey through these darkened times.
The wisest comment I’ve read yet about this whole mess has been from the layman J.D. Flynn, who is the editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency (CNA). In a tweet from August 11th he wrote: “I talk to Catholics across the country all day, every day. That’s my job. It seems evident to me that the American hierarchy is facing a crisis exceeding in magnitude any other in recent memory. Those who understand that will lead people to Jesus. Those who don’t will not.” I am 100% in the AMEN corner with Mr. Flynn on that.
To that end – let me review a few ‘talking points’ making it into various commentaries and by select commentators which, in my opinion, reveal the fact that they simply don’t get the magnitude of the crisis.
First: “That was all in the past. We’re doing better now. Let’s move on.” Of all lines of thought in this crisis, this one infuriates me the most. Need they be reminded of the horrifying frequency of current headlines which decry recent, current abuses? For one example: The U.S. Vatican priest diplomat who was outed to the Vatican by the F.B.I. as having a computer load of child pornography is a story not even a year old. Idaho, Missouri, California, Minnesota, to mention but a few….all in the past 2 years….tell stories of clerical abuse and cover-ups by hierarchy of the abuse. Anyone who wants you to believe that the headlines are only about the past are selling you a snake-oil elixir intent to dull the memory. Today is tomorrow’s past. And if we hide things now and exempt the present players from scrutiny – it will only come out later. If the abuse of someone’s child today comes to light in 2038, will you accept a chancery official’s argument then: “Well that was in the past and we’re doing better now….” No. No more. This must to be rooted out in the present, as well as all that was done in the past.
Second: “We need new policies.” No. We. Don’t. We never did. Rather, we need men of character who are committed to virtue and are ordained with an acceptance of the radicality of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and who accept the seriousness of the Gospel mandate. If priests and bishops were ordained with even a smidgen of fear for their souls – none of this would have ever happened. This is a matter of evangelical radicality; not of law-giving, clever policies crafted by ecclesial bureaucrats within a committee and then approved by lawyers for publication. If one reads C.S. Lewis’ classic: The Screwtape Letters, we would discover that the devil’s own solution to this mess would precisely be: more policies. More and more policies.
Having said that, I would nonetheless propose the reintroduction (to be updated to current legal statues and canonical language) of a code in Canon Law which was left out in the 1983 revision. In the previous 1917 Code of Canon Law there was this, Canon #2359.2: ““If [clerics] engage in a delict against the sixth precept of the Decalogue [Thou shall not commit adultery] with a minor below the age of sixteen, or engage in adultery, debauchery, bestiality, sodomy, pandering, [or] incest with blood-relatives or affines in the first degree, they are suspended, declared infamous, and are deprived of any office, benefice, dignity, responsibility, if they have such, whatsoever, and in more serious cases, they are to be deposed.” I would welcome this signal of severity to clergy (deacons priests and bishops) of their violation of the promises made in the clerical life (as appropriate to the rank). I haven’t yet done the homework. But I want to know the reasons why it was ever taken out of the new Code of Canon Law. Why wouldn’t we return it to the Code with its clarity and thus govern the lives of clerics going forward?
Third: “This is not about sexual orientation.” Oh, yes it is. Any argument to the contrary simply doesn’t get it. When our Diocese was going through the Fr. James Porter pain in the early 90’s I told friends: “Pedophilia is our first wave of scandal. The second wave will be the homosexual sub-culture among the clergy.” I said it because of what I saw and what I knew of my major seminary days in Chicago. The 3rd millennium wave of scandals has been decades in the making. And yes, part of it is a pre- and post-Vatican II failure in clerics living their celibate lives with chastity; part of it is obviously the perversion of pedophilia and ephebophilia; and another part is due to the willful participation in a homosexual sub-culture of clergy who exempted themselves from the moral teachings and disciplines of the Church, not to mention the evangelical demands of the Gospel. For bishops and others to say: This is not a problem of orientation, well, is willfully denying the depth and breadth of the problem. It is real. And it is a serious, serious problem that must be addressed. I hope it would be a scandal for people to learn, that in my major seminary training – the sum total of our training in chaste celibacy was a formation night when a priest stood in front of us and read the code from Canon Law requiring us to be celibate. When finished he said: “There. Now you’ve been told.” Three minutes. That’s it. That’s all we got. Horrifying? You bet. But it wasn’t an isolated horror.
Last: “There will always be bad eggs. We’re sinful people and so you should expect this occasionally to come out about the clergy.” I’m stunned when reading variations of this line of thought from among the current responses by clergy and hierarchs. Really? That’s the standard? Aim low and you’ll likely hit the target. NO! This is more akin to the Protestant anthropology of fallen man than the Catholic anthropology which is the center piece of St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” A frequent Protestant axiom is offered which goes something like: “We live in a fallen, broken world…ergo…anything after that is grace. But don’t expect much. It all stinks from the start.” That is NOT the Catholic world-view. We teach that all is created good. All is oriented to the good. All is called to the sublime. And all grace is proffered to make that ascent possible for man. It is reckless and unacceptable to explain (or worse, excuse!) this current moral mess among the clergy by saying, “Gosh, well, it should be expected, after all. We’re all sinners.” I totally understand that sentiment….coming from someone within the Reformation Tradition. But it is decidedly not a Catholic one. And no Catholic should promote it nor accept it. As Catholics, we believe and profess that we are all capable of and are called to heroic virtue. Priests and bishops should be expected to lead the way as disciples of its pursuit. Heaven knows, I am watching that heroic life and its pursuit being lived in the lives of so many beautiful marriages and families that I know. I am inspired by them. And I know well that I have the Sacramental duty of Holy Orders to affirm and inspire it in turn as one who is Sacramentally oriented in persona Christi. Every marriage and family is OWED a priest, bishop, Cardinal who is striving no less, if not more, for heroic virtue. When priests, bishops and Cardinals have been shown to have become hostile witnesses to the contrary – then, I believe, they should be dismissed from public ministry and spare everyone the rotting echo effect of their putrid sinfulness and their deleterious effects upon the Kingdom. Let them find mercy in the private life as they work out their repentance. But I believe they’ve not only surrendered the privilege of standing at the altar of God, but also the privilege of preaching the Holy Word to God’s people. On this point, I have hotly debated with priests and bishops alike who think such a position is inconceivable and without compassion. That’s another story. I will let history judge who is right on that score. But don’t look now, I think the tabulation is coming in on it.
Which leads me to say that I would love to go on about the culture of corruption which infects the minds that make up the “black line” of the clergy responsible for the secrecy and cover-ups which inflict the Church now. I’ve studied it and felt its effects for forty (plus) years. Maybe I’ll speak of it at another time. I end this reflection, however, as I began it, with the wisdom of another.
Bishop Robert Barron (who was three years ahead of me in the Chicago seminary – a good man then, and I believe him to be a good bishop now) weighed in on things as they currently stand. In an article published this August 9th, he properly reminded us of the greater battle here. As much as we are disgusted by the behavior of individual men – priests and bishops and Cardinals – as they are unveiled, we must recall the bigger picture: This is evil. And evil can only, ultimately be repulsed from its infectious influences by prayer and by a virtuous life. Bishop Barron writes: “The devil is characterized as “the enemy of the human race” and particularly the enemy of the Church. I challenge anyone to come up with a more devastatingly effective strategy for attacking the mystical body of Christ than the abuse of children and young people by priests [and bishops]. This sin had countless direct victims of course, but it also crippled the Church financially, undercut vocations, caused people to lose confidence in Christianity, dramatically compromised attempts at evangelization, etc., etc. It was a diabolical masterpiece.” “Archbishop [formerly Cardinal] McCarrick did wicked things and so did those, it appears, who enabled him. And we have to come to terms with these sins.”
This is an age – above any of recent times – for penitential prayer and practice. Perhaps, just perhaps, that was to be essentially the message tailored for us in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima Apparitions. Namely: To pray for the repentance of sinners (starting with ourselves) and for a reprieve from the darkness; to pray for the conversion - not of menacing political powers as in 1917 - but instead, now, for the deep and cleansing conversion of the Church’s clergy.
Dear Lady of Light and Truth, dearest Lady of Fatima, intercede for us now, and please lead us all to Jesus your Son.
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