This year the diocese ordered-up a stale corporate-management-inspiration package for our convocation of priests. Delivered by a well-meaning “executive coach.”
The PowerPoint included Viktor Frankl, confined at Dachau. And his inspiring words about selflessness.
To be honest, being here at this diocesan priest conference feels like some kind of brainwashing camp. Back before the world learned about the McCarrick affair, I had some tolerance for churchy platitudes and bad Catholic jokes, on occasions such as this. But of course all that tolerance went out the window in the summer of 2018.
Last October’s priest convocation felt surreal and shameful–the priests of the diocese spending three days together, with no open discussion of the elephant. Namely, our disillusionment, and the disillusionment of our people.
This year, doing the same thing–carrying on, as if there were no bankruptcy of Catholic credibility–it feels like we have fallen to the Kool-Aid-drinking-cult level.
What is the Roman Catholic Church? We would say, we priests: This Church is the Church of Christ, founded and sustained by the incarnate Word of God. We would say: In our parishes, we and our people practice the original Christian faith, the original Christian religion. We receive grace from heaven through Jesus’ sacraments.
But: How can we fail to reckon with this fact: Our answer to this question–What is the Catholic Church?–our answer does not correspond with the perception of most reasonable people. Most people with self-respect would not willingly associate themselves with our institution. At all. Because our institution has apparently endless closets full of disgusting secrets and unacknowledged catastrophic failures.
Perhaps you may ask, dear reader: What should we do at our priests’ convocation, if not carry on as if none of this ever happened?
Well: It’s not just McCarrick. In our own humble ecclesiastical province, a bishop retired uneventfully a year ago, at the appointed age. Now he stands accused of the serial sexual abuse of multiple vulnerable individuals.
How about it we openly acknowledged the courage of the particular victims who have spoken out against Bransfield? And against McCarrick?
Shouldn’t we honor their bravery? Young priests and seminarians tried to blow the whistle decades ago about McCarrick, only to find themselves shushed, muzzled, and treated like dirt. While McCarrick ascended, untouched, to the College of Cardinals.
Now, the pattern repeats itself. Two former seminarians have sued the Church over bishop Michael Bransfield’s abuses over the course of the past seven months. Meanwhile, no one in East-coast Catholic Church, Inc. pays attention.
How about in our own diocese? Have we acknowledged with true gratitude the victims who found the courage to speak about their abuse in 2002? Only to be treated as liars by bishop Sullivan, as pariahs by bishop DiLorenzo, and as an overly emotional special-interest group by bishop Knestout?
So the question remains: have we even begun to solve our institutional problem? We not only haven’t solved it. We continue to pile up wreckage.
Now, a few years back, I would have said about this boring priest conference, underway at a Marriott: The Kool-Aid they’re handing out here tastes bland enough, like Evian or Perrier. Whatever.
This year, the bland Kool-Aid tastes more like milk gone bad. Or maybe poison.