Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thank You, Bishop Moriarty: Resigning Irish Bishop Speaks Truth

As his resignation as bishop of Kildare and Leighlin was accepted (after months of delay from the Vatican) this week, Bishop James Moriarty released a statement that, in my view, should now become a model for other Catholic churchmen.

Rather than blame those calling for transparency and accountability among church leaders in the abuse situation, he blames himself—for having been so enmeshed in the culture of clericalism that he did what he knew to have been wrong, when he shielded priests abusing minors. 

Rather than slam the quest for truth as a sin against charity as Osservatore Romano has just done in response to Hans Küng’s open letter to the bishops of the world, Bishop Moriarty notes that charity builds on truth.  We cannot rebuild the crumbling foundations of our church without the truth that sets us free.

Three forceful and much-appreciated points in Bishop Moriarty’s statement—points that we ought long since to have been hearing from the Vatican itself—are the following:

1. Renewal must begin with accepting responsibility for the past.

As Bishop Moriarty notes, he was an auxiliary bishop of Dublin from 1991 until 2002.  Even though there were not “correct” child protection policies and procedures in place in the Dublin diocese when he served as a Dublin bishop, he accepts responsibility for what he did wrong in the absence of those policies.  He knew better.  Even though the Murphy Report did not name him personally, as it did other bishops, he decided to resign because of his shortcomings as a bishop.  He resigned because, rather than challenge the prevailing clerical culture of the period, he colluded in it.  

2. I know that words of apology are not enough.

Procedures must be firmly in place to assure accountability on the part of church leaders, and there must be “constant vigilance and updating” to assure that they’re being followed.  Words in the absence of actions mean nothing.

3. I hope [my resignation] honours the truth that the survivors have so bravely uncovered and opens the way to a better future for all concerned.

Truth needs to be put front and center in the response to the abuse crisis—not immature boys’-club defensiveness and banding together with arms locked against the rest of the world, not blaming the victims and everyone else in the world (women, Masons, Jews, gays, the devil, hippies).  It’s time—it has long since been time—for Catholics and the rest of the world to see our church leaders, from the top down, taking mature, adult responsibility for their actions, with truth-telling about what they have done and why they have done it. 

The people of God expect nothing less from our pastoral leaders, because these are the fundamental moral standards to which those leaders have held us.  Tell the truth.  Face your shortcomings forthrightly.  When you have harmed others, apologize honestly and then repair the relationship you’ve broken.

And here’s what Bishop Moriarty says about the truth, in a very powerful statement that should (but will not) become the mantra of all Catholic pastoral leaders now:

The truth is that the long struggle of survivors to be heard and respected by church authorities has revealed a culture within the Church that many would simply describe as unchristian. People do not recognise the gentle, endless love of the Lord in narrow interpretations of responsibility and a basic lack of compassion and humility. This has been profoundly dispiriting for all who care about the Church.

The truth is also that the Church is 'at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal' (Lumen Gentium 8). I believe the spiritual well-being of the People of God demands that this principle of the Church as always in need of reform, which was embraced at the Second Vatican Council, should again come to the forefront of Church life. I believe, as I said at the recent Vatican gathering 'that the goal should be a new fellowship (cf. Acts 4:32-37); a deeper sharing of the mission that transcends the kind of clerical culture that led us here.'

A culture within the Church that many would simply describe as unchristian . . . . A basic lack of compassion and humility as church authorities split hairs and engage in tortured legalistic explanations that distance themselves from their responsibility to be pastoral leaders moved by compassion.

And a deeper sharing of the mission that transcends the kind of clerical culture that led us here.  We have come to this point in our church because a tiny segment of the body of Christ—the clergy, who represent at most perhaps 1% of the total of the church—continue to behave as if they are the church, exclusively.   And as if the rest of us are not there and do not count. 

We can pass safely through the difficult passage now ahead of us—if we want the church to survive—only by dismantling the system and culture of clericalism from its foundations up.  From each rectory through each chancery and episcopal palace up to the Vatican. 

There is no other solution to the crisis in which we now find ourselves.  As Bishop Moriarty notes, quoting Nuala O’Loan, who recently spoke at two open forums about the church’s crisis in his diocese, the vision that must guide us as we move forward “must involve an open, transparent, accountable Church... valuing each person as made in the image of God.”

Open, transparent, accountable, with each person counting, because each is made in God’s image: there is no other way forward for us now.