Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Church Will Be Saved Despite—Not Because of—Their Attacks

Yeats, The Second Coming

As things continue, we see those who once defended the Church from unjust attacks join the ranks of the unjust attackers. Seizing on injustice that exists in the Church—and always will as long as sinful human beings are part of it—they seek to tear down the whole of authority because they dislike how some of those tasked with teaching and guiding have failed in carrying out their task.

What these people want is a wrathful response to wrongdoing, without considering whether the wrathful response is the right one. Wrongdoing exists in the Church. Therefore it must be the fault of the entire college of bishops. If they had done their jobs—so the argument goes—sin would not exist in the Church.

But until the final judgment, sin will always exist in the Church. I don’t say that to be fatalistic. I say that to point out that the attitude of “throw the bums out” is not going to solve the problems in the Church. Some in charge may indeed need to be removed to correct the current wrongdoing. But that correction must be done justly. That means determining who are guilty of wrongdoing, not assuming all are guilty and attacking the entire Church for not doing a mass purge.

I think these Catholics have allowed their dissatisfaction with how wrongdoing is handled to fester into assuming the entire system is unjust. Their arguments differ, depending on whether they identify with the morality of the political left or right, but they boil down to a belief that the Church is wrong in some way and the Pope and/or the college of bishops are to blame. 

The problem is many people assume that what they have heard is actionable when it is not. Take, for example, the recent Crux story about a seminarian who (anonymously) posted his account on Twitter. The line that made me go “hmm...” was this:

“If it is true....” I am not calling this unidentified man a liar. It may well be a true account. The problem is, with anonymity and with no identification, we cannot act on it.  Which diocese? Which seminary? Did the person he talked to even pass the complaint on to the bishop? There are a lot of things that a proper investigation has to know. We rightly want justice and reform. But if the things that “everybody knows” are stories without details like this, there’s a limit to what the Bishop can do. Sure, he can ask general questions. But that might turn up nothing...or even turn up misinformation if he asks the person who covered up. Without facts to act on, he can’t even know for certain that the story is true. Remember Cardinal Bernadin, for example.

Again, I am not accusing victims of lying. Nor am I trying to make excuses for bishops who did wrong. I am saying we need to determine the truth of the matter. We should keep in mind the Apology of Socrates on knowing and not knowing.

Apologia 21. Be like Socrates, not the other guy.

I cite this to point out that many people think rumors that “everybody knows” is the same thing as proof. It’s not. “Everybody” knowing a rumor is not the same thing as people with the responsibility finding information they can act on.

In this scandal, many critics think they “know” and, therefore the bishops are all guilty. But the questions to ask are: Who told? Were they reliable? Who was told? Did they pass it on? With answers to these questions, we can find the truth and hold the guilty responsible. Without answers, but thinking we know, we can only rashly accuse.

Unfortunately, in times of scandal, the person who says “let us seek the truth first” gets accused of supporting the status quo. But we cannot rush to judgment, especially if we have previous animosity with the accused. 

This is why I say “stop and seek the truth first,” instead of “hold all the bishops accountable.” Yes, those within the Church who were culpable for enabling abuse should answer for it. That’s a major part of reform. But the “guilty until proven innocent” mindset will not lead to reform. It will lead to mistrust and anticlericalism to the point where Catholics will justify disobedience on the grounds that the bishops didn’t act as they thought best.

The Church will be saved despite those angry critics. Not because of them.

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