Sunday, April 4, 2010

Threatened with Resurrection: The Testimony of Survivors, Reformation, and the Future of Catholicism

I wrote yesterday that the voices of those who have suffered childhood abuse by priests are absolutely necessary to our theological conversation now, if any of our theological talk is to mean anything more than empty words.

And so here’s what survivors and those who stand in solidarity with survivors are saying.  This statement is the response of Barbara Blaine, SNAP president, to the third revelation in two weeks that the present pope had the opportunity, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to remove a serial predator from ministry, and did not act. 

Barbara Blaine writes,

How can bishops across the globe claim Pope Benedict was “helpful” dealing with child sex crimes when actual church documents show him being helpful only to the criminals?

No reasonable, compassionate monarch, with nearly limitless power, would let years go by before acting to remove dangerous serial child molesters from their posts.

The pattern here is sadly familiar but still troubling - when a pedophile priest remains a priest for years, even when bishops beg to defrock them - the blame lies everywhere except with Ratzinger.

And here’s what Terry McKiernan, founder and president of Bishop Accountability and a longtime advocate for survivors, has to say,

Benedict has performed culpably in this abuse crisis on at least two occasions, and has lied about his role. The performance people might have excused, but the lies?  . . .

In this new global phase of the abuse crisis, we can expect veterans of the 2002 U.S. Charter and Norms effort, such as Cardinals Law, Mahony, and George, to urge an apparently pastoral Vatican response. But “moral credibility” will remain with the victims and government investigators and attorneys and the media, who have pressed deeply reluctant and unwilling bishops for nearly 30 years. The revelations of the last week are their achievement.

Note the telling (and wise) phrase: in response to the latest revelations of how deep the cover-up goes, we will see an “apparently pastoral” Vatican response.

But as Terry McKiernan rightly indicates, retaining moral credibility is all about going beyond appearances (and image management, and spin doctoring, and pointing the finger at others).  It’s about actually being moral and pastoral.

Nothing less will do.

And here’s what Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, says

“What he [Benedict] did was quell the crisis and the outrage but keep the focus away from the Vatican and its role in creating this culture in the Catholic Church.  He did not address his own role, and he did not administer any real punishment,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization dedicated to gathering documents, reports and news items related to clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

She said the pope’s past failure to adequately place the blame for the sexual abuses on the bishops who simply transferred suspected priests from one parish to another endangered the well-being of children in an even greater number of congregations.

“When [the pope] came [to the U.S.] in 2008, he expressed sympathy for victims and condemned the actions of the priests,” Barrett Doyle said. “What he didn’t do was condemn the bishops who enabled those priests.  He referred to them in a glancing way.  I believe the goal of his visit in 2008 was to give a cheap closure to the crisis.”

She said that while this time around the pope recognized the bishops’ culpability, he kept the focus away from the Vatican and, accordingly, himself.

“He didn’t really do anything to correct the problem which would have been to force the resignation of every single bishop who let the abuse happen, which would have been the morally correct thing to do,” she said.

Cheap closure: Benedict came to the U.S. in 2008 hoping (in collusion with the American bishops advising him about what to say on this visit to the U.S.) to give cheap closure to the crisis.

All over.  Resolved.  Case closed.  Gays now excluded from seminaries.  New zero-tolerance policies in place.  No more secret transferring of known predators to new locations in which they can prey on children.  No more stone-walling.

A new age of transparency and accountability.  Trust us.

And look at the data we’re reporting to you with no outside checks and balances to assure its accuracy or completeness: we’ve solved the crisis.

Cheap closure.

But it hasn’t happened.  Because the response has been all about apparently pastoral responses.  Not authentically pastoral responses.

We will not get those with the system that is now in place, because that system is all about self-protection and self-perpetuation.

Not about serving the needs of others.

And certainly not about preventing and staunching the wounds of those outside the clerical system.

The sole answer to the current crisis of the Catholic church—an institutional crisis that begins with but is not limited to the abuse crisis—is the kind of resurrection that is also revolution.  That is, it’s the only kind of resurrection that is meaningful at all, since it threatens us with the real, substantive change that is at the very heard of the gospel narratives about the resurrection.

It’s time for the people of God to rise up and demand another reformation, if the Catholic church is to have a viable future.  And on that journey to reformation, it is first and foremost the survivors of clerical sexual abuse, followed by all the other despised riff-raff of the church and the world in which the church makes itself so comfortable, who will threaten the church with precisely the resurrection it needs, if it is to remain alive in the 21st century.