Monday, September 21, 2015

As Pope Arrives: "Until Francis Gets the House in Order on the Matter of Sexual Abuse of Clergy, All the Other Pastoral and Charitable Efforts of Our Church Are Like Sandcastles"

Two simple (but are they simple?) reminders this morning about the abuse situation in the Catholic church, and the imperative need of Catholic pastoral leaders to address it — from the highest level of church governance:

Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger at her Canonical Consultation blog: 

Until Francis gets the house in order on the matter of sexual abuse of clergy, all the other pastoral and charitable efforts of our Church are like sandcastles, destined to be washed away by the next big tide.

The Vatican's continued laxness toward abusive priests is playing out tragically around the world today — especially in countries with weak reporting laws. That's because another church law helps the priest's identity stay secret: Church officials need not report child abuse unless local secular law requires it. 
The result is that Catholic officials in many countries still give second chances to child molesters, with the Vatican's permission.

As David Clohessy of SNAP notes in a media statement last week, a year-long investigation by Global Post finds a "dangerous and disingenuous pattern" on the part of Catholic officials in some areas of the world including the United States to permit abusive priests to be spirited away to Latin America, where they continue in ministry and continue having contact with children, while the parishes in which they minister have no knowledge of their past.

I particularly appreciate Jennifer Haselberger's use of the gospel image about the folly of building a house on sand. Her blog posting builds a compelling case for her conclusion that, until Francis gets the house in order on the matter of sexual abuse of clergy, all other pastoral and charitable efforts of the church are like sandcastles facing the inevitable tide. As she notes, if Francis were, by chance brought to the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis for an on-the-ground visit, he'd see all sorts of signs that the structures of that local church are seemingly built on an exceptionally unstable foundation:

1. There's the current archbishop, John Nienstedt, who has "resigned" in disgrace and needs help to move out of the residence of the archdiocesan bishop.

2. There's a broken marriage tribunal presided over by officials who pride themselves on taking the hardest line possible in annulment cases, with little concern — so Haselberger suggests as a canonist — for the pastoral consequences of that approach.

3. There's the empty episcopal chair in the archdiocese, and a Vatican-driven process for appointing the next boship not noted for its sensitivity to the needs and concerns of the local church as a bishop is appointed, not noted, either, for establishing a process that welcomes the input of the people of God as a bishop is chosen — though this is how bishops were chosen in the ancient church, and such a process does still exist in some limited sectors of the Catholic world.

4. There are all those pesky "for sale" signs and other indicators that the archdiocese is in serious financial disarray.

5. There are the exceptionally damning documents about abusive clerics that had to be compiled by the County Attorney's Office, since the archdiocesan commission overseeing abuse matters had its hands tied in understanding the full parameters of the problem, because it was hand-fed only select tidbits of information by the man who used to sit on that now-empty episcopal throne.

As Jennifer Haselberger says, after dealing with all those issues, perhaps Francis could finally find time to meet with abuse survivors and local clergy, visit the sick, imprisoned, poor, and elderly. But until the other problems have been dealt with, his credibility and that of all other Catholic pastoral leaders will count for very little — nor should it count for very little.

Not until the considerable problems of the abuse crisis (which hinge on the abuse of lay Catholics by the pastoral leaders of the church, which hinge on clericalism, which hinge on a lack of transparency and accountability in the clerical sector of the church) are dealt with forthrightly, that is to say . . . .

(I'm grateful to Steve Sheehan and the e-newsletter of National Survivor Advocates Coalition today for the link to Jennifer Haselberger's blog posting.)

I find the photograph at the head of the posting at a number of different blog sites, but with no indication of its origins.

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