Last month, in my previous blog, I suggested that nothing less than a Reformation of the Priesthood was needed to begin a path toward restoring credibility in the Catholic hierarchy. Since then, much more has happened with the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC and Pope Francis’s indication that he is investigating the case of Theodore McCarrick’s past behavior — who knew what and when. Not to mention what is happening throughout the Catholic world on the subject of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.
I have struggled to offer anything constructive on how we might recover from this devastating cancer. We laity have very little voice and almost no influence over what the bishops will do to correct their course going forward. But there is so much more that needs to be done, that I wonder what would happen if we all wrote to our local bishops and offered some serious feedback about would help us as laity to feel there was any hope of recovery from this sin in our Church.
So here are a few seriously considered recommendations you could make to our bishops:
Stop blaming the gay community. This is the most blatant scapegoating and it is cheap and disrespectful of people who have nothing to do with the problem of pedophilia. Rather, recommend that your bishop focus on some serious revisions to his own understanding and Catholic understanding in general of human sexuality. It might be a bridge too far for many bishops to think that homosexuality is simply a particular place on the spectrum of human personality, but he could at least not blame gay people for this pedophilia problem.
Stop blaming celibacy. It is not for everyone, clearly, but you could point out that it is possible to live a healthy and productive celibate life, with the right support and committed community of friends. The best way to choose a celibate life is to have great men and women who are examples of healthy and happy celibate lives as inspiration. Learn by good example. Celibacy is not for everyone so can we at least begin to talk about an option for a married priesthood? Bishops don’t seem to mind admitting formerly Anglican married priests into the Church. A serious examination of the double message of this practice is in order and an honest explanation is needed of why it’s okay for some priests to be married and other not.
While we are on the topic, maybe we should think twice about clerics teaching people about marriage and have couples with a successful marriage do that part for us. Surely there are plenty of qualified and educated laity around. Teaching by example and lived experience is inspiring.
Stop talking and start listening. The time for empty words and a pledge to do better is over. To be honest, I don’t appreciate being invited by the hierarchy to join in a common prayer for healing and forgiveness. It seems pretty strange that a bishop would invite me to pray for forgiveness when he needs to be asking the laity for forgiveness. I’m having a hard time taking bishops seriously who have no accountability for covering up pedophilia. Ask your bishop to listen to the pain and suffering this has caused victims and the rest of the laity as well. Can he stay at the table long enough to know their hurt at a deep and transformative level?
Stop thinking that present seminary education and priestly formation is adequate. A fearless and honest look at how priests are trained is essential. Ask your bishop to tell you how their men are being equipped for lifelong development of their own spirituality, pastoral skills, and how they can maintain a community of personal support. What is he doing to be a brother to his priests who are struggling or lonely or poorly suited to a ministry?
Finally, my last suggestion is that the hierarchy follow the traditional steps for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Examine your conscience. What sins of omission or commission do you need to own in order to make a good confession? Ask the Holy Spirit for help.
- Publicly admit the exact nature of your wrongs to the people of your diocese. Being able to admit wrong takes humility and a willingness to accept the consequences of your actions. Losing power can be scary, but it is not the end of the world. We, the laity, are very capable of forgiving, but not very tolerant of covering up sin.
- Express your remorse and contrition for offending God and the people whom you serve.
- Ask for the forgiveness of those who were abused, be willing to make amends to them, without a lawyer present, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
- Do public penance and meaningful acts of contrition that demonstrate a sincere desire and openness to reform. Then follow that with action that begins to rebuild some credibility.
Reconciliation is possible, because in the very long haul, the people of God have been sustained by their faith in good times and in bad, during great trials and suffering. I believe that we have the potential for a new Church, a renewed, more humble Church. But I think this one will take a very long time.