Shortly after the Murphy Report was issued in November 2009 regarding the egregious Irish abuse scandal, I attended a lecture at Providence College by George Weigel. When asked by an audience member to comment on the scandal, Weigel didn’t hold back in asserting (in the presence of a bishop) that the Holy Father needs to completely wipe the slate clean by removing every bishop in Ireland and replacing them with American bishops who have experience in the matter. He remarked that is was Ireland that evangelized the world and now it was time to return the favor.
In the following article posted in NRO, Weigel again calls for the same:
While America’s attention has been absorbed in recent weeks by domestic affairs, something quite remarkable has become unmistakably clear across the Atlantic: Ireland — where the constitution begins, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity” — has become the most stridently anti-Catholic country in the Western world.
Its Taoiseach (prime minister), Enda Kenny, recently took to the floor of the Dáil to denounce the Vatican as a house of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . [and] narcissism” and to commit an act of calumny against Pope Benedict XVI, accusing him of being a party to the coverup of the “rape and torture of children.” Ireland’s attorney general plans to introduce a new law that threatens priests with five-year jail sentences if they do not violate the seal of confession when pedophilia is confessed. Polls indicate considerable support among Irish voters for such an unprecedented violation of religious freedom, and the Irish press has indulged its anti-Church phobias with virtually no restraint.
There can be no doubt that the crisis of clerical sexual abuse — and the parallel crisis of local Catholic leadership that failed to address the problem — has been especially acute in Ireland. Benedict XVI condemned both the abuse and the coverup of abuse in a stinging letter to the entire Church in Ireland 16 months ago, a letter that condemned abusers and their enablers while offering a heartfelt apology to victims. Apostolic visitations of the principal Irish dioceses and seminaries have been undertaken, on Vatican orders, by bishops from the United Stats, Canada, and Great Britain; their reports, one understands, have been blunt and unsparing.
What has not happened, and what ought to happen sooner rather than later, is a wholesale replacement of the Irish hierarchy, coupled with a dramatic reduction in the number of Irish dioceses. Ireland is in desperate need of new and credible Catholic leadership, and some of it may have to be imported: If a native of Ireland could be archbishop of New York in 1850, why couldn’t a native of, say, California be archbishop of Dublin in 2012? The United States and Canada, in particular, have Anglophone bishops who have demonstrated their capacity to clean house and reenergize dioceses evangelically. Thus the Vatican, not ordinarily given to dramatic change, might well consider clearing the Irish bench comprehensively and bringing in bishops, of whatever national origin, who can rebuild the Irish Church by preaching the Gospel without compromise — and who know how to fight the soft totalitarianism of European secularists.
In the wake of Taoiseach Kenny’s hysterical rant in the Dáil, the Vatican recalled its nuncio to Ireland for consultations, a clear sign of displeasure with Irish politicians who, for whatever reasons, deliberately foment anti-Catholic hysteria. Yet as distasteful and irresponsible as Kenny’s attacks were, they underscore the fact that radical changes are needed in the Catholic Church’s leadership in Ireland — now, not at some indeterminate point in the future.
The deeper question that the past several weeks of Catholic-bashing in Ireland has raised — How on earth did this most Catholic of countries become violently anti-Catholic? — touches on the modern history of independent Ireland; serious answers to that question are likely to offer little comfort to either Irish romantics or defenders of the old alliances between Church and state.
Sixty years into the 20th century, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Quebec were among the most intensely Catholic nations on the planet. Fifty years later, Quebec is the most religiously arid space between Point Barrow and Tierra del Fuego; Portuguese Catholicism, outside the pilgrimage shrine of Fatima, is hardly robust; Spain has the most self-consciously secularist government in Europe; and Ireland has now become the epicenter of European anti-Catholicism. What happened?
Perhaps some comparative history and sociology suggest an answer. In each of these cases, the state, through the agency of an authoritarian government, deliberately delayed the nation’s confrontation with modernity. In each of these cases, the Catholic Church was closely allied to state power (or, in the case of Quebec, to the power of the dominant Liberal party). In each of these cases, Catholic intellectual life withered, largely untouched by the mid-20th-century Catholic renaissance in biblical, historical, philosophical, and theological studies that paved the way toward the Second Vatican Council. And in each of these cases, the local Catholicism was highly clerical, with ordination to the priesthood and the episcopate being understood by everyone, clergy and laity alike, as conferring membership in a higher caste.
Then came le déluge: the deluge of Vatican II, the deluge that Europeans refer to as “1968,” and the deluge of the “Quiet Revolution” in la Belle Province. Once breached, the fortifications of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Spain, Portugal, Quebec, and Ireland quickly crumbled. And absent the intellectual resources to resist the flood-tides of secularism, these four once-hyper-Catholic nations flipped, undergoing an accelerated course of radical secularization that has now, in each case, given birth to a serious problem of Christophobia: not mere indifference to the Church, but active hostility to it, not infrequently manifested through coercive state power.
This, then, is the blunt fact that must be faced by bishops, priests, and lay Catholics who want to build the Church of Vatican II, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI — the Church of a New Evangelization — out of the wreckage of the recent Irish past: In Ireland, as in the other three cases, the Church’s close relationship with secular power reinforced internal patterns of clericalism and irresponsibility that put young people at risk, that impeded the proclamation of the Gospel, and that made the Church in these places easy prey for the secularist cultural (and political) wolves, once they emerged on the scene.
And that is why the leadership that Catholic Ireland needs may have to be imported, at least in part. Men of indisputable integrity and evangelical passion who have no linkage to this sad, and in some instances tawdry, history are needed to lead the Irish Catholic reform for which Benedict XVI has called. I know no serious observer of the Irish Catholic scene, anywhere, who disputes the necessity of clearing the current bench of bishops; I also know no one who thinks that a reconfigured Irish episcopate, even one leading fewer dioceses, can be drawn entirely from the resident clergy of Ireland today. This may be one factor leading to the current languid pace in reforming the Irish hierarchy; and that lassitude is what gave Taoiseach Kenny the opening for his latest rabid attack on the Church, the Holy See, and the Pope. All the more reason, then, to make the reform of the Church in Ireland truly radical by looking outside Ireland for men capable of helping lead this once-great Church back to evangelical health.
— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
Another gem from the archbishop of New York on well-placed faith. Posted on his blog , Archbishop Dolan once again demonstrates his remarkable gift of humor, simple, to the point, wanna-give-the-guy-a-hug delivery. Other than his poor choice of the word “lax” in characterizing some bishops complicity in the abuse scandal, he aptly directs us to put trust in the Lord, not in the hierarchy. Never with Jesus, but inevitably we will be disappointed by the latter. Pretty funny story thrown in there too.
A Blessed Holy Week
Let’s see now: we’ve got a Sunday night series on one of the most corrupt and tawdry families in Church history, the Borgias, with popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, all part of this big, happy family; we’ve heard non-stop for a decade about abusive priests, (albeit a small minority) and lax bishops who reassigned them; we’ve got front page stories of priests who embezzled money from their parishes; and I saw one not long ago about a priest arrested for DUI.
Yes, all this is scandalous, sinful, sickening, and criminal.
But, it is not new.
Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, brothers are human.
That means, we are sinners.
Granted, when one of us falls, it hurts and shocks more. People rightly expect their spiritual leaders to practice what we preach. When we don’t, we’re hypocrites. And we know what Jesus thought about hypocrites.
But, this is not new.
If you think it worse today than in the past, I ask you to consider the solemn days we will observe next week, Holy Week: Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Within an hour or so after Jesus had ordained His very first bishops and priests — the twelve apostles — what happened? They fell asleep when He asked them to pray with Him; one betrayed Him for thirty silver coins; one — the first Pope — denied three times even knowing Him; and all but one, the youngest, ran away scared at the time He most needed them. That lonely loyal one, St. John, was there with our blessed Mother at the foot of the cross on a hill called Calvary on a Friday strangely called “good.”
Not a very good start for bishops and priests. Within a few hours after their ordination, 11/12 had abandoned Him. That’s a worse record than even the Mets!
What’s the point? That we should tolerate and overlook the sins and vices of the clergy? Absolutely not! Or, worse, that we priests and bishops should stop seeking the heroic virtue, holiness, and perfection called for by Jesus? Never!
The point is that, if the life, vigor, holiness, and efficacy of the Church depended only upon the virtue of priests and bishops, it would have been dead-on-arrival, not surviving that afternoon when the sun hid in shame and the earth shuddered in sadness.
Our faith is not in popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, or even in monsignors. Nope: our faith is only in Jesus. He and He alone will never let us down; He will never sin; He and He alone will never break a promise; He and He alone deserves our absolute trust and confidence.
That’s why it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop. If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with. We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.
One of the more moving, sad, yet, usually “sacramental” duties I have as a bishop is to meet at times with victim survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and on occasion their families. Some of them tell me they have left the Church, they hate the Church, they have lost their faith. Most of them, though, tell me that, as shattered, sickened, and angry as they may be, nobody, nowhere, nohow is going to take their faith away! These are an inspiration to me.
The wife of one victim once graciously said to me, “Archbishop, you have helped me regain my faith in the Church! I am putting my trust in you!”
I replied, “I’m flattered and grateful, but, please, don’t put absolute confidence in me. I’ll work everyday to earn and keep your trust, and pray daily I’ll never, ever let you down, but, believe me, sooner-or-later, sadly, I’m afraid I will let you down and disappoint you. Please, put your total faith and trust only in Jesus! Anything else is idolatry!”
Maybe, maybe there’s a decent reason for leaving the Church. I’ve never heard one, but a lot of people apparently think they have good cause, since “ex-Catholics” sadly number in the millions.
However, leaving because of something a priest or bishop may have done or not done is surely not a decent reason.
When I was about six-or-seven, I spent Saturday night with my grandpa and grandma, “Nonnie” and “Pata.” On Sunday morning, we got ready for Mass. Pata wasn’t budging from his EZ chair with the sports page and a second cup of coffee.
“Let’s go, Dad! (that’s what Nonnie called him),” yells Nonnie. “We’ll be late for Mass.”
“I’m not going. I can’t stand that new priest, Father McCarthy,” replies Pata.
“Oh, yeah,” responds Nonnie. “You can’t stand the new bartender up at Nick’s, either, but that sure doesn’t seem to keep you from going up there! Get moving!”
All three of us went to Mass . . .
Frank Sheed, that great Catholic lay theologian of last century, expressed it a bit more eloquently than Nonnie: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope, a bishop, a priest could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church (although I might well wish that they would).”
Pray for us bishops and priests, please. We’re sorry when we hurt you. We must try harder to conform our lives to Jesus. But don’t ever let our sins drive you away.
A blessed Holy Week!
Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC and newly elevated cardinal, appeared on Fox News Sunday this past weekend. (Full transcript here) In a cordial interview, Chris Wallace asked questions on topics such as a yard sign evangelization campaign, declining Mass attendance, priest sex abuse scandal, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, same-sex marriage and its implications on the Church’s social outreach.
Cardinal Wuerl’s responses were articulate and diplomatic as is his reputation, but the response that had me shaking my head was on the sexual abuse topic. Here’s the transcript:
WALLACE: I want to ask about a specific problem, though. Because clearly, you would agree that the church priest abuse sex scandal was very damaging to the church, and hurt a lot of Catholics’ views about the church.
You helped write the guidelines for the U.S. bishops. Are you confident that today that a priest who is accused of sexual abuse is not just transferred to another parish and is promptly reported to civil authorities?
WUERL: I think that is one of the great accomplishments of the Catholic Church. When we look back and we talk about sexual abuse, we’re talking about something that happened 10, 20, even 30 years ago.
We have succeeded in terms of the church and her response. We have succeeded in guaranteeing that if a priest is accused and there is a credible allegation, he is simply removed from the ministry, that is reported to the authorities and we begin to try to heal whatever was damaged in that abuse.
I think it’s one of the great accomplishments of the church. It recognized there was a serious problem. It dealt with it forthright and then moved on to see that we’re in a much, much better place, a much safer place today.
Great accomplishment? Guaranteeing? Moved on? No! Note to hierarchy…strike this vocabulary from any attempt to respond to questions on this topic. This is still public relations spin on getting beyond a crisis. It leaves me and hopefully every other sentient person wondering when some clergy are going to get it–especially a new cardinal. Just three days before Christmas Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels told authorities there that he saw no reason for the church to compensate victims of sexual abuse. (as much as I hate to link to NCR, story here) There are still reports yet to be released on the crisis in Europe, never mind other dioceses around the globe that have yet to make any public revelations. The Church cannot and should not move beyond this because the damage that it caused will last generations. For victims the damage will last a lifetime. Check out this previously posted article on the topic.
Perhaps it would have been better for the cardinal to first acknowledge the cataclysmic damage, ruined lives and destroyed faith of so many in the Church caused by the scandal. Only then should he express his confidence that the Church in the US has–to the best of her abilities–taken serious measures to prevent this from recurring in the future. No moving on…in the words of Pope Benedict in his curial address:
We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen.
“We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again.
You can shout that it is “40 year old news” or “nothing we haven’t heard before”. You can complain about anti-Catholic bigotry by the New York Times because Catholic scandal is a page one story but they didn’t report about the Orthodox Rabbi in New York who was convicted this past week of 10 counts of child molestation. You can cite statistics that show the vast majority of child sexual abuse happens within families or by non-celibate, heterosexual men. You can qualify terms by identifying the majority of sexual abusers as ephebophiles, not pedophiles, since most victims were post-pubescent. Why all of these may be true, they only succeed in making the Church appear as though it is deflecting the main issue or somehow mitigating its offenses. So how does the Church respond? Anyone in public relations (and possessing common sense) knows you have to ‘get out in front of the story’.
Why didn’t the bishops in Europe and throughout the world learn the difficult lessons their brother bishops in the United States learned beginning in 2002? Why would they not have immediately begun to draft an equivalent of the Dallas Charter, as imperfect as it is, in their own dioceses? Did they think they just dodged the bullet? Naive in thinking there were no instances of sexual crimes among their clergy? Or worse, were they simply hoping the information would not go public–in other words: covering up.
Shortly after the scandal in Ireland made international headlines, Pope Benedict summoned the bishops of Ireland to the Vatican for a “summit“. The outcome of this meeting is soon to be published in a pastoral letter from the Holy Father to the people of Ireland. Who is next? The Germans? The Dutch? We haven’t seen any headlines from Brazil yet…maybe them? What I believe needs to be done is similar to what the Holy Father did with the prelates of Ireland–but for the entire Church. Church Councils have been summoned for less of a crisis than this! Bishops are fairly autonomous in governing their dioceses, and this may explain why responsibility for past crimes does not rest with the Pope. However, while the sheer number of abusers and abuse cases may be comparatively low in number, there is not a diocese in the world immune. Therefore the need for a universal response rests with the pope.
George Weigel best analyzed the clergy sexual abuse crisis in his book The Courage to Be Catholic. In it he stated the cause of the crisis is not celibacy, homosexuality, pedophilia but a crisis in fidelity to Christ. Amen! Pope Benedict is attempting to heal the crisis of fidelity through The Year for Priests and Liturgical renewal. I don’t doubt he had the crisis in mind when he called for the Year for Priests with the theme “Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest”. My fear, however is that unless Pope Benedict universally and publicly addresses this ongoing crisis, the Church will be further damaged over a longer period of time by the trickling stream of scandal and accusations of complicity for many popes to come.