The Unbearable Roman Malaise


Absent a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis facing the Church, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry out the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.

A committee of four is planning the Roman meeting of Bishops’ Conference presidents, scheduled for the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, in February.

Three of the committee members gave interviews in English-language publications a few weeks ago…

Blaise Card. Cupich interview

Archbishop Charles Scicluna interview

Father Hans Zollner interview

…All three spoke only in vague platitudes. Archbishop Scicluna specifically ruled out the possibility of the February meeting addressing any canon-law matters, much less any specific cases.

Now, we know well that Vatican meetings have long produced mountains of glittering generalities, which have piled up now over the decades.

But the lack of concrete details in this case is especially disturbing, because the going-around-in-circles aspect glares out at us:

The Holy Father personally wrote to all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences almost four years ago. In his letter of February 2015, Pope Francis urged the presidents to implement a circular letter issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011.

The CDF had written to assist the bishops’ conferences in formulating the guidelines necessary for synthesizing the demands of canon law and civil law, in cases of a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor, or using child pornography.

In the meantime, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors designed a template for bishops’ conference guidelines.

My point is: Anyone conscientiously following the “paper trail” knows that precise questions of canon law have remained on the table for years now. Also: Who will judge bishops accused of sexual abuse? That question likewise has sat on the table for years.

Vatican synod hall empty

And yet the organizers of the vaunted February meeting have ruled out the consideration of these concrete questions.

The organizing committee released a letter this morning, from which I have taken the ominous quote above.

My first question upon reading the organizers’ letter is: Has the Holy Father himself written to the bishops’ conference presidents, inviting them to Rome for the February meeting?

I ask this innocent question because: Can anyone reasonably assume that every bishops’ conference president reads the daily Vatican Press Office briefing? I don’t think they do. In fact, I would wager that if you or I called every bishops’ conference president on earth, tonight, and asked him (in his native tongue), “Are you going to Rome in February?” quite a few of them would respond (in their native tongues), “Huh?”

Be all that as it may. Today’s letter from the organizers goes on to ask the bishops’ conference presidents to make sure they “reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries” before February.

Now, at first blush this request seems unobjectionable. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of some imaginary bishops’ conference presidents, the request starts to rankle.

Every conference president has, after all, a prior, more fundamental duty. Namely shepherding and governing his own diocese.

Let’s assume one case: The dutiful bishop who has diligently followed the guidelines as they have come from the Holy See over the course of the past seventeen years. (The procedure for clerical sex-abuse cases was altogether revised in 2001).

If the bishop had diligently followed all the rules, then he would already have had interaction with abuse victims–if such cases had occurred in his diocese. He would have interacted with them as he did his duty to see justice done for them. So he could rightly ask, upon receiving today’s letter: ‘Which victims do you want me to reach out to again, o organizers?’

Now let’s assume a different case: The bishop who neither knows nor cares about the rules. Maybe the organizers are backhandedly trying to “guilt” such bishops into paying attention to sex-abuse victims? If so, is that the right way to do things?

Tornielli Giorno Giudizio

Next question: What lies behind all this spinning around in circles, to no purpose? There is an answer.

A lot of English-speaking Catholics still wonder why Pope Francis has never addressed the specific allegations made by Archbishop Viganò in his August testimony. Namely that Pope Francis knew about Theodore McCarrick abusing seminarians, but did nothing, The pope knowingly allowed a sexual predator to continue to represent the holy Catholic Church as a Roman cardinal.

The pope apparently gave some homilies at his daily Masses in early September, in which he seemed to equate Viganò with the “Great Accuser” intent on destroying Christ’s Church. But the pope never mentioned Viganò by name.

A fulsome exposition of the pope’s thinking–with names attached–can be found, however, in the last ten chapters of Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente’s book. (Click here to read about the first four chapters.) The whole answer to the great question, What is the Pope Thinking? is readily available to anyone who can read Italian.

I say this because: Vaticanisti know Tornielli as an inveterate ‘chameleon,’ perfectly willing to change his own ideas in order to maintain access to the reigning pope. Today Tornielli received a reward for this quality of his.

So we must presume that the apologia offered in Il Giorno del Guidizio is not Tornielli’s apologia for Pope Francis, but is the pope’s apologia for himself. The Holy Father’s thinking, as expressed in Tornielli/Valenti’s book, explains his otherwise inexplicable letter to Cardinal Wuerl. The pope accepted the resignation of, and simultaneously praised to the skies, a prelate he regards as an innocent scapegoat, done-in by a nefarious American internet campaign.

So, allow me to schematize the pope’s thinking about Viganò for you, dear reader:

Viganò’s memo belongs to a co-ordinated media attack, which emanates from wealthy American conservative Catholics. The attack comes at the pope for two reasons:

1. Conservative American Catholics misidentify Christian doctrine with Christianity itself.

2. The pope has criticized the international capitalist economy.

Now, we cannot dismiss these assertions out of hand. The pope rightly laments any tendency on the part of us American Catholics to deputize ourselves as Guardians of Purity and Orthodoxy. We have no right to use phrases such as “real Catholics” versus “fake Catholics.” The very Christian doctrine that we cherish teaches us: all baptized people belong to the Catholic Church. And every last one of us relies on God’s mercy for any hope of salvation.

I think we can all agree: Nine times out of ten, the most evangelical thing any zealous Christian can do at any given moment is: Be kind.

I gladly kiss the pope’s hand for reminding us all of this.

earthAlso: The global environmental crisis does threaten future generations. Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ resounds with wisdom. The Paris Agreement took a baby step in the right direction. The pope righly laments our apparent American indifference to the future fate of Mother Earth.

In other words, the pope has managed successfully to convince himself to blow off Viganò’s testimony precisely because: his rationale for blowing it off has some truth to it.

The pope thinks Viganò and the American right wing attacked him in the style of a hostile corporate takeover. Borrowing from the Wall Street playbook, you try to present an unflattering a picture of the CEO, in order to get the stockholders to demand his resignation.

Pope Francis regards this as a tragic, Judas-like betrayal. The pope insists that no true Catholic could ever suggest that the pope resign. The pope is not the CEO; the pope is The Holy Father.

Now, since this is the logic that I myself applied to justify my weeping and whining when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, you might wonder how I could credibly take a different position now.

But, let’s remember:

Absent a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis facing the Church, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry out the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.

The pope has gotten the whole thing quite wrong. An “American corporate mentality” has not caused the current crisis of confidence in the Church’s hierarchy.

No. We observers–laymen, laywomen, parish priests in the trenches, all of us struggling to live honest Christian lives–we have seen with our own eyes the crushingly disillusioning fact. The current hierarchy of our Church is incompetent.

Neither divisiveness, nor political prejudice, nor fussiness about doctrine, nor malice of any kind leads us to such a conclusion. The conclusion arises from the facts disclosed to the public this year.

What has been revealed? The incumbents of practically all the episcopal thrones that we are familiar with–namely, the American bishops and the pope of Rome–all of them have managed to bring scandal upon our Church by failing to address sex-abuse cases that had languished for years in their own files.

How would an honest Christian react to this revelation, if he sat on one of these thrones? He would say to himself: I clearly do not have the personal intellectual and moral resources necessary to execute the duties of this office. Let me abandon it, so that someone more competent than myself can take over.

But the mafiosi running the Church do not think that way. They think only of protecting their own position, no matter what the cost. Yes, like a father–a father who should go away, for drug rehab or some such thing, but refuses to go.

Like Vincent Card. Nichols of London. Rather than accept the blame for bringing shame and scandal upon his people, he blamed his lawyers for not reminding him that he had a duty to communicate with sex-abuse victims. (Maybe that sounds to you like a Trump tweet about Michael Cohen. But I am not making this stuff up for giggles.)

Or like Pope Francis. Rather than acknowledge that he has failed his people, he blames conservative American priest bloggers.

Like me.


One thought on “The Unbearable Roman Malaise

  1. I would like to see the partial resignation of Pope Benedict reexamined and that Pope Benedict be declared the only living pope, that Cardinal Bergolio is not and never has been the pope. Further I would like to see Pope Benedict laicize all abusers and their supporters. Maybe their foul stench may, then, be removed from Holy Mother Church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s