Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Rita Ferrone on Responding to the McCarrick Story: "What Will the People Calling for These Investigations Do if Pope Saint John Paul II Is Implicated?"

A statement well worth reading, which has even more weight following yesterday's release of the Pennsylvania grant jury report (I think that Rita Ferrone likely wrote this essay before yesterday's revelations). She's thinking through how to respond to the McCarrick story, and cautions against a juridical-legal approach to the mess the hierarchy has made of itself and the church it claims to represent in a unique, top-down way. Rita Ferrone cautions against a juridical-legal approach to this mess, as in a formal investigation to get to the bottom (or is top a better word here?) of the mess.

Among the reasons she doubts that this approach would yield the results many of us would like to see in the Catholic church:

First of all, what will the people calling for these investigations do if Pope Saint John Paul II is implicated? He is likely implicated, after all. He gave McCarrick the red hat. He signed off on his advancement. John Paul knew that Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, had numerous accusations against him, yet he supported him to the end. He may well have known about McCarrick too. Yet the Polish pope, who many call "great," is now canonized and has a place in the calendar of saints. How much do you want to bet that any official church investigation—no matter who conducts it—will be circumscribed in such a way that it cannot impugn his memory? Yet if it cannot reach the top, it cannot satisfy the demand for truth.

In contrast to a juridical-legal approach to solving the problem that is the Catholic hierarchy, she proposes a systemic approach:

Systemic problems cannot be cured by finding culprits. They require systemic solutions. This fact should sharpen our wits rather than discourage or defeat us. The cover up of abuse and the concomitant enabling of abusers, after all, is a phenomenon we already understand fairly well in the church. It arises from a confluence of factors: the insularity of clerical culture, the willingness of clerics to lie to protect one another, and the corrosion of moral integrity when motives of faith and mission give way to concerns about advancement, power, privilege, and maintaining insider status.

As for those systemic problems, this is a valuable observation by Fr. Thomas Reese published today:

[T]the bishops were told by their lawyers and insurance companies not to meet with the victims or their families. They heard the excuses of their priests but not the agonizing pain of the victims, a terrible failure. Every bishop should set aside at least a day a month to listen to any survivor who wants to meet with him. 

A large number of Catholic bishops (and leaders of religious communities) long since abdicated their pastoral and moral responsibilities and have hidden behind lawyers and CEO-advisors for a long time now. This is one of the primary roots of the abuse crisis. As I have repeatedly stated here, in telling my own story regarding the destruction of my and my now husband's theological careers by the Benedictine abbot of Belmont Abbey Oscar Burnett and his successor Placid Solari, and two consecutive bishops of Charlotte (Donoghue and Curlin), as soon as glimmers about the abuse crisis began to appear in the media in the 1990s, I knew immediately that survivors were absolutely truthful when they reported, over and over, that bishops and religious superiors would not meet with them to hear their stories.

I knew they were telling the truth because that is exactly what I experienced in the early 1990s when I asked repeatedly to meet with the Abbot Oscar and Bishop Curlin to discuss why my theological career was being shattered, with no explanation. Both decisively slammed the door in my face and washed their hands of me — as bishop after bishop and religious superior after religious superior has done to abuse survivors. Neither man would ever meet with me face to face to discuss what was being done to my vocation and livelihood.

Religious leaders who behave this way do not have a moral leg to stand on as they claim the right to teach morality to others. They have turned themselves into whitewashed sepulchres lawyers and CEOs dolled up with colorful chasubles. And we keep seeing the very bitter fruit of this behavior in the stories of the sexual crimes committed by Catholic clergy against young people and vulnerable adults.

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