Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pro and Con: Trying to Sort Through the Slogans


After the disgust at the news of wrongdoing (I naively assumed the bishops had cleaned up their mess in 2002), the next thing that rises up in me is wariness. Catholics are right to want the wrongdoing fixed, but I’m dubious about the righteousness of some of the demands being made. Some of the reactions seem based in wrath or preexisting resentment. These cannot be the basis of reform.

This article, which may not see the light of day, is my attempt to work through my misgivings. None of it should be interpreted as supporting the status quo or advocating clericalism. Nor do I intend to show fatalism. Instead, I hope to show that attempts to achieve true justice here are much more involved than the combox warriors on social media think.

Contradictions and Contraries

When we say “All A is B,” the contrary is “No A is B.” They can’t both be true, but both can be false. If we want to contradict “All A is B,” we would say “Some A is not B.” They can’t both be true, but one of them must be. So, if someone says “all Muslims/Priests/Bishops are terrorists/abusers/guilty of coverup,” the contradiction is “some Muslims/Priests/Bishops are NOT terrorists/abusers/guilty of coverup.” [§]

Once we recognize that, it is no longer legitimate to demand a “one size fits all” approach. If some are not guilty, then we must not punish them with the guilty. That means we have to investigate accusations and deal with those who are culpable.

Different Levels of Involvement 

Off the top of my head, I can think of four different levels of bishops’ involvement (and there are probably more) each with a different level of guilt.
  1. Bishops who knew wrongdoing was happening but chose to hide it
  2. Bishops who sent offending priests for treatment and sincerely believed the psychologist who said the priest was cured [~]
  3. Successors to the first bishop involved who assumed that past problems were properly handled until the offending priest showed up in the news.
  4. Successors to the first bishop involved who did their best to root out this evil from their diocese.
Obviously, the greatest guilt goes to group 1. Guilt in groups 2 and 3 will vary depending on what they did once they were aware of the problem reemerging. Group 4 clearly has no guilt and not only would it be unjust to punish them, but doing would hurt real reform.

So, again, we cannot just take a “one size fits all” approach in a reform.

“Let the Laity Run It!” 

One of the mantras on the scandal is that the bishops can’t be trusted and the laity should handle it. I am very concerned about this going wrong. First of all, the bishops are not like elected officials. They do have a sacramental based office as successors of the Apostles and cannot just set aside their task.

Second...well, have you seen the wrathful and sometimes woefully ignorant responses by some of the laity? I wouldn’t trust them to run an impartial investigation. To make this work, we would have to search out and appoint wise and impartial laity who would seek out the truth and render a just report. The problem is, WHO do we trust to make that decision? The bishops who many don’t trust? The laity who I have misgivings about? No matter how it’s decided, somebody will think the investigation lacks credibility.

Personally, I’d like it to be handled like Chile—where the investigation came from the Pope, but involved investigators from outside the country under investigation. Laity can certainly play a role in this. But let’s remember how justice works. The victims are witnesses, and we should listen to them and give them justice. But victims and witnesses can’t also sit on the jury. The whole point of a jury is that the verdict be reached by impartial people.

So, let’s realize that slogans aren’t helpful. We need to ask questions on how to create a just investigation that neither turns into a lynch mob nor turns a blind eye to evil. Yes, laity have a role to play. But so does the magisterium. Unless we recognize this, any investigation is unlikely to be acceptable.

Government Involvement 

I’ve seen some call for the government to be involved in an investigation. I could make a lot of flippant jokes on trusting government competence, but levity isn’t helpful here. The issue here is, what is the role of the government? It can legitimately investigate crime. So, if there were crimes committed that are not past the statute of limitations, the government can prosecute.

The problem is, the state not only can prosecute. It can persecute. It can turn an investigation into a weapon to silence foes. I think back to the 1990s when the government wanted to use RICO to target pro-life demonstrators and seize the property of family members. That was a politically minded attack from a pro-abortion administration. But this is not merely a threat from the past. I remember the recent contraceptive mandate and the hostility directed at the bishops. I can imagine the current administration remembering the bishops’ stance on immigration. So the question is, how far can we trust the government to only do what it has the authority to do?

This too must be considered in determining a just response.

Cut off Donations!

This is a popular slogan, but it flies in the face of our Catholic obligations... notably the Fifth Precept of the Church. The fact is, the faithful are required to provide for the needs of the Church to carry out her mission. Now I understand the anger the faithful have in seeing this support go to paying settlements. If the bishops had acted instead of evaded, we might not be in that mess. But their bad stewardship doesn’t remove our obligation.

That doesn’t mean we have to just throw our money away. One can specify that their donations go to specific ministries and not the general fund. But this does require some research to know where the greatest need is.


I realize these reflections do not provide solutions. That was never the intention. The point of this was to point out that the Catholic response cannot be implementing slogans. They require thought and planning to ensure a just solution that solves the problem, not a quick fix that does greater harm down the road.

I don’t advocate a clericalism based response. After all, I’m a member of the laity and I’m involved by writing about this. But I also reject the idea that the clergy is the enemy of reform. That idea has led to many heresies and schisms.

If we as laity want to truly be involved, I think it involves prayer and study before actions. We must pray for God’s involvement and for our own guidance. We must pray for the innocent clergy to be comforted and given courage to do right. We must pray for the guilty that they repent and make amends for their evil, and that they be brought to salvation.

And after prayer comes study. There are a lot of uninformed, emotion driven reactions out there which will not bring reform. They will only cause division. We must understand what the Church can actually do, we must understand what is compatible with her mission. If we can understand that, we can recognize when a demand is something we cannot do.

This frustrates people. We want the filth to stop. We want accountability. There’s nothing wrong with that. But unless we pray for guidance and study to learn what is just, we may end up doing injustice to feel good. 


[§] This works both ways of course. The contradictory of “No A is B” is “Some A is B.” 
[~] There can be overlap with group 1 if they worked to conceal wrongdoing.

No comments:

Post a Comment