Tag Archives: sex abuse

Pope Tweets While Rome Burns?

I am curious.

VATICAN-GERMANY-POPE-RELIGION-DIPLOMACY

Pope Francis, Vicar of Christ, twitterer (source)

In 2002 a story that broke about the widespread sexual abuse of children and young adults by Catholic priests in the Boston area. Most of the victims were boys and young men. Since that time many, many more stories have surfaced. The Church has paid out millions upon millions of parishioners’ dollars to victims. Church attendance numbers continue their precipitous decline. Bishops do very little, and frequently appear tone-deaf. The laity continues to cry out for more to be done, for actual repentance, for actual consequences, for any kind of actual acknowledgement of guilt and visibly genuine contrition on the part of the hierarchy.

Years of stories, years of tone-deafness, years of little action. Years of wondering: “What is the Pope going to do? How serious does he really take this? When is he going to say something?” And really everyone is getting Catholic sex abuse fatigue.

We also now know that in early June at the Honduran bishops’ conference, a letter, written by 48 (out of 180) brave seminarians, was circulated accusing widespread sexual abuse. After the letter was read aloud at the assembly, Cardinal Maradiaga immediately started attacking the letter’s authors. So far nothing of substance has been done.

What does Pope Francis think about all this? One way he is actively signaling his thoughts to the world Church is through his Twitter accounts. Nearly every day he tweets to the world. I assume these tweets represent his deepest concerns, his most important encouragements, and succinct insights of wisdom from Christ’s own Vicar on earth to the faithful and the world. Why else would a Pope tweet?

So I thought I’d take a look.

Here is a little over a month’s worth of recent tweets from Pope Francis, with a couple of newsworthy events thrown in for context:

June 18: “Let us try to express the joy of God’s Kingdom in every way possible!”

June 19: “Choosing to follow Christ helps build a more just, more friendly, more humane society, that is closer to the heart of God.”

June 20: It was announced that Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick was removed from public ministry by The Holy See after “credible and substantiated” evidence was discovered that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy when he was priest in New York. Then almost daily more information spills forth out about how widespread the abuse was with many young men and seminary students, and how it was an “open secret” among many in the Church hierarchy. This information had likely been internally known for some time by the Holy See, as was the scheduled date of the news release.

And then on the same day…

June 20: “We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected, or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbour in need.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection

June 20: “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection

June 20: “Dear young people, help us adults whose hearts are often hardened. Help us to choose the path of dialogue and harmony.”

Interesting tweet considering the day.

Continuing…

June 21: “Praying together, walking together, working together: this is the way that leads to Christian unity.” #WCC70

June 22: “Love for others needs to become the constant factor of our lives.”

June 23: “Let us ask our Lord to help us understand that love is service, love means taking care of others.”

June 24: “Like St John the Baptist, Christians have to humble themselves so that the Lord can grow in their hearts.”

June 25: “Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from sin, sadness, emptiness, isolation. It is the source of a joy that no one can ever take away.”

June 26: “Torture is a mortal sin! Christian communities must commit themselves to helping victims of torture.”

June 27: “We are called to assist the elderly, the sick and the unborn: life must always be protected and loved, from conception to its natural conclusion.”

June 28: “Let us pray for the new Cardinals: may they assist me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome, for the good of all God’s people.”

June 29: “Every kind of material or spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, comes from turning our backs on God and His love.”

June 30: “When we are firmly united to the God who loves and sustains us, we are able to withstand all life’s difficulties and challenges.”

July 1: “I ask all of you to join me in prayer as I travel to Bari on Saturday on a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the long-suffering Middle East.”

July 3: “We receive God’s graces to share them with others.”

July 5: “Do we know how to silence our hearts and listen to the voice of God?”

July 6: “The suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, is an urgent reminder that we Christians must be more united.”

Note: the Cardinal McCarrick story has become daily news, with article after article being published, more evidence being revealed, more stories of abuse and coverup, and social media being lit up by the Catholic faithful asking for the Church hierarchy to respond in a meaningful way.

July 7: “The God of all consolation, who heals the broken hearts and takes care of the wounds, hear our prayer: Let there be peace in the Middle East!”

July 7: “May all humanity hear the cry of the children of the Middle East. Drying their tears the world will get back it’s dignity.”

July 8: “Every occasion is a good one to spread Christ’s message!”

July 10: “You too are like the Good Samaritan when you recognize the face of Christ in those near you.”

July 11: “Europe rediscovers hope when the human person is at the heart of its institutions. St Benedict, pray for us!”

July 15: “Try reading the Gospel for at least five minutes every day. You will see how it changes your life.”

July 16: “May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, accompany you on your daily journey towards the Mountain of God.”

July 18: “Jesus invites us to build the civilization of love together in the situations we are called to live every day.”

July 20: Vatican press office issues a press release that pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Pineda Fasquelle, a Honduran auxiliary bishop serving a top advisor to Pope Francis, without giving a reason. The reason, as later revealed, is specifically the sexual abuse of a seminarian, but also apparently McCarrick-like systematic abuse and coverup of many victims. Another “open secret” of sexual abuse and abuse of power by someone close to Pope Francis.

Nothing for two days, then…

July 22: “God wants us to call Him Father, with the trust of children who abandon themselves in the arms of the One who gave them life.”

July 24: “Prayer is never in vain: it always brings forth something new that, sooner or later, bears fruit.”

July 26: “Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please, take care of your grandparents: love them and let them talk to your children!”

We’ll stop there.

I do not mean to be critical of the Pope. Who am I anyway? But I am curious what to think. I have not made up my mind, but here are two concerns:

  1. Although the Pope has many things on his plate and on his mind, it seems rather stunning to me that in light of these rather staggering announcements the Pope has nothing to say about the matter on one his most active communication channels (he has 17.7 million followers on this English language Twitter account alone). I realize he may not want to address the specific stories directly on Twitter, but he has missed more than one opportunity to make serious and meaningful statements on sex abuse, on justice, on reform, on repentance and forgiveness, and more. I feel it would have been better if he had just shut down this account and said nothing. Basically he has said nothing while maintaining his stream of verbosity. This feels offensive to me. But I don’t know if I should be offended. What am I missing?
  2. I’m a bit surprised at the vacuity of many of these tweets. Are they untrue? I don’t think so. They seem theologically sound, if theological is even a word worth applying to them. But are they deep, deeper than a fortune cookie fortune? Not often. Do they represent well the powerful and rich traditions of Catholic thought? Not at all. Do they tend, at times, towards the saccharine and sentimental. Unfortunately, yes. Do they come across as basic, rather simplistic sayings that anyone (Catholic or non-Catholic) could quickly come up with? Yes. In that sense do they seem to be talking down to us, assuming we are simple minded people? That’s how I feel. Is that what the world needs? Maybe. And maybe that’s one more reason I’m not the Pope, or the person running his Twitter account for him.

Here’s what I think is probably going on: The Pope doesn’t really use Twitter at all. He has a team of people who manage his social media. They come up with things to tweet and he approves them. He doesn’t take it that seriously because he doesn’t live in the world of social media and therefore doesn’t really know its power and importance. Therefore he somewhat blindly trusts his social media team (they are the experts, right?) to handle that for him. And social media teams tend to be cautious (which is good) and work from a planned timeline. So, in a sense, while “Rome burns” they are just doing their jobs by following their timeline, not really concerning themselves with current events, certainly not diving into hot topics without clear direction from their superiors, and the Pope just nods his head that the tweets say something he believes and don’t say something he doesn’t like. IF this all adds up to a failing, then it may be more a failing of the Pope’s administration and not the vicar himself.

Still, they are officially the Pope’s tweets. He is putting his name on them.

Basically I’m just curious. I will leave it at that.

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Who’s to blame? Considering Cardinal McCarrick, clerical sex abuse, and complicity

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Cardinal McCarrick smiling (source)

This is my own poorly formed, and somewhat indirect, take on the Cardinal McCarrick story. I would like to know if I am way off base or on target, or somewhere in between. Insights, challenges, and comments welcome. My question in the title is intended to be an honest question.

A sentence caught my eye in Matthew Walther’s article, The Catholic Church is a cesspool:

When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.

I believe this sentence contains more than most Catholics want to think about or are willing to admit.

And it’s one of the saddest and most heartbreaking sentences in this whole sordid affair. And that sentence (as I have come to understand about other abuse stories) has repeated itself again and again in Catholic homes, between parents and their sons and their daughters, mostly their sons in these cases.

At every level the sex abuse scandal is horrible. Christ spoke of a small amount of leaven leavening the whole lump; in other words, a small amount of yeast spreads throughout the entire lump of dough. This is how sin works in one’s life. It is also how sin works in the Church. A little infection gets in and soon there is rot everywhere. A little smoke of Satan finds an open window or door and…

We are right to condemn Cardinal McCarrick for his wickedness. We are right to condemn the cardinals and bishops who have participated directly and indirectly in this grave scandal. We are even right to criticize the popes for being so blind and so slow to act. It is also right for us to condemn the priests who have done terrible things. But what about the laity? What about us?

When there is widespread sin, widespread covering up of that sin, and a corresponding widespread blindness or ignorance of that sin, one should expect a pervasive cultural willfulness underlying it all — a kind of unspoken subconscious “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.” It is corruption, and it is often so subtle, that produces its own self-protecting blindness. We are all too quick to call out “good bishops” and “bad bishops.” Are we being honest? What has the laity gained by choosing to side with their priests and bishops over their own children until proven wrong? That, I believe, is a HUGE question of enormous implications.

Perhaps… perhaps there was a time for that kind of blind trust. But not for a very long time, if ever. I cannot blame Catholics for leaving the Church over this disgusting tragedy. It’s a steady and vile stench hanging over the Church, and it goes back a long ways. I don’t think they should, but I understand.

Have we not become a Church too easily given over to our precious self-images? Are we not a people wrapped up in supporting a kind of Catholic doppelgänger that has more to do with telling us what we want to believe about ourselves rather the truth? If we are to condemn bad bishops, shouldn’t we also condemn bad parents who are so in need of believing that the bishop is pleased with them that they will betray their own children. Do we need to condemn ourselves and the “Catholic” culture we have created? Perhaps I’m going too far, but I know something about the human heart because I know my own heart.

[As an aside: Someone very dear to me was repeatedly sexually abused by her father from age five until high school. Her mother was subconsciously but willfully complicit in the abuse. Once the abuse became public, her mother supported her father. Her grandmother said she was the one who enticed the abuser. She was only five when it started. Only five. He was the abuser, the adult, but the other adults were complicit. She was the child. He got away with it because he knew the world in which he lived would let him. He had power in that world and controlled it because he had willing accomplices because it was easier to not know than to open their eyes. They were all in good standing in their church community. They all saw themselves as good Christians who would never willing do or support evil. They all got what they wanted, expect the victim. Perhaps this makes me rather sensitive to cultures of complicity.]

The question is not primarily whether James’ parents knew about the cardinal, or that any parent knows about the abuse happening to their child by a priest. I believe most of them don’t actually, truly know, at least at first. (I want to believe that if any parents do find out they would actually do something about it. Perhaps I’m naive) The fundamental question is whether or not the parents (or any of us) are willing to believe. Another way of putting this is do they believe the truth of the gospel and of the Church’s teaching, or know why there is a crucifix above the altar. Do they fully embrace the Church’s teaching on sin? Can it be that many Catholics are so fundamentally unbelieving in the story of salvation that they would rather believe there are men walking around as sinless as Christ and impervious to temptation merely because they have been ordained? Do they suppose a clerical costume makes a man a sinless superhero? Can they read Christ’s condemnations of the religious leaders of His day and still not suppose our own religious leaders are just as likely to fall prey to sin and the devil? Sure, the millstone goes around the bishop’s neck, but too often the parents, and the culture they have helped to create, are complicit.

Keep in mind that even our saints do this. In her 2005 book John Paul The Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, Peggy Noonan tried to explain why the pope didn’t take seriously enough the reports of sexual abuse by priests. In a 2014 article she reiterated the same argument. She writes:

[I]t would have been almost impossible for John Paul to understand the depth and breadth of the scandal because of his history. He had come of age under Nazism and Communism. They hated the church. Priests who fought them—John Paul was one—were heroic. Nazis and communists constantly attempted to undermine the church by falsely accusing its priests of mis- and malfeasance, including sexual impropriety. That was his context when John Paul was told of recent charges of child abuse. The idea they were true would have seemed impossible to him.

It would have been almost impossible for him to understand. It would have seemed impossible to him. I tend to agree with her assessment. It’s a plausible explanation that rings true. When St. JP2 looked at a priest he saw a hero. How could a hero abuse a child? But even if Noonan’s take is true, it still doesn’t get him off the hook. It just makes it easier to understand why he did what he did, and it’s a lot like why we tend to do what we do. He was blinded by his experiences and his desires. We are too.

I say this and yet Saint John Paul the Great is still a hero to me. But I also know he was a man.

Let’s be clear: The parents are in no way directly at fault for the abuse. Cardinal McCarrick is the one who abused. He is the one with the millstone around his neck. The bishops who knew the open secret of McCarrick probably also have millstones around their necks. And there are probably many others. The issue I’m trying to understand (and I know I’m doing a poor job of it) is about parents turning against the words of their own children (“he was told that he must be lying”) and refusing to even consider they are hearing the truth because to do so would contradict the precious image of the the wonderful cardinal, or the parish, or of the Church itself, or how a good Catholic should act towards the clergy, or even one’s image of the pope. But this is a form of idolatry. Some of this is certainly generational. Younger Catholics today, sadly, have become more informed, and consequently more cynical, about these things than their grandparents were. But all of us are potentially the unbelieving parent or friend.

However, I have great hope for the laity. As I witness the responses of cardinals and bishops to sex abuse revelations, and as I again and again see a group of men protecting their clericalism and bureaucratic comforts rather, it would seem, than having faith in God, I am also witnessing the rising up of the laity. Too often the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acts like their primary job is all about program administration and publishing official statements, and not about the gospel. They put out statements about needing to have “clearer procedures” in place to handle abuse cases, etc. etc. The “good” bishops (and sometimes “bad” bishops) put out platitudinous statements condemning the abuse, but then do nothing. They risk nothing.

Are we now like sheep without a shepherd? Who will lead us?

Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should publicly identify and shame the “bad” bishops. Perhaps they should not let Rome whisk the abusers back to Rome for rehabilitation and retirement. Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should literally start punching the “bad” bishops in their faces (like St. Nicholas slapping Arius at the first council at Nicaea). Honestly, that might make for one of the best bishops conferences ever.

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Here’s a face. Cardinal Farrell: The face of the moment for clericalism.

But I am seeing the laity standing up more and more, calling false shepherds what they are, pointing out the wolves in sheeps clothing, and being less afraid to say what needs to be said because they have come to trust first in God rather than the hierarchy. And perhaps because that have social media at their fingertips. I have hope. I think we are going to hear less and less about parents refusing to listen to their children’s cries for help. I hope we hear less and less about abuse too. I am all for a massive house cleaning.

Finally, if the whole Cardinal McCarrick affair is a prime example of the “open secret everyone knows,” potentially implicating numerous bishops in a vast coverup, what about Catholic media? How many stories were not written, stories buried, leads not followed, questions not asked, and reporters told to back off? How complicit is the media? And how complicit is the Catholic media? How much did those at EWTN, Catholic News Service, National Catholic Reporter, etc., etc. know? Who knew what and when did they know it?

It was an open secret. Everybody knew, or heard stories. Are not Catholic news reporters trained in investigative reporting? Or are they merely mouthpieces for the hierarchy?

Here’s something to consider. Read some of the last lines from the film SPOTLIGHT. Remember that this award winning film is about the 2002 Boston Globe (a secular news agency of course) investigation and reporting on the story of predatory sexual activities by Catholic priests in the Boston area, and the subsequent and systematic coverup by the Church hierarchy, specifically by the revered Cardinal Law. Read this carefully:

SACHA
We’ve nailed down multiple stories on seventy priests.

MARTY
All seventy?

SACHA
Yeah. And with the confirmation from Robby’s source, we’re ready to go. We can have a draft next week.

MARTY
Robby, that source of yours, is this someone we could revisit?

ROBBY
Might be tough.

BEN
But he has no problem helping the church protect dozens of dirty priests. Guy’s a scumbag.

Matt glances at Robby. Who’s looking at Ben.

MATT
He’s a lawyer, he’s doing his job.

MIKE
He a shill for the Church.

BEN
He knew and did nothing.

MIKE
He coulda said something about this years ago. Maybe saved some lives.

ROBBY
What about us?

BEN
What’s that supposed to mean?

ROBBY
We had all the pieces. Why didn’t we get it sooner?

BEN
We didn’t have all the pieces.

ROBBY
We had Saviano, we had Barrett, we had Geoghan. We had the directories in the basement.

BEN
You know what? We got it now.

MIKE
Robby, this story needed Spotlight.

ROBBY
Spotlight’s been around since 1970.

BEN
So what? We didn’t know the scope of this. No one did. This started with one goddamn priest, Robby.

Robby looks at Sacha.

ROBBY
MacLeish sent us a letter on 20 priests, years ago. Sacha found the clip.

MIKE
Are you freaking kidding me? 20 priests?

BEN
When?

SACHA
Just after Porter. December of ‘93.

ROBBY
We buried the story in Metro. No folo. Sacha found the clip.

BEN
That was you. You were Metro.

ROBBY
Yeah, that was me. I’d just taken over. I don’t remember it at all. But yeah.

The room quiets. Gut punch. Ben shakes his head.

MARTY
Uh, can I say something?

They turn to him.

MARTY
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on, and there’s fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived but all of you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.

The team takes this in.

MARTY
Having said that, Cardinal Law and the Catholic community are going to have a very strong response to this. So if you need to take a moment, you’ve earned it. But I will need you back here Monday morning focused and ready to do your job.

Here’s what I believe you should notice: Marty appeals the the precious self-image of the reporters to support their own coverup. Yes, we all “spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark,” but they weren’t in the dark except that they wanted to be. They had the information. They had the evidence. They chose to burry it. Marty’s words lets them get themselves off the hook. Yes, we all have to keep moving forward, and yes their reporting eventually was good and necessary, but Marty has just helped them clear their consciences. They are now “absolved” because, while everyone else is stumbling, “you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”

Precious self-image.

I see the bishops doing the same thing — giving themselves a pass again and again. They set up commissions, appoint overseers, establish new processes because the old ones didn’t work, and then walk away self-congratulated and self-absolved. No risk. No sackcloth and ashes. A brood of vipers.

But remember, we all do this in one way or another, and we support each other in our games. We’ve all got our own precious self-images. And we will protect them fiercely. We’ve all got some viper in us, so let’s be careful in our judgments. But still…

‘When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.’

Pray for one another.

Lord have mercy.

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