It’s the writing exercise perhaps best left as a blank page. The journal entry you wish you could never get around to. For those who write topical for publication, it’s the column you don’t want to submit. At this point, it pretty much has to be a personal essay, because journalists and investigators have done and continue to do the hard work. More empirical evidence than will ever be needed has been gathered about child molestation/sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church. It’s an awful, mind-boggling, and seemingly intractable problem.
The only thing left for most devout Catholics is to figure out what to do.
We’ve known for ages that there were obscene pockets of sin, evil, and illegality within the church. But recent revelations from Pennsylvania codified some endemic pathology and revealed that this most extreme violation and insidious concealment is embedded in the very hierarchy of the church. All the way up to Pope Francis, if Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., is to be believed.
My reservations about the current pontiff prior to Vigano’s allegations were the same as those held by many conservative Catholics. I’m steadfast in resistance to anything that smacks of Marxism or socialism and so have been concerned about statements and positions taken by the official church and the pontiff himself since Pope Francis’s ascension. Ostensibly, you respect the title—supreme pontiff—same as you respect the office of the presidency when held by a candidate you didn’t vote for. If it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Pope Francis is culpable in any way for a child sexual abuse cover-up, however, I will stand by with a silent prayer of acceptance if he resigns.
At Sunday Mass, our priest speaks of “these troubled times for the church.” Encouragingly, Portland Diocese Archbishop Alexander Sample called publicly for full investigations and accountability. From a report in the Portland Oregonian:
Sample called for change. Incidents must be fully investigated, he said, and priests and bishops must be held accountable, “no matter how high this goes.” Hundreds of churchgoers clapped, interrupting Sample. ‘I have outlined some concrete steps and actions which should be taken,’ he continued.
Across the nation and around the world, critics and detractors of the church inveigh in degrees running from outraged concern to schadenfreude to understandable invective. Closer to home, at a family gathering, while the men talk football in the living room, a female family member cries in the kitchen, “What are we going to do?”
Catholics untouched by the exposed sinfulness may call upon their own memory and experiences in an attempt to recall evidence of what they never saw, never in an eternity would have suspected.
After crawling out from under my desk following a late-fifties-early-sixties nuke attack drill, I would leave the public school with my Catholic classmates for afternoon catechism studies at a nearby church. Later, in Catholic school, I would attend retreats, weekends in pastoral locations where the goal was to walk the path and meditate for an extended length of time with people who shared the faith. In high school, I was taught by nuns and lay Catholic teachers who made the ethos of Catholicism part of their lesson plans. For all of my sixty-something years, I’ve attended baptisms, made confessions, received communion, was confirmed at adolescence, stood under the abiding cross at weddings, funerals, and thousands of Sunday Masses.
I was sheltered from the knowledge that the sexual exploitation of minors even existed in those formative years in which Catholic theology is inculcated, often for life. I remember nothing, not one iota of the inappropriate behavior that has apparently been prevalent in sectors and branches of the body of the church.
Before I go further, please spare me the bull about how it happens in other institutions, schools, churches. As Bill O’ Reilly used to say on The Factor, “You can’t justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior.”
Indeed. Houston, Pennsylvania, Vatican City—Portland. We have a problem.
What are we going to do?
Is there an interim plan while Catholics wait and see how the church responds to the growing sense that some in the ranks of its leadership are concealing what are among the worst imaginable sins? I may not live long enough for a thorough and unflinching reform to take place, but in the meantime, my sense is, my journal entry is…
The only way out is to stay in.
I’m only speaking for myself here when I say that I hope that good rank-and-file Catholics will join with the majority of good priests and administrators and keep the faith. Conservative Catholics especially must stay the course. They must stand up and be counted in opposition when the denial and skewed priorities of the official church are distastefully revealed.
I think of all the wonderful devout Catholics that I know. The wise priests who minister to my faith. We must, and I say this with consummate humility and the resolve of a lifelong Catholic: In the name of Jesus, we must save the church.