What created this crisis? The root of the problem is the lack of accountability on the part of the bishops, which allowed a severe moral failure on the part of some priests and bishops to put the legacy, reputation and good work of the Church in peril. The lack of accountability, in turn, was fostered by a closed clerical culture that infects the priesthood, isolating some priests and bishops from the faithful and from one another.
No one can safely generalize about a group as huge, complex and amorphous as "the laity." It is also wrong to generalize about "you," the bishops. Indeed, many of "you" are not only blameless in the current scandal-you have acted honorably in the incredibly difficult balancing act you are called upon to perform. You did not protect abusive priests, nor have you attempted to circle the wagons or clamp down on lay "dissent," when outraged parishioners and priests in recent months demanded accountability for episcopal misdeeds. Other bishops, however, have behaved atrociously, angering fellow bishops and priests, whose reputations have been tarnished by those whose actions have been marked by arrogance, lack of repentance, and repeated failure to be collegial and consultative, except in an upward direction.
|The principles underlying the policies you will implement on sexual abuse--a return to discipline and moral oversight within the priesthood, a regime of collaboration with laity, a firm resolve to root out clericalism in the priesthood and in the seminary--must be extended through the whole church.|
What's at stake in the present crisis? What's at stake is the viability of the Church's moral and pastoral mission in the United States on the scale of its historic legacy; at stake is the reputation of the priesthood; at risk is the moral and pastoral authority of the bishops, and the Church's credibility on social justice as well as sexual teaching. Whether the Catholic Church as currently governed and managed can proclaim the gospel effectively in this milieu is an open question.
The laity must always be receptive to frank talk from our bishops about our own failings. In that same spirit of candor, borne not of spite, but of love for the Church and respect for your office, we must reproach you for your attitudes and behavior that have given scandal to the faithful, especially to the young. A good friend of mine, hearing I would be addressing you, sent the following message:
"You and I are the father of teenagers who are experiencing all that teenagers experience. Our children struggle with the whole concept of Church, the nature of God, the tradition into which they've been born. I am confident that God will speak to each of them at some point in their lives, perhaps when they are ready to listen. Sooner better than later. But you and I both know that, above all else, teenagers hate hypocrisy. Like Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye, they will spot a phony from miles away. And right now they are thinking that if this is what is going on with the Church, I want no part of it."
When Jesus withdrew temporarily from the crowds and led his apostles to Caesarea Phillippi, he posed two questions to them: What are the people saying about me? And who do you say that I am?
Today, after five months of unrelenting revelations of clerical and episcopal misdeeds, one is compelled to ask: What are they saying about you, the successors to the apostles? I don't think the suspense will be broken if we admit that at this particular moment in American history, they are NOT comparing you to Christ and his apostles.
They are saying, rather, that this scandal is only incidentally about the terrible sin and crime of the sexual abuse of minors by a small minority of priests; that the underlying scandal is the behavior and attitudes of the Catholic bishops--not just then--ten or fifteen or twenty years ago, when the abusive priests were reassigned, but even now, after all the sorry revelations to date!