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.