Our purpose in writing this article was our modest desire and, somehow, our burning ecclesial obligation to expose some fundamental and yet simple truths hidden in the shadows of the Church. These truths concerning the great injuries suffered currently, the tenet under which we Catholics and many others sympathetic to the Christian teachings of the Church live, facing consciously and prayerfully every day the Cross of Jesus Christ — to save our lives.
The Catholic Church is now living through extremely difficult times with the sexual abuse scandals coming to light. The Church, the eternal challenger and redeemer of miseries, cruelties, and inconsistencies of the world is recognized today by herself and, somehow, by the same world as also capable of being miserable, cruel and inconsistent. And yet, the related ecclesial and theological discussions and decision-making are full of the energy and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The personal opinions of Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, clerics, and laypersons are even more energetic and sapiential.
The First Shadow
The first shadow hides the truth about who are the culprits of this crisis and how they are now blamed for these deeds. Reading articles and related comments of excellent US Catholic newspapers and magazines (the author lives in Europe), one is often feeling the great anger of many American Catholics against the Pope Francis who, in their opinion, is particularly guilty because of his failures (repeated, they insist) to stop and punish the abusers. We will be back to our Pope below, but at least for a moment let’s be naively clear: the clerical abusers, with a few Bishops among them, are the primary offenders — offenders not just of the laws of the Church but they mortally betrayed the Lord and us, their brothers.
Because all ecclesial discussions, true and important by themselves, about “our first obligation — the victims” are strikingly banalizing the tragedy. First and foremost, it is our Lord who was mortally hurt by every abuse.
Judas sold the Lord to the Temple’s bureaucrats for 30 pieces of silver; the abuser is selling the Lord to Satan for the pleasure of sexually exploiting an innocent believer. The Lord and His Church are mortally betrayed. In fact, how can we devise the strategy of the Church to counter all the parallel discussions of the reality and consequences of the 884-page Pennsylvania sexual abuse report, where one cites a priest who assures the victim that “providing sex would take you to heaven”?
The Lord, the only One who can really help the victims, is betrayed and His Church is publicly condemned :
We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere. (Report from the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, Pennsylvania)
Add to this the attorneys general in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Vermont, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Florida, Kentucky, and Wyoming who have already begun, or are intending to begin probes into diocesan responses to allegations of sexual misconduct through a variety of means, including issuing subpoenas, forming special task forces and asking for full disclosure of diocesan documents. Each diocese has stated that it will cooperate with authorities. (National Catholic Register, September 28, 2018)
The Tragedy of Sexual Abuse
The second shadow hides all of us Catholics, the survivors of the abuse crisis — the victims, the witnesses, and the clerical and laic bystanders.
The truth about the tragedy of the sexual abuse — in France, where I live, in Germany, in Ireland, in the USA, in Chile, etc. — opens our eyes to our own Christian tragedy. We will be despised by non-Catholics, mocked and accused by the aggressive non-Christian press. Some of us will feel ashamed and/or afraid and/or indifferent about remaining in the Church, just like it certainly was the case of many Israeli followers of Jesus after His condemnation and death. Some will separate themselves to attack the Church — e.g., some victims of abuse, who really need to finally speak about their tragedies. Some will accuse the hierarchy, including the Pope; others will prognosticate the terrible future of the Church. A recent French article proclaims:
Catholic Church: We are in the same configuration as on the eve of the Protestant Reformation.
Many will try to improve their worldly status by publicly criticizing the Church. There will remain Christians faithful to the betrayed Lord and the condemned Church; they will pray, ask themselves about their own sins, and finally, like the Apostles, will proclaim the Lord anew, with a greater force and for a better, splendid Church and with cheerful Christian brothers because the Lord has never abandoned us.
Shadows Hiding Legitimate Critics
The third shadow hides the numerous laic and non-Christian social actors who support our Christian vocation, rightfully criticizing the errors, faults, and crimes of some clerics.
Going back to the common ecclesiastical definition “our first obligation is the victims”, we need to admit that the most urgent help to the victims was and remains, first, the public acknowledgment of their sufferings from the abuses of predators and, second, the punishment of these predators. The extremely moving public Pennsylvania report is accompanied and written by people raised in the Christian school of life, even if not Christians, such as the Attorney General Josh Shapiro who directed the Pennsylvania investigation.
We find ourselves here in the double shadow: the motivations of the public truth-finding and compassion are the fruit of the long, millennial battle of the Church for the public evangelical justice. On the other hand, the Church, be it American or European, understands herself today as the public institution which can be publicly punished for the crimes of her clerics and their cover-ups because she was hiding the truth from the victims, her members and her public critics. Today, the Church recognizes this.
In fact, both these shadows make invisible the glorious power of our Lord. His promises to His Church are becoming much more just and open today. Let us rejoice and think how we might be more of use to our Lord to help to guide society toward perfect Evangelical ideals!
Shadows Covering our Pope
Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected Pope and assumed the name Francis five years ago. Surprisingly, the American Catholic Church is often critical of him for her own errors from at least the middle of the XXth century. This shadow, manifested by occasional articles and their comments in the best Catholic newspapers and magazines of the USA, is becoming sometimes even murkier in the secular press, even if general American press has a sincere interest for the unusual Pope Francis.
What is remarkable and really unusual in his attitude toward his papal vocation, it is the rôle of a pastor of the parish of the world that Francis has chosen. It is based on his personal, friendly relationships with persons involved, priests, Bishops, Cardinals, or laywomen – laymen. Some mistakes are unavoidable, but finally, it works.
Pope Francis has maintained the dignity of the Catholic priesthood, by accepting the difficult role of “punishing” the Father of the Church. Francis’ personal involvement with the Chilean Church was difficult, if not tragic for him; his Chilean laïcisations of two Bishops were the end of some particularly grave abuses, more than half a century ago.
The US Church has apparently proposed recently to apply the same difficult strategy of an external investigation. Francis has apparently refused to do this, and this is fully understandable; US Church is an immense institution with many extremely competent Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and theologians. Who can do it from outside of her?
In fact, the US Church should be the pioneer of investigations of abuses in the all-Catholic world — she is competent and extremely proud of herself. So why accuse the Pope?
Shadows Covering the Splendor
This shadow covers the splendor of our Catholic reality: we belong to the Church of Heaven and Earth. The sexual abuses crisis is a terrible shadow cast over our Church by the anti-Christian trends in our society. All spheres of our common life, in all countries over all continents, are affected by these murky trends. The Church should learn to confront these trends in the moments of their emergence. The history of the Church gives many examples of such successful confrontations.
With all our interest in and respect to, the culture and actions of successful modern societies, European, American, Japanese, we are the heirs of the Heavenly Church, with all its Saints and Blessed who publicly defined and defended their and our Catholic ideals at the cost of their lives.
Let us pray to be worthy of their splendid legacy!