Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What is Perceived and What Is are not Always the Same Thing

I can understand that abuse survivors and their families have seen the Church at her worst. So it makes sense that they will have a negative interpretation of the recent Summit and how the proposals will be applied. Once trust is damaged, it’s hard to repair it. The problem is, the obligation to seek out the truth and respond proportionately remains. This means one is not punished on suspicion of wrongdoing, but on evidence. It means that the Church cannot laicize a member of the clergy based on accusations, but evidence.

And in the Church, being led on earth by human beings, those investigating can be deceived by those who do evil. So, if one is accused of a heinous crime but no evidence is available to prove it, it is possible that the accused will convince those investigators of his innocence. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the investigators are free of negligence charges. Before the child abuse charges against McCarrick were made public, I had never heard of the “Uncle Ted” accusations. But apparently they were known in his archdiocese [§]. If they were properly reported with evidence, there should have been some sort of investigation that might have stopped this earlier. Abuse victims will reasonably want to know why there was none. 

I’ve read articles about how survivors were disappointed by the Summit. It seems they wanted more bishops laicized, and were disappointed that the focus was on “talk.” The problem is, this Summit wasn’t an Inquisition or an Ecumenical Council. It was about getting bishops—especially in places that thought abuse was an “American problem” [#]—to understand their duties. We will see a Motu Proprio from the Pope and a Vademecum for confessors aimed at removing false understanding on the obligations for reporting abuse.

In other words, the point of the Summit was not vengeance, but on making sure the bishops know their jobs in preventing future abuser priests from getting away with a vile evil—especially before they become bishops. No doubt there are bishops out there who covered up. No doubt there are priests who abused. There may be more bishops who did what McCarrick or Apuron did. The Church will have to find them to make sure justice is done. Some of them may escape detection, but God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). 

Even so, we must remember that we cannot assume from the guilt of some that all are guilty of abuse. We cannot assume from the fact that some covered up that all are guilty of coverups. That is the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. The bishops who did not cover up should not be targeted. Bishops who used sincere but bad judgment should not be treated like those who deliberately chose wrong. We certainly cannot defrock by quota.

Ultimately, this is something where we must provide justice for the victims... but that justice must never be allowed to turn into vengeance. If vengeance is misperceived as justice, the Church cannot grant that any more than she can treat laxity as mercy.

We certainly should pray for the Pope and bishops that they find the way to meet God’s requirements of justice and mercy without them being corrupted.


[§] The question, of course, is how well they were known outside the archdiocese. Who was informed, and with what evidence?

[#] That error is understandable. With the majority of reported cases coming from the United States and Western Europe, it was easy to think of it as a “Western problem.” Even I thought that way once—and more recently than I want to admit.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Justice? Or Vengeance? The Two Are Not the Same

Some comments about the summit are closer to this than to the obligations of the Church

Sadly, many of our people, not just those abused or parents of the abused, but the faithful at large are wondering if we the leaders of the Church fully understand this reality, particularly when they see little care given to abused children, or even worse, when it is covered up to protect the abuser or the institution. They are asking themselves, “If church leaders could act with so little care in giving pastoral attention in such obvious cases of a child being sexually molested, does that not reveal how detached they are from us as parents who treasure our children as the light of our lives? Can we really expect our leaders to care about us and our children in the ordinary circumstances of life, if they responded so callously in cases that would alarm any reasonable person?” This is the source of the growing mistrust in our leadership, not to mention the outrage of our people.

—Cardinal CupichFeb 22 2019.

Cardinal Cupich raised a good point at the Summit in Rome. If bishops didn’t give justice to the victims of abuse and their families, how are they to trust the bishops to guide them in the faith. It’s a question that cannot be dismissed. The fact is some bishops were given the task of providing justice in the face of a vile evil and, for whatever reason, failed to provide that justice and allowed the predators get away with a horrific crime. The faithful need justice and they need to be able to know this will never happen again. This is a legitimate demand.

Unfortunately, intermingled with the demand for justice, is the demand for vengeance and scapegoats. These people are not saying “Bishop X was informed of this case of abuse and did nothing to protect children from future abuse.” They’re saying “All the bishops must have known. Therefore they’re all guilty and need to be laicized.” This is not a legitimate demand. In some cases it seems to reach the point of accusing Popes and bishops, without evidence, based on their ideological views... as if only people on the “other side” can be guilty.

Justice can be defined as acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good, giving what is due. Vengeance, on the other hand, can be defined as retaliation for an injury or offense. The problem is, vengeance often focuses on retaliation without concern for whether the punishment is just. But even when the Church failed to be just in the past, that doesn’t allow the faithful to demand retaliation that is unjust.

I think of this as we see the response by some to the 21 points issued on the first day of the Summit. Two of them received a lot of hostility:

14. The right to defence: the principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation.

15.  Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.

These are principles recognized in most free nations: You’re presumed innocent until proven guilty and if you’re guilty, the punishment must be proportional to the crime. Now Cardinal Cupich, as cited above, rightly pointed out that the victims and families have a right to be concerned about whether the bishops will fail to provide justice based on past results. People who don’t trust the bishops after discovering all the cases that were not disclosed will no doubt fear that this is more of the same.

But even so, we cannot respond to an injustice to the victims with injustice to the accused. So any reforms to the system cannot violate these principles to make it easier to punish. Even though there are a number of credible cases out there, we cannot assume all cases are true without proof. Some accusations may be false, and if it is, allowing that priest to be treated like a criminal would be unjust.

Moreover, we need to recognize there’s a difference between a bishop who knowingly concealed a case of abuse and a bishop who sincerely followed the advice of the recognized experts of the time, believing that the abuser priest was cured and able to return to ministry. Justice requires they be handed differently. We have to be careful that our horror and disgust do not lead us to forget our obligations as Christians. As painful as it feels when dealing with this evil, we do have Our Lord’s command: 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

[Matthew 5:43–48 (NABRE)]

That doesn’t mean “be a doormat,” giving the evildoers a free pass. But it means we cannot be unjust or hateful to those who wronged us. We’re called to administer justice in a way that seeks their salvation, even when we’re tempted to consign them to hell. I’m not saying that this will be easy. We should not have to suffer injustice at the hands of the shepherds of the Church. But, since the Church is a Church of sinful humans, not angels, injustice will happen. So, responding in a Christian manner is necessary.

So what do we do? I think we need to pray for the Pope and bishops involved. If we’re troubled by a proposal, perhaps we should be praying, “Lord, if this is unjust, give them the wisdom to see it. And if I am mistaken, please give me the wisdom to see it.” If we are angry, perhaps we should pray, Lord, if my anger is wrathful, give me the strength to let go.” Ultimately, we are praying both for the Summit to do God’s will and for us to do God’s will if we are mistaken.

If we don’t do that, we risk acting from vengeance, not justice. And that will be acting against God’s will.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Reasonable and Unreasonable Petitions

As the abuse summit moves forward, we will see many people calling for different solutions. Some of them will be reasonable. Others will not. The difference is ultimately one of whether the demand recognizes what the Church can legitimately do. The Church cannot change her doctrine. The Church cannot do evil so good may come of it. Any demands along this line are doomed to failure. The Church cannot remove evil from her midst by decree. If she could, St. Peter probably would have done that the day after Pentecost in AD 33. The weeds will remain among the wheat (see Matthew 13:24-30) [§].

And that’s why the Church cannot forget her obligation to be God’s chosen means to bring salvation into the world. As much as the actions of men like McCarrick disgust us, we are not freed from our obligations to seek their salvation. This is difficult and painful. I can’t claim to know what victims and their family members went through. I certainly can’t say, “Well, I would have handled it better.” For all I know, I might have responded to it much worse if I had been in their place.

There are also reasonable petitions. The victims and their family members have a right to make their needs known, provided it is done in a respectful manner. Canon 212 reads:

This means that we the faithful can certainly make known our needs. But we must respect the shepherds of the Church in doing so. We must respect the teachings on faith and morals in doing so. If our petitions do not heed these requirements, then the Church must refuse them. That doesn’t mean that the Church is “doing nothing.”

In my opinion, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Church establish policies that handle bishops who abuse or are culpably silent. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the Church take complaints of abuse seriously. But if our preferred ways of doing this go against what the Church can or must do, we will be disappointed. We must obey God’s teachings.

God remains in control of His Church, even when some of those who shepherd us fail, or even do evil. Cleaning out this vile evil may take years, or even decades after the summit ends—those who did or willingly turned a blind eye to evil will no doubt try to hide the fact, making it as difficult as possible to discover—but it will be done.

In the meantime, we should be praying for the victims, that they find healing and justice. We should also be pray for the Summit that they find a way to justly reform the Church from evil that has gone on too long. But, when we seek justice, our position before The Lord must be like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42. We must say, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” 


[§] That doesn’t mean being passive in the face of injustice. The fact that we can’t violently uproot the suspected weeds (exact God’s Judgment for Him) does not mean we must let evil go unchecked.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Reflections on the Eve of the Summit

[Preliminary Note—None of this should be interpreted as being directed at those who were victims or family members of victims. Nor should it be interpreted as telling them to “be quiet.” This is about understanding the issues and the purpose of the summit while avoiding condemning it for not doing what it never was supposed to.]

Let’s be clear on something. The Abuse Summit being held in the Vatican is not going to be an Inquisition. It’s not going to drag McCarrick before the body in chains. Bishops won’t be forced to accuse themselves of covering up or being part of a “homosexual cabal.” There won’t be an auto da fé. It won’t be an ecumenical council either. We won’t see the summit drastically changing Church disciplines or teachings. Anyone expecting this (especially the “Summit will be a failure unless they do X” crowd) will be disappointed.

What there will be is a meeting aimed at making the bishops aware of their obligations in the face of reports of abuse, and making clear that this is not just an “American (or western) problem.” There will be discussion of what worked or failed to work. There will be listening to victims. And there will be prayer. The success or failure will not be in what is said and done. It will be in what each country’s bishops do in response.

Notice the vast difference between the two visions. It seems like some people who hate the Pope and some people who want the Church to drastically change her teachings in general are setting expectations that they know will not be met so they can claim failure and allege “coverup” as the reason.

But there are things we need to do to prepare for the summit. First, we need to realize that when corruption festers, it takes years, even decades to clean up. That’s because we not only have to track down people responsible, but also identify and correct those false ideas that might have led people to think that staying silent was a legitimate option. This means educating Catholics about the difference between being faithful to the Church and being silent because a member of the clergy abuses his authority by abuse or coverup.

Second, we need to recognize this isn’t the first step finally taken for opposing abuse. It’s not the final step that will fix everything either. The Church has made many attempts to prevent abuse and ensure that the abusers did not go unpunished. Some worked. Some didn’t. For example, when you read the 1917 Code of Canon Law, you see that there were rules that mandated that the bishop be informed of abuse by a priest in a timely manner [†]. For example:

Technically, if these canons had been followed by all parties, this could have prevented McCarrick from getting away with his crimes for so long.

Unfortunately, these canons didn’t understand the victim might be unable to overcome trauma and shame to come forward. Nor did it allow for the possibility that those who were supposed to pass that information on would fail to carry out their duties. It was also assumed that an abuser priest acted out of attraction to a specific person, and moving the priest away from that victim would end the problem. These assumptions were obviously wrong, and probably added to the sense of suffering for the victims.

So, we can see it’s not a case of “the Church became lax after Vatican II.” We can’t just “go back,” because the known cases from the 1930s until Vatican II happened during this supposed strong period. What the Church is doing now is recognizing where procedures for dealing with these accusations have been ineffective, and working on sharing where the procedures have succeeded.

And in some cases they have. In the United States, the of number of cases peaked in the 1980s, and then began to decline. Since 2002, after the Dallas Accords, new cases of abuse have fallen sharply. The new revelations of priests who abused and bishops who covered up were not recent cases. They were old cases recently uncovered [§]. Yes, they should have been revealed when the other cases were discovered. Yes, this lack of disclosure seriously damaged the faithful’s trust in the Magisterium of the Church.

But, we cannot assume everyone must have known and everyone must be guilty. Between the 1930s and the 1980s, there have been many bishops in the dioceses. Some made decisions that enabled abusers, but some did not. The Church cannot punish the innocent. She must investigate to see who knew and willfully covered up or refused to report. They must be held accountable. The problem is, those are not the only bishops out there. For example:
  • Bishops who sincerely believed the advice from psychiatrists that the priest should be moved.
  • Bishops who succeeded the bishop who made the decision, not knowing about the problem.
  • Bishops who assumed that their predecessors had properly dealt with any problems.
  • Bishops who proactively try to root out problems when they become aware of them [@].
None of those groups of bishops covered up, and should not be punished as if they did. So when people say the bishops instead of some bishops, that response is unjust. No matter how vile the crime, the person who is not guilty is not guilty.

So, yes, call for justice. It’s your right under canon 212—so long as you do it reverently, and give religious submission of intellect and will to the teaching authority of the Church. But don’t call for vengeance or scapegoats. That’s incompatible with our faith.

Please keep these things in mind as the media reports (and probably misreports) on the Summit. Remember what they are attempting to do, and judge the summit on that. 


[†] While some states in the US and some nations like Australia are trying to violate the seal of Confession by forcing priests to reveal what was said, the Church did have a rule that if the victim confessed their part, the priest was supposed to tell them of their obligation to tell the bishop. Judging by the number of cases that took decades to come forward, this policy obviously didn’t work. The 1983 code eliminated the one month requirement for the victim:

[§] In the Pennsylvania report, the number of cases that were not past the statute of limitations was in the low single digits.

[@] After discovering he was misinformed about the Barrios case, Pope Francis was solidly in this camp.

Monday, February 11, 2019

False Prophets and Usurpers

Others are false prophets because of a false intention. But what is the true intention of a prophet? Surely, the benefit of the people. Hence the Apostle says in 1 Cor 14:13: “Someone who prophesies speaks to the people for the sake of their advancement, exhortation, and consolation.” He speaks for the sake of their advancement, so that he renders them devout [cf. Ps 76:12]; for the sake of their exhortation, so that he renders them ready and willing in good works; and for the sake of their consolation, so that he renders them patient in adversities. If anyone seeks from his teaching something else than the benefit of the people, he is a false prophet.

—St. Thomas Aquinas. 
Academic Sermon XIV

I find the words of St. Thomas Aquinas appropriate in dealing with these times. We have people who claim that the Church has fallen into error and is not to be trusted—even though the Church is “the pillar and foundation of truth” [1 Timothy 3:15 (NABRE)]. They do not speak in a way that makes the faithful devout, ready to do good works, and patient in adversity. They speak in a way that makes us rebellious, judging who is worthy of our works, and impatient with the existence of sin and weakness. These people may have good intentions, but they are still leading people away from what benefits them. Therefore they are false prophets.

We know that the Church is established by Christ (Matthew 16:18) and teaches through His authority (Luke 10:16). We know that The Lord does not take kindly to those who try to set up a counter magisterium (Numbers 16:1-35).

Yet these false prophets exist. They try to undermine trust in the Church and the rock on which Christ builds it. “The Pope speaks unclearly and causes confusion!” they say. Does he? Or is it a case of those who despise him twisting his words to the worst possible way to “prove” their point?

Perhaps it is time to start asking questions about the critics who make these attacks. Are their attacks building up the Church and encouraging her mission to go convert the world? Quite the opposite. These false prophets are encouraging mistrust, focusing on factions and saying we must disobey those successors to the Apostles. Are these attacks bringing sinners back to the Church? No. In fact, they cheer the concept of a “smaller Church” that expels anyone less holy than them. Do they help us to be patient in trials? No, they point to these trials as “proof” that the Church errs.

So why are we giving them so much attention and credibility? If we profess to believe that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church was established by Christ, and we believe that the Catholic Church under the Successor of Peter is that Church, then we heed the teaching of that Church.

The Catechism reminds us:

Think about that. “Whoever despises them despises Christ.” Then think of the Catholics who attack these successors. Should we listen to them? Or should we listen to the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Pope. We know what The Lord said. We know He promised to protect His Church.

We will have no excuse if we ignore the Church and listen to the false prophets.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

On the Wrong Side of (Church) History

One of the conceits I see is the view that the individual Catholic is in the same place as Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, while the Americans bishops are in the place of the English bishops at the time of Henry VIII breaking away from the Catholic Church [§]. This view holds that, in both cases, the bishops were cowardly and went along with an evil, rather than speak out against it. Therefore, they are in the “right” to reject them.

This view is both bad history and bad theology. We forget that, in every age where rejection of the Church arose, there was corruption that led people to think that rejection was justified. But the saints never accepted the idea that sin and corruption justified dissent.

(St. Francis of Assisi)

These individuals today justify disobedience to a Pope based on what they want the Church to be. The problem is: Saints, like More and Fisher, refused to use the bad behavior of a Pope as an excuse to disobey the authority of the Church. In other words, these modern critics (sincere or not) are closer to the those 16th century English who rejected the authority of Rome than they are to Sts. More and Fisher who said the authority of the Church rested with the Pope, even in bad times.

The Church today certainly has serious problems to deal with. We look at the abuse scandal and are shocked: At least some of the bishops seemed willing to sweep problems under the carpet. The 1917 Code of Canon Law seems to have been based on a naive assumption that all parties would be acting out of good will. Even if the numbers were statistically small, it was a problem that grew to cause great harm to the victims and their families and great mistrust towards the Church that is supposed to be Mother and Teacher. We also see the scandal of Catholic politicians who openly defy Church teaching on issues like abortion (some going so far as to express support for infanticide) and same sex “marriage,” and the response of some bishops seems to be “tsk.” People want to know why the wicked seem to get away with wrongdoing without repercussions [#]. People see this and argue we’re in an unprecedented crisis.

The problem with that reasoning is it forgets that the Church has had problems in every age. During the midst of each crisis, the Church looks like it is losing to the attacks against her. Sometimes, in the midst of these crises, bishops behave scandalously or ineffectually. During the midst of the 4th century, it looked like Arianism was going to win. During the 16th century, it looked like the Church would collapse under the dual attacks of corruption within and Protestantism without.

Reforms and opposing attacks were never instantaneous. Defeating Arianism took two ecumenical councils and a lot of struggle against a state that wanted them to win. Martin Luther began his work in about 1517. The Council of Trent didn’t begin until 1545, and wasn’t concluded until 1563. Implementation took over a hundred years.

I don’t say this to be complacent or triumphalistic. Yes, God protects His Church from teaching error. But we have our own role to play in defending and protecting the Church. What I am saying is that we must not assume that the Church is permanently broken and that we are therefore excused from the submission of intellect and will to the Church that Christ requires of us.

We can’t wait passively for God to send us saints to reform the Church. We’re called to be those saints. But we have to remember this: there was never a saint that refused obedience to the Church under the headship of the Pope. Regardless of the crises within the Church, even when they involved Popes behaving badly, the saints gave obedience to the Successor of Peter.  If we won’t do that, we’re not part of the solution...

...we’re part of the problem.


[§] This is not an article about Protestantism. It’s an article about people who inaccurately invoke the rise of Protestantism, equating it with the leadership of the Church today.

[#] The short answer is, canon 1398 is only aimed at people committing an act of abortion. But people do want to know actions are being taken.