Showing posts with label Reform. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reform. Show all posts

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Enough Already! Reflections on the Need to Reject Emotion Based Response

As the abuse scandal goes on, we’re constantly bombarded with blogs, editorials, and commentaries that amount to saying “I’m angry and I’m going to tell everyone about everything I dislike about the Church and why I think it failed me!” I am not talking about actual victims here. They’re right to be angry over the pain suffered. I’m certainly not qualified to judge when they’re healed and would not dare to presume to tell them they should “get over it.” 

Instead, I’m talking about Catholics, not personally affected, who are letting their emotions drive their understanding of the situation. I get it that shock and anger are natural reactions to becoming aware of this wrongdoing. But if our response is led by emotion, we will not achieve any meaningful reform. Instead, we will only respond in a way that satisfies the emotion. We see this in the rush to judgment. Yes, certain bishops did conceal wrongdoing. Yes, we had a predator work his way up to the rank of cardinal. These things should not have happened and we need a reform.

The problem is, a meaningful reform requires us to be rational. We can’t just accuse our usual suspects, demand they be gotten rid of, and expect things to fall into place. But if you read the endless articles out there, you usually learn about the writer’s politics by the “reforms” they propose. We’re constantly bombarded by calls for women priests and the ending of celibacy on one hand, accusations against Vatican II and the “lavender mafia” on the other.

But when you think about these arguments, they don’t really make sense. Women priests won’t eliminate sexual abuse. It seems like every other week there’s a story in the news about a female teacher who sexually abused a student. Ending celibacy won’t end it. Protestant denominations have similar rates of sexual abuse, and schools—an institution that emphatically does not require celibacy—have higher rates of sexual abuse. Vatican II didn’t cause it. A high percentage of cases preceded Vatican II or involved priests ordained before Vatican II. As for the “lavender mafia,” that’s an ill-defined term that basically amounts to saying that some corrupt people in the Church with same sex attraction have received positions of authority and work together in some manner.

Arguing that these things be “changed” is not a blueprint for reform. It’s just assuming that everything would be fine if we just got rid of what we dislike. True reform requires an investigation into how these things could have happened and what could be reasonably done to prevent it from happening again.

Unfortunately, when we let emotions get in the way, we demand instantaneous fixes and think “reasonably” is a code word for “token reform.” But to avoid a “feel good” bandaid that achieves nothing or possibly to assume guilt until proven innocent, we need to evaluate the situation with the willingness to understand both what has happened and what the Church can do in response.

A reasonable reform (by which I mean a reform established by reason, not “the minimum reform we can get away with”) involves looking at the facts of the matter, determining what worked, what failed, who did their job, and who failed to do so. It means we think about the long term fix and don’t settle for scapegoats.

For example, consider the Pope’s words during the September 25 press conference, (ZENIT translation) for which critics accused him of being “tone deaf”:

I take Pennsylvania’s Report, for example, and we see that up to the first years of the 70’s there were so many priests who fell into this corruption. Then, in more recent times, they diminished because the Church realized that it had to fight another way.  In past times, these things were covered up. They were covered up also at home when an uncle violated a niece when the father violated the children. They were covered up because it was a very great shame. It was the way of thinking in past centuries, and of the past century. There is a principle in this that helps me very much to interpret history: a historical event is interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time in which the event happened, not with today’s hermeneutics. 

He’s right. To understand the behavior—and to understand is not to condone—we must understand the mindset that made it possible. In the past, things were hidden out of shame. That doesn’t justify the silence. But it does help us understand why things were tolerated in the past. If we understand them, we can try to change them. But if we don’t try to understand them—if we think being angry is enough—we will never overcome the evil.

I think we have a tendency to “fill in the blanks” when we have partial information. We insert the motives we think explain an evil and treat it as truth, demanding we be refuted even though the onus of proof falls on us to prove our angry assumptions true. Moreover, when proof is given to the contrary, we claim it is part of a coverup—because we “know” it must be false. Why do we “know” it’s false? Because it contradicts our preconceived notions about what happened. “Innocent until proven guilty” becomes “presumption of guilt that can never be disproved.”

This kind of emotional response will not reform the Church. It will instead lead people to assume that any solution that doesn’t immediately satisfy their need for vengeance is a coverup or attempt at stonewalling. That kind of mistrust eventually leads to schism while the problem goes on... and probably continues to exist in the rebellious group that thinks they eliminated the problem by rejecting the Pope.

If we want to truly reform the Church, we need to recognize when our emotions are interfering with seeking out truth. As St. Paul warns (Ephesians 4:26-27), “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.”

I think at this point, we’re leaving plenty of room for the devil and he’ll take advantage of it as long as we let emotion take first place.

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.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Come What May, The Church Remains

The scandals have shaken the Church. McCarrick and the 300 priests who have credible accusations [§] against them abused their positions to molest children and that is inexcusable. Some bishops were more interested in avoiding scandal than in shepherding their flock. That too is inexcusable. The Church has a procedure to canonically investigate and try bishops and that should be done [†].

However, certain Catholics have taken it further. In their mind, all the bishops should have known and therefore cannot be trusted. They believe that only the laity can save the Church and demand that they lead the investigation, determine the fate of bishops, and have a say in their replacements. The implication is that since none can be trusted (unproven) they cannot lead us. It’s a very anticlerical movement that shows some people do not have a clear understanding of what the Church is.

Others have shown signs of believing that the Church is a simply human institution. I’ve seen parents say they weren’t sure if they wanted their children baptized and priests wonder if the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church (cf. Matthew 16:18). These too are a sign of people not understanding what the Church is. 

What we need to remember is the Catholic Church is the Church Our Lord, Jesus Christ, established and promised to protect, remaining with it until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). That doesn’t mean that the leaders of the Church will be sinless. Even in the best of times, there is corruption. Even with the holiest of Popes and bishops, there are bad decisions. That doesn’t mean we have to be fatalistic about the current crises in this time. Of course we have to work to clean up the Church. But regardless of corruption in the Church, Our Lord’s promise remains. Individuals sin, fall into heresy or schism. But Our Lord does not permit the Church to teach error in His name [¶] regardless of what some of the shepherds may do. 

Remembering this is how we discern true reform from rebellion. In every time of crisis, the true reform has come from those who gave submission to those tasked with leading the Church. False reform came from those who rejected that authority. In fact, the false reform usually spun off into heresies or schisms. 

What we need to remember is that the Church exists as the ordinary means [∞] Our Lord uses to bring His salvation to the world and help us discern how to live faithfully, and that He has entrusted the teaching office to the successors of the Apostles—the Pope and the college of bishops in communion with him. Our Lord made hearing His Church mandatory (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). So, when we encounter a movement which refuses or undermines the teaching authority of the Church, we know this movement is not of God.

I understand it is frustrating, especially since some bishops have been revealed as failing to look after their dioceses. How can we tolerate knowing that other bishops, guilty of similar things, may be undetected? The answer is, we must trust that even if a sinful priest or bishop should escape detection, God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). Our Lord’s warning about millstones (Matthew 18:6) should terrify them about dying unrepentant. We trust that God can and will protect the Church from going astray.

I admit that may be a small consolation for the victims and their families. They do want justice—rightly. But we need to realize that, being but men, our magisterium will not do a flawless job of rooting out corruption, no matter how diligent and sincere they are. For the rest, we must leave it up to God, painful as it may be.

So let us pray for the faithful clergy in this time of trial. Let us pray for the unfaithful clergy that they may repent and be brought to repentance and salvation. Let us pray for the victims, that they might be consoled. Let us pray that we act wisely and not out of sheer emotion. And then, after praying, let’s get to work—but let’s work with the Church, not against her.


[§] Barring any exculpatory evidence a la  the Cardinal Bernadin case—which I do not expect—I have no reason to question the credibility of the cases.
[†] As I understand it, the statute of limitations is past for criminal charges or lawsuits.
[¶] This protection is not “prophecy.”  It isn’t a guarantee of personal moral perfection either. Rather it is a negative protection. It prevents the Church from teaching error, but it doesn’t mean further development isn’t possible.
[∞] Ordinary means is the normal way Our Lord carries out His mission. There’s nothing to stop Him from using an extraordinary means, but it would be presumptuous on our part to knowingly refuse His ordinary means and demand something unusual to save us.