Being Catholic Now. Q1 a2

Vatican II stalls

Whosoever knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ would refuse…to remain in Her could not be saved. (Vatican II Lumen Gentium 14)

On the one hand: She is the Mother of the People of God. She is the eternal Israel. She gathers where Satan has scattered.

You need the gift of divine faith to see this. But not blind faith.

After all, where do cultures intersect, enrich each other, and bear fruit in genuinely peaceful human interaction? In the Church. Where do people come together, help each other, and form a real family that transcends blood and tribe? In the local parish church.

What institution has preserved the facts about Jesus Christ? What Christian community can, with perfect truthfulness, claim Him for Her founder?

And what religion has a single leader who can truly unite the world?

…On the anniversary of the appearance of the Lady in white to the children in Fatima–May 13, 2001–I gave my life to the holy Roman Catholic Church. With total faith and trust, I, along with my seminarian brothers, promised to serve Her all our lives long. I still love Her like I did then. No, I love Her a hundred times more.

After we made our promises, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, duly appointed Archbishop of Washington, ordained us transitional deacons. That was our “wedding day.” The beginning of long, happy, fruitful lives as clergymen, in the bosom of Mother Church, dedicated to helping our neighbors get to heaven.

On the other hand: McCarrick should have been in jail that day.

Last week, our dear bishop of Richmond gave us a pastoral letter. In it, he wrote the following:

“I support, and promise my full co-operation, with any independent, lay-managed, authoritative investigation into the scandal of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.” (page 4)

Problem is: The day before Bishop Knestout gave us this letter, the president of the US Conference of Catholic bishops met with the pope. According to Cardinal DiNardo’s own statements prior to that meeting, he had traveled to Rome to ask the Holy Father to authorize an investigation into ‘the scandal of Theodore McCarrick.’

But Pope Francis authorized no such investigation. After the meeting in Rome, none of the participants so much as mentioned any investigation.

Ergo: We will never know how and why a dangerous criminal became a Cardinal. And flashed his red hither and yon for seventeen heady years. Making a mockery of pretty much all of us–all of us east-coast-USA Catholics aged 35-70. No one will ever be held accountable for this utterly crushing betrayal. The pope appears to have no intention whatsoever of holding anyone accountable for it.

And none of us can reasonably believe that the very bishops who flat-footedly stood by, as McCarrick took all the limelight for himself during the Scandal of 2002–thereby making a pathetic mockery of all of them— None of us can reasonably believe that any of them will stand up like men and vindicate their own honor. By personally punching McCarrick in the face.

In fact, none of us can reasonably believe that the course of justice will move forward in the McCarrick case at all.

Maybe sometime next year we will learn that the pope quietly laicized McCarrick. And that, supposedly, will satisfy justice. When the good faith of thousands of American Catholics has been cruelly mocked.

…By the way, I wish McCarrick nothing but grace from God. I bear the man no ill will. I hope he gets to heaven. I have no doubt that he has more right to go to heaven than I do.

But when you minister as a priest and then as a bishop, and when you represent the holy and Apostolic See as a Cardinal, your crimes touch the faith of all the souls around you.

How will any of us find peace? Unless those crimes get reckoned with, publicly, by a competent, impartial, honest judge. Which would certainly embarrass all of McC’s cynical accomplices. But isn’t such crushing embarrassment precisely what they deserve?

Anyway, you know we have reached an abysmal low point when the one person who makes sense is: Theodore McCarrick’s lawyer. Last week the New York Times quoted the lawyer saying, “the accusations are serious and McCarrick looks forward to invoking his right to due process at the right time.”

Amen to: The accusations are serious. And Amen to: Due process.

So the question:

What kind of institution is this? This institution necessary for the salvation of the human race. With which no one could safely choose to associate him- or herself–at least not anyone who prizes honesty and integrity, and who has ever heard of Theodore McCarrick.

…Just to repeat: The “Scandal” is not (and has never been) that so-and-so sexually abused so-and-so. Painful as it is to face, such things happen. And they will continue to happen, until the Last Day.

The scandal is: So-and-so abused so-and-so, and so-and-so, who was supposed to deal with it, to help everyone move on, by reckoning with the crimes publicly, did… [crickets].

In the case of Theodore McCarrick, The Scandal continues, unabated.


Another Open Letter to His Holiness

Your Holiness,

I do not trust you because you have misinterpreted what the moment demanded of you, from Day One.

Your predecessors gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Out here in the parishes, we did not languish in doubt regarding the teachings of the Church. We did not hanker for verbose Roman Synods. To the contrary, on the day you took office, our parishes were humming with the business of communicating the teachings of the Church, contained in the Catechism.

We did not need a “new pastoral paradigm” to govern the relations between priests and their people. What we needed–it is now painfully obvious–was greater discipline in the ranks of bishops, and in the Vatican.

In the US, we have suffered a crippling scandal. All of it is attributable to the negligence of bishops, including yourself. The documents that scandalized people in Pennsylvania–all of them had been in the custody of the bishops there for twenty years or more. And bishops, including you, knew about Theodore McCarrick. Only you bishops had the authority to do anything about him.

Holy Father, you have spoken over and over again about the primacy of mercy. You misinterpreted what the moment demanded. For over a generation, no one has had any doubt that the Church knows how to act with mercy. The obvious problem we have is: the Church has forgotten how to act with severity. How can you not see that your former-Cardinal-Priest Theodore McCarrick has–in his brazen recklessness–exposed this colossal weakness?

What did the moment demand, when the first of McCarrick’s brother bishops learned of his predations? Mercy? Hardly. What did the moment demand, when you learned of it? Mercy? No. The moment demanded the just application of strict rules.

Do you not see how desperately the Church needs a severe father right now? A fearless and exacting enforcer of rules. A man whom sinners behold, and tremble.

Holy Father, by the year 2013, we parish priests–at least in the US–had made good headway in restoring order to parochial life. You have sat on the Chair of Peter for five and a-half years since then, and there is less discipline, less accountability, and less openness in the Vatican than when you arrived. There is less discipline, less accountability, and less openness in the Vatican–not to mention all the diocesan chanceries I know–than there is in the typical American parish.

You have gravely misjudged what the times demanded of you, Holy Father.


Your Son in Christ, Father Mark White


How to be Catholic Now. Q1 a1

Greenwich Village twin towers


On the one hand, the unity of the apostolic Church consists of the allegiance of every baptized person to the successor of St. Peter.

On the other hand, human decency demands: Whenever someone in authority exploits someone vulnerable, that crime must be brought to light and punished justly, to the satisfaction of the victim.

These look like the Twin Towers of September 11, 2018, for any Catholic not living as a hermit.

On the one hand, many good Catholics rightly observe that calling the pope a bad pope can hardly do any good. He is the only pope we have. It’s not for us to judge his badness or goodness; that judgment belongs to God alone. We all have our own personal spiritual and moral lives to work on. We fail in humility, and we damage the unity of the Church, when we do not give our prelates the benefit of the doubt.

On the other hand, many good Catholics, not to mention the non-Catholics paying attention, hear what Pope Francis has said–and not said–these past few weeks, and they stop short. They reasonably conclude: This man intends to use his untouchable status as the one and only pope to trick his audience. Trick us into doubting our incandescent outrage over a fact that stands undisputed, and painfully in front of our faces. Namely: someone pulled the curtain back to show us the inner-workings of our hierarchy, and we see a pile of stinking garbage.

Who can honestly abandon either fidelity to the successor of St. Peter or Christian solidarity with the victims of abuse?

Will these Twin Towers come crashing down in a colossal mess of lethally toxic debris?

I say No. I say: Jesus Christ. The heavenly Father. The grace of the sacraments. Faith, hope, and charity. St. Augustine. St. Francis. St. Thomas. St. John Vianney. St. Therese. The Catechism. The People of God. Parish churches all over the world with saints on their knees at this very moment.

I say: Your Holiness, I’m not going anywhere. I wish that you would. And I will keep wishing it until you own up to every bit of the truth that you haven’t owned up to yet, and then admit that it’s too much to expect us to continue to believe in your leadership.

But I’m not going anywhere. Maybe this is like taking a knee, a la Colin Kaepernick. But not during the national anthem at a football game. Rather during the prayer for the pope during the canon of the Mass.

Not that I will literally take a knee at that point, since the rubrics call for taking a knee at other particular times.

And I do pray for the pope with love, and pray that he will do the right thing, acknowledging that I certainly do not have a lock on knowing what that right thing is. But seems to me: Replace all the Cardinals by randomly selecting from among the world’s parish priests, then step down.

I don’t have the hair to be Colin Kaepernick. And I’m not as talented or good-looking. I’m just trying to be Catholic right now. Without making myself sick to my stomach when I think about the difference between what this past summer could have been, and what it actually has been.

In Love with a Tattered Scarlet Rag

Trump Little Sisters Cardinal Wuerl White House religious freedom
far left

Donald Cardinal Wuerl loves. He loves his scarlet robe.

Not because of the Precious Blood of Christ, and the blood of Christ’s martyrs–which the robe fundamentally represents. Rather, Cardinal Wuerl loves the prestige. And the deference that the robe seems to demand from the sycophants who surround him.

But a painful fact gnaws at the Cardinal’s heart. Namely this: A little New-York leprechaun wore the robe before him. And that fork-tongued bastard sullied the robe. He covered it with dirt.

Theodore McCarrick wore the scarlet robe of the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C. He, too, gloried in the prestige and the deference. He even stood in front of all the news cameras in 2002, to trumpet the ‘great achievement’ of the Dallas Charter.

And the whole time: he belonged in jail.

…Last month Cardinal Wuerl gave two interviews. To try to comfort the faithful upon the release of the Pennsylvania grand-jury report on clerical sexual abuse.

Nikki Battiste of CBS asked the Cardinal, “How does it feel, knowing that children were sexually abused at the hands of priests under your watch?” The Cardinal would not, or could not, answer the question. Instead, he said: “Well, that’s why, if that came to the light, we moved to remove that priest.”

linus security blanketI, for one, still want to hear the answer to the question that Ms. Battiste asked. (More on that below.)

But, if you’re the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, why express your own emotions? When you have the power to manipulate the emotions of those around you, who have no choice but to serve you?

In the second interview, referring to disciplining priests who had sexually abused children, the Cardinal said to Tom Fitzgerald of Fox 5 DC: “How we dealt with things in the late 80’s/early 90’s is different from the way we would today.” To which Mr. Fitzgerald responded: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to understanding child sexual abuse?”

Dear reader, please go ahead and watch both of these interviews in their entirety. The second one is both long and enormously painful to watch. But click the links, and see for yourself. Then ask yourself this question: Who could come away from watching these interviews and think that this man is honest? Who could think that he has a grip on reality?

…The sitting Archbishop of Washington has the duty to help his people to cope with the gut-punch: his predecessor belonged in jail. During his entire tenure. The former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington. Should have been in jail the whole time.

Not easy to cope with. But someone has to master his emotions about it, and then help the rest of us cope.

Problem is: Cardinal Wuerl needs someone to help him cope. He obviously cannot cope. The thing he has loved for so long–his scarlet robe, with its prestige, and a cortege of sycophants trailing along–this treasured thing isn’t worth a damn anymore.

St Matthews CathedralWhy not burn the red cassock on the steps of the cathedral? And yell every curse word you can think of, in a fit of rage against the leprechaun from New York? All on camera. That would comfort the faithful a million times more than the two interviews above.

What we are witnessing in the Church of Washington is this: the pathetic spectacle of a delirious man, in love with a tattered rag, clinging to it with childlike desperation. And demanding that those around him pretend that the garment is still shiny and new and lovely.

Please, please, please: Step aside, your Eminence. Find a cozy, shaded sun-room somewhere, and do crossword puzzles. We need a man willing to cope with reality.

Sitting on the throne of St. Matthew’s Cathedral doesn’t mean prestige anymore. It means a long, hard, quiet struggle. People spitting in your face, and you saying in reply, “Bless you for your honesty.”

The Corrupt Conspiracy (with Compendium)

Papal Vespa scooter

We live in a seedy town. The mayor, the judge, and the sheriff sit on a dusty porch. They while away their slow, empty days. They swap bad jokes. They never give a thought to the town’s future. Because they are corrupt time-servers…

When a Christian clergyman sexually abuses a minor, or any vulnerable person, it effects everyone.

Theodore McCarrick owed something to the people of the Archdiocese of New York, his hometown, where he became a priest. He owed the same thing to the people of the dioceses of Metuchen NJ, Newark NJ, and Washington DC–all of which he led as a bishop. He owed us an honest life. He owed us the loving service of a diligent and zealous priest.

We didn’t get that, apparently. On June 20, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington DC announced that Pope Francis had suspended McCarrick from any priestly duties, because a man (we learned in the New York Times that his name is Mike) had accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him, while he was still a boy.

Now, subsequent to such an announcement, about such a prominent churchman: Our Holy Father, and the incumbent bishops of the affected dioceses, owe something to Mike. They owe something to any other victims. They owe something to all of us whose lives McCarrick has touched. They owe us an open trial of Theodore McCarrick.


Our souls face grave peril here. Our former father in God stands accused of grievous wrongs against trusting, innocent victims–victims who wandered into danger precisely because they shared our faith and our trust in the Church’s clergy.

We need to know the facts. We need to hear the testimony of the witnesses. We need to hear the verdict and the sentence. We need to see justice done. Our relationship with this Church–and therefore, the salvation of our souls–depends upon our having confidence that justice has been served in the case of Theodore McCarrick.

Now, I mentioned trusting, innocent victims, in the plural, because…

1. On July 19, a man named James lodged a public accusation against McCarrick, in the pages of the New York Times. James accuses McCarrick of corrupting him sexually while he was still a boy, and then continuing to abuse him well into adulthood.

2. The Archdioceses’ announcement of June 20 referred opaquely to other victims. We have since learned–no thanks to any Church official–that the other victims include seminarians and young priests. McCarrick apparently corrupted them while they were aspiring, under his care, to become priests. McCarrick thereby gravely endangered their souls, and the souls of all those whose lives they would touch.

So the incumbent pope, with the incumbent bishops of the affected dioceses owe us an open trial, a trial in which all these charges get a public airing. McCarrick deserves his chance to answer. Then a judge must deliver justice. If any of the victims prefer to remain anonymous during such a trial, let them. We can still have a public trial, with their testimony submitted anonymously.

The public need for such a trial has been obvious since the end of July. But neither the pope, nor any of the incumbent bishops, have communicated with us about this. In any way. Neither the pope, nor any of the incumbent bishops, have communicated to the public any facts whatsoever regarding the McCarrick case.

Quite the contrary. We still have no way of knowing if any Church official has so much as spoken with James. Everything we know about McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians has come from them speaking out through the media, or through Archbishop Carlo Viganò’s testimony, or through reactions to that testimony.

wuerl miter

McCarrick disappeared on June 20. I myself happen to know where he is. He is in a comfortable house–where I lived for a couple months in 2002, with James Cardinal Hickey, who was then retired and quite ill. But no Church official has ever said anything about when we will see McCarrick publicly face the charges against him.

Pope Francis wrote us a letter on August 20. He never addressed a single fact of the McCarrick case. None of the bishops of the affected dioceses have ever spoken about seeing justice done in the McCarrick case at all.

Our peace, and our relationship with the Church, is riding on this. But, the truth is, none of us have any reason to believe that any of the prelates involved have given this matter a moment’s real thought. We have no reason to think that anything further will happen, when it comes to a public reckoning of McCarrick’s crimes. None of the incumbents in office show the slightest understanding of the duty they have to justice, and to our souls.

A clergyman must act with zeal for souls. A police officer acts out of zeal for public safety and peace. A health inspector acts out of zeal for the public’s bodily well-being. A judge acts out of zeal for the law. A clergyman must act with zeal for souls. He must fulfill his duty because he fears his own damnation and the damnation of those for whom he is responsible. A clergyman must long with all his heart to reach heaven with his flock intact.

A clergyman without this zeal for souls is, in a word, corrupt. He occupies a place of honor; he receives deference; he enjoys notoriety, since the Lord has set him at the head of the household. But he is an empty shell. He just sits there and talks to no purpose. He not only doesn’t do his duty–he forgets what his duty is.

A corrupt clergyman is like a do-nothing mayor or police chief or judge. But with one crucial difference: Instead of endangering public peace or prosperity, the corrupt pope or bishop endangers immortal souls.

Here we are, at the end of this awful summer, facing these facts:

1. We, the people of this region of the Church, deserve to see McCarrick tried for his crimes.

And 2. The pope and the bishops have no intention whatsoever of arranging and executing such a trial. Because the pope and bishops are corrupt, do-nothing, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-ing pharisees.

So this entire region of the Church–and perhaps many other regions, too, for all we know–will remain a decaying, dangerous town. A backwater run by lazy good old boys swapping pointless stories on a dusty porch.

May God help us.

Compendium of My Posts So Far on the McCarrick Case and the PA Grand-Jury Report

Open Letter to the Holy Father September 1 [NB. I have removed this post from my weblog at the request of Bishop Knestout]

Caso Romanones August 31

Should the Pope Resign? August 29

Believing Viganò August 28

Pontifical Prevarication August 27

Late Night with Viganò August 26

The Church’s Center of Gravity August 24

We Think You’re Incompetent August 22

More about the PA Report August 22

Me and Jake Tapper Hate the Bishops August 20

The Good PA Catholics August 19

Victims Crucifix + Wuerl Fail, Part II August 17

PA Grand Jury Report: Not Bad, But Good August 16

Wuerl Fail August 14

The Teaching that Convicts August 12

Checchio Fail August 10

Our Vichy Regime August 9

Tottering Church August 8

Priesthood Ex Opere Operato August 5

Burbidge Fail August 4

Open Letter to Theodore McCarrick August 1

St. Alphonsus, Pray for Newark and Washington August 1

Going Backwards July 31

James’ Amanuensis July 30

James the Man of the Hour July 30

No Longer His Eminence July 28

New Scandal, Worse than the First July 26

Scandal of 2002 Painfully Revisited June 29

The Spider Web June 20

If You’re Up Late…

…you may have heard that an Archbishop has accused Pope Francis of grave wrongs in handling the Theodore McCarrick case. The Archbishop, a long-time Vatican official and former Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., has called upon the Pope to resign from office.

Archbishop ViganoSome will question the credibility and reliability of the Archbishop’s written testimony.

As you know, dear reader, I have spent the past two months in a state of great agitation regarding the McCarrick case. Some have wondered if I might have lost my good sense, or even my spirit of Christian mercy.

If nothing else, I think that Archbishop Viganò’s written testimony does vindicate me in my sense of the profound gravity of the situation.

Namely, that an honest and public resolution to McCarrick’s case is absolutely necessary for the Church in America, and also for the Holy See. Without such an honest and public resolution, how can we move forward into the future with anything close to fidelity to the mandate given us by Christ?

Seems to me that whether or not Pope Francis has to resign now lies in the hands of the editors who will decide whether Archbishop Viganò’s testimony counts as “front-page news” for the “mainstream media.”

You would think that those editors would run with this story–such a high-ranking official denouncing the pope–even though Viganò frankly identifies homosexuality as a “perversity.” Then, in the ensuing frenzy, will others publicly corroborate what Viganò has written? You would think that they would.

Certainly we will wake up tomorrow in a situation even more confusing than it was before. And we just might have to follow my proposal for replacing all the leaders of the Catholic Church.

Whatever happens, dear reader, we will soldier on. The truth liberates, as the good Lord said. We will know the whole truth, about everything, when we go to meet Him. In the meantime, we pray.

Center of Gravity

Ray RiceWhen it comes to a running back, we hope for a very low center of gravity. Like ankle-level. But what about Jesus Christ’s Church? Where do we find Her center of gravity?

Certainly Her center of gravity is Jesus Himself. And His center of gravity is His Heart, since He is not a running back, but rather Divine Love made man.

So Holy Church has the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, and the tabernacle, and the monstrance, for a center of gravity. She has the Sacred Scriptures for a center of gravity. Since, as the Catechism quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as putting it: The sacred text reveals Jesus’ Heart (CCC 112).

Anthony Trollope wrote a series of novels about English country church life in the 19th century. He captured the feeling that parishes had rhythms that would continue until Judgment Day. Church bells would ring. Birth and death, Sundays and holy days. The Christian gospel, communicated with quiet consistency, nourishing simple hearts with joy, resilience, and a sense of humor—all based on the hope of honest love and eternal life.

That could be us, too. I hope and pray that we find ourselves at Holy Church’s center of gravity. Or at least close to it.

Statue of St. Bartholomew in Milan Cathedral
St. Bartholomew, flayed alive, wearing his own skin as a toga, in the duomo in Milan

To stay there, we need to keep the Apostles’ feasts. We must commune intimately with our original forefathers. They are the running backs we want to imitate.

Forgive me for the metaphor. Imagining the indescribable jewel called “the deposit of faith” as a football. But the good Lord did hand that ball to the Twelve. And they did run into a barrage of crushing blows right at the line of scrimmage. And they did keep the ball tucked into the crooks of their arms.

At the Church’s center of gravity, we read the Scriptures, according to the rule of faith expressed at Nicaea. We celebrate the sacraments as enumerated at the Council of Trent. We pray the Our Father. We strive to obey the moral law that Moses held in his hands and that God has written into the very fibers of our hearts.

The super-human quality of a Hall-of-Fame running back is not raw speed, or even quickness, or versatility, or skill in reading defenses. The super-human quality that defines the Hall-of-Fame running backs is: Resilience. Come at me with what you will. I will come at you still.

As we often note on their feast days, the Apostles did not have extraordinary human qualities. Average intelligence. Average creativity. Average eloquence. Average charisma.

But supernatural resilience. Supernatural capacity to press forward with the ‘ball’—the deposit of faith given them by Christ.

Our heroes the Apostles had this supernatural resilience. The Church has this supernatural resilience. By heavenly grace, we can have this supernatural resilience.

Praying for You and Thinking You’re Incompetent

boticelli Madonna Magnificat

God made us to give Him glory. By His grace, we try to do that in everything—every waking moment, and every sleeping moment, too. Like Mary our Queen put it: My soul magnifies the Lord.

Of course our main way to glorify God is: Holy Mass. Our souls magnify the Lord most when we offer ourselves to God at the altar—the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, united in true worship. We offer ourselves along with the Host and Chalice to the Father, in our humble churches all over the world.

I, for one, find myself limping along with this right now. I think many, if not most, of us American Catholics find ourselves limping along with this.

Catholics cannot expect every pope, bishop, priest, or deacon to speak and act like a living saint all the time.  We all have our foibles; we all need to exercise patience with each other.

But can’t we reasonably expect more humility, honesty, and coherent prudent action from our shepherds? More constructive communication? We can’t expect great sanctity. But can’t we expect basic pastoral competence? Steadiness in the basic duties?

What is “The Scandal of Summer 2018?” Isn’t it the evident fact that we don’t have competent governance of our Church? The evident fact that sure hands do not hold the wheel? And that they haven’t held the wheel for some time now?

The wheel of the Church is in the hands of an impaired driver, one who only knows how to react—and reacts sluggishly and sometimes steers right into danger. The driver does not seem to know where we are going. It’s like our Church is just following a computer-voiced GPS, rather than having a real father at the wheel, who knows the roads and where we’re headed. And knows things like: where we might stop for a rest, a meal, a lovely view.

steering wheelI don’t mean just the pope. Of course I wouldn’t wish the burden of being a bishop on anyone, much less the burden of being the bishop of Rome. I wouldn’t wish the burden of being a priest on anyone, or the burden of being a father.

After all, there’s only one way to make it through life in one piece. To be a monk. In this sense: To give over all my burdens and responsibilities to God every morning and every night. To try to glorify Him according to His holy will today; tomorrow will offer another, unknown battle.

That’s the only life that can get a soul to heaven, that kind of monk’s life—whether you’re married, a priest, single, whatever.

Also, humility means that we acknowledge: It’s not really our place to judge the competence of our superiors. The Church cannot function without obedient hierarchical co-operation, any more than any family can function without obedient hierarchical co-operation.

But, in August 2018, we have a right to suspend that ecclesiastical convention of unquestioning humility. We have not just a right to suspend it, but a kind of duty. A duty to honesty. And a duty to our hope for a better future.

So we say: We will continue to live the life of the Church. We will pray at the altar according to the Roman Missal. We pray for you every day, dear pope and bishops. But we think you are incompetent.

More about the Grand-Jury Report


I promised one of my faithful readers that I would spell out a little more clearly what I learned from reading the now world-famous report.

I. The documents from the confidential clergy files abound with euphemisms for sexual abuse. Rather than identify the crime of sexual abuse explicitly, bishops and vicars refer to predator priests’ “issues,” “struggles,” “failures,” or “difficulties.”

This custom of euphemizing the crime of sexual abuse continues unabated. No bishop, including the pope, has yet to refer to a single particular crime in any public statement. I think we can safely assume that every diocese on earth contains evidence pertaining to at least one such crime. Yet no bishop or pope has spoken publicly about even one.

Instead, euphemisms. In Cardinal Wuerl’s infamous interview with Father Thomas Rosica, they spoke of Theodore McCarrick’s “failures.” In a PBS NewHour interview, the current bishop of Erie, PA, spoke of priests “acting out.”

But we are not dealing with overgrown children “acting out.” We are not dealing with men “struggling” or “failing.” The grand-jury report considers particular CRIMES, men sexually abusing minors in particular circumstance, at particular times. Crimes that deserve the punishment of significant jail time.

mlk birmingham jail cell

II. Which brings us to the Huge Gap in enforcement. Police officers, investigators, prosecutors, and judges reasonably insist on criminal statutes of limitations. Because investigating and prosecuting old crimes poses enormous challenges for them.

Nonetheless, victims of sexual abuse by clergy clamor for some kind of justice, even many decades after the fact. And obviously they are right to do so. All we can offer them right now is an invisible process that take place in Rome and has the maximum penalty of: laicization.

So, when the civil authorities cannot act, we need some kind of in-house way to prosecute sex abusers who have committed their crimes as ministers of our Church. A process open to the victims, and to the public. A process that could mete out sentences of imprisonment in jails that we would operate.

Granted, a convicted and sentenced priest, deacon, seminarian (or lay minister) could theoretically elude punishment simply by walking away, since the Church has no power to compel anyone to do anything by bodily force. But at least we would have acted as an institution in such a way as to demonstrate that we care about justice for sex-abuse victims.


white smoke

…It seems to me that the USCCB and the Holy See have passed the buck back and forth to each other over and over and over again. The USCCB produces vague policies, and stipulates that the Holy See must enforce them. The Holy See makes strangely spiritualized statements, and insists that the local bishops’ conferences must turn them into practical realities.

I feel like this ball bouncing back and forth, with nothing ever really getting resolved, is the story of my difficult priestly life. And I am sure that, with the current incumbents, the exact same thing will happen again over the course of the upcoming months.

So I propose this:

We already have one Pope-Emeritus, so we might as well have two.

Before stepping down, let Pope Francis establish the process for the election of his successor. The Cardinals will not convene in the Sistine Chapel. Rather:

Let the names of all the Catholic parish priests on earth go into a very large bucket. Let someone wade into the slips of paper and pick 201 names at random. The conclave will consists of those priests as electors. If the chosen Successor of St. Peter is not yet a bishop, let Popes-Emeritus Benedict and Francis ordain him a bishop in the chapel of their little home behind St. Peter’s. Then the new pope can step out onto the loggia.

May it please the new pope to do so, let him ask for the resignations of all the world’s bishops. Let him accept them as he may, as he works through the one mandate he has. Namely, to follow a similar procedure in every diocese. Let the names of all the parish priests in the diocese go into a hat. Let eleven names be chosen. Let those eleven elect a new bishop.

Then, in five years or so, when this process is complete, let the new pope convene an ecumenical council to celebrate the seventeenth centenary of the Council of Nicaea.

I do not promise that we would find ourselves in some kind of perfect situation if all this happened. We can’t expect perfection on earth, even in God’s holy Church. But we can expect something better than what we have right now.


Me and Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper grand-jury report

The PA grand-jury report has a lot of pages. But I can now claim to have perused them all, dear reader.

“Dozens” of sex-abuse victims (or family members) testified before the grand jury. Less than 100. As I said before: First, we honor them.

Second, however, let’s note this: The report primarily consists of documents from the confidential clergy files of the six dioceses. The grand jury came into possession of those documents because the court served subpoenas on the diocesan offices in 2015 and 2016.

We can break down the 1,400 pages of the report into three large sections.

Section One. An overview of each of the six dioceses, with a narrative of particular cases of “institutional failure.”

Section Two. One- or two-page summaries of the depredations of all the accused predator priests (and deacons and seminarians).

Section Three. The responses submitted to the grand jury by the six dioceses, including responses by individual personnel.

The report, therefore, is a systematic attempt to synthesize information from two different sources: 1. The testimony of the witnesses. 2. The documents submitted under subpoena. It is an incredibly valuable collection of information.

This synthesis reveals…

  1. No reasonable person can come away with any doubt that the grand-jury did, in fact, uncover a scandalous failure on the part of diocesan officials between 1960 and 2002. They failed to recognize that the sexual abuse of a minor is a crime that must be brought to justice and punished. They failed to recognize that they had a duty to believe the accusers and mistrust the perpetrators. They failed to recognize that they had a duty to protect potential future victims.
  2. It also reveals, however, that the subpoena’d documents have a context (the on-going relationships of all the priests and bishops involved) that the grand-jury did not have an adequate expertise to understand fully. The assessments of “institutional failure,” while fundamentally correct, do not penetrate to the depth necessary to solve the problems

What do I mean by that? For one thing, the grand-jury apparently did not possess the complete case files of the clergy who had proceedings against them in Rome. Without those case files, the record is nowhere near complete.

Also, the grand jury (and subsequent news reports) appeared not to understand fully the obligation that a bishop has to a priest of his diocese. The bishop must provide three squares and a roof for all of his priests, no matter what.

But this brings me to…

3. We have a serious problem with the process of arriving at justice in cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy. (Obvious enough, but let me break that down.)

Canonical procedures remain opaque to the general public. Our total reliance on civil authority in this area leaves a huge gap: We may find ourselves completely convinced of an offender’s guilt, but the police don’t have adequate evidence, or there’s a statute of limitations, or some other impediment intervenes.

In other words, when the police and criminal justice system can’t do anything, we need a procedure for establishing the guilt of the accused in an open manner, without having to refer the case to to Rome. And we need ecclesiastical prisons for clergy sex abusers.

…Many Catholic commentators have noted that the report is difficult reading, requires Pepto Bismol, etc.

I grant that freely. But I note that squeamishness about sexual abuse is one of the big problems revealed by this report.

Attorney General Shapiro and the grand jury (in consultation with the FBI) note the use of “euphemisms” in the documents, as part of the effort to conceal the truth. The indefatigable Bill Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has written an intelligent “debunking” of the report. He points out that the euphemisms, to which AG Shapiro referred, actually do not appear in the documents. True enough. But other, horrendously dangerous euphemisms do appear, over and over again.

In the most-moving scene of Spotlight, one of the Boston Globe reporters urges a sex-abuse victim to spell out for her in explicit detail what happened. That is what we need to bring about justice, the reporter says. In my book, that is profoundly correct.

National Air and Space Museum

…Now, speaking of seeking justice:

As I said, the grand jury interviewed somewhere between 24 and 100 victims or family members of victims. Their testimony certainly plays a significant role in this report.

But the report fundamentally consists of the documents subpoena’d from the dioceses.

Which means: The diocesan officials who had in their possession these documents, and who did not foresee that their publication would embarrass the Church–crushingly, brutally embarrass the Church–and who did not take steps themselves to see justice done somehow: those officials have failed us, the Catholic people. They have failed us very, very grievously.

They cannot say: Well, we have been doing right since 2002! That has nothing to do with this. This has to do with the investigative work in Pennsylvania, done by the civil authority, that began in 2015.

We, the people of the Church, could have been spared this horrible embarrassment very easily. If Church officials had acted on these documents–had published them, had sought out the victims–before they were subpoena’d. this entire catastrophic embarrassment of August 2018 could have been avoided completely.

…Here’s an irony. The Pennsylvania grand-jury has invaded the independent operations of these dioceses, justifiably so. And the grand jury’s work has led to the widespread conclusion that the Church cannot govern Herself properly. So there will certainly be civil laws passed in many states that interfere with the independent operation of the Catholic Church. All totally justifiable.

Meanwhile, the USCCB has spent enormous energies this past decade championing “Religious Freedom.” All that effort has gone down the drain in a few short days. While the bishops blathered on about the Founding Fathers, these documents sat in their archives, ticking like the bomb on the Hindenburg. Nice work, guys. Nice work.

Please resign. We need champions of justice running our dioceses. Not you.