Monday, April 5, 2010

The Current Crisis of the Catholic Church: Commentary from Disparate Angles

As I read the news online daily, I keep an e-file of articles that catch my eye, sometimes with the intent to mention them in a blog, but often because I want to return to re-read them.  In what follows, I offer readers a smorgasbord of articles, which have two things in common: 1) they make outstanding points that deserve wide attention; and 2) they’re all commentary on the crisis in which the Catholic church now finds itself.  

For each article, some excerpts I consider telling . . . .

Mary E. Hunt, “Father Does Not Know Best: How to Fix the Catholic Church”:

Allegations that Pope Benedict XVI acted with the same impunity as other bishops in the failure to brings perpetrators of abuse to justice, and instead protected the institutional church’s reputation by secrecy, add up to the need for substantive structural change in Catholicism. Simply changing those in leadership, even adding women to a hopelessly flawed structure, will not be sufficient. A new, horizontal model of church led by teams of competent ministers who are accountable to local and wider communities is the best way to assure that these scandalous, damaging practices are ended.  . . .
My counsel is that we name the primary problem as structural—a hierarchy that ends in a sharp point at the top— and go about dismantling it. This doesn’t take any individual off the hook. To the contrary. But it does prevent others from taking their places. Withholding all money from parishes would give the process a jumpstart. Now that the hierarchy has imploded there is plenty of space to socialize the process of being Catholic. The task is clear. It is up to us, the laity and what would be in this model the former clergy, and we are up to it.

Throughout history, the poor, the disadvantaged, the weak, have suffered for the convenience of the important, the wealthy, the powerful. It has been no different in the Church or the state.   . . .

The final vindication of the oppressed will come someday, at the end of history, but even now God or History gives signs that the oppressed poor are not forever forgotten, that their cries to Heaven for vengeance will be heard, that their vindication will come.

I think of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement that began during the depths of the Great Depression, and which continues today to give care and comfort to the forsaken. I think of Thomas Merton and his outspoken protest of the Vietnam War. I think of the Catholic bishops who stood side by side with César Chávez in his fight for justice among the farm workers of California's Central Valley. I think of Archbishop Óscar Romero and the struggles of San Salvador. And I think of blighted neighborhoods across America where all-but-ignored nuns, priests, and committed laypeople offer hope to the nearly hopeless through soup kitchens, schools, and community centers. For them, and for energetic Catholic women I work with and teach -- so unjustly banned from a priesthood that sorely needs them -- the importance of justice-making always exceeds the importance of collars and confessions.

Tragedies come and go; issues like labor and immigration burn bright in the public consciousness for a time and then are forgotten. Long after the rest of the world has moved on, however, often enough the Catholic Church alone continues to affirm economic justice, offer a moral critique of capitalism, and, most importantly, insist that a radical love of the powerless and marginalized is the truest form of faith.
All this makes these latest reports of priests molesting children -- and getting away with it -- that much more upsetting. Will the faithful work done by so many Catholics be overshadowed by a church hierarchy that goes on the defensive when questioned about cover-ups and complicity? I pray this will not be the case. I also pray that the church might change for the better as a result of these terrible discoveries. And I pray, too, for the deep, ongoing grief -- indeed, belly-wrenching lamentation -- suffered by so many everyday Catholics who feel betrayed by their own leadership.

Stop pretending to “protect” the institutional church by hiding from victims and survivors. Your first job is pastoral and they are your flock. All they are seeking is justice and healing, and they have a right to expect both from their church. In fact, your defensive, lawyer-driven responses have placed the institutional church in great jeopardy. You have compromised the integrity of the church and caused many to question their faith.

But you wonder: if you were responsible for handling the case of a priest who you knew had abused, raped and molested up to 200 deaf children for decades, would you not believe it was your business to resolve it swiftly? Would you be concerned, as the documents from the case reveal he was, about the risk of “increasing scandal” and the “need for secrecy”? Would you encourage the archbishop to drop the trial in view of the priest’s ailing health and imminent death?

I can only speak for myself — a wayward Catholic sinner, a married homosexual who still clings to the truth of the Gospels and the sacredness of the church. I wouldn’t do any of those things. Full stop. If I knew I had any role — witting or unwitting — in allowing children to be raped by someone I could have stopped, by someone over whom I had authority, I would not be able to sleep at night. I would be haunted for the rest of my life. The thought of covering up for someone who forced sex on deaf children in closets at night is incomprehensible to me. Allowing someone who had raped three children to go elsewhere and rape many more, when you were explicitly warned that this man was a walking danger to children? I don’t want to sound self-righteous, but: no. Never. Under any circumstances; in any period of time; for whatever reason. Even if my failure were mere negligence, my conscience would be racked.