The Parish Church, Viganò, and Nathan Doe

A parish = part of the earth. A part of the earth, with a church.

A parish church = a building with a baptismal font, a confessional, a pulpit, an altar, a tabernacle, an ambry for the holy oils, and a priest. The building, and everything in it, lifts the mind to heaven.

church_drawingThe overwhelming majority of the world’s Christians receive and live the faith in a parish church. Someday, we will emerge from the coronavirus crisis, and the parish churches of the world will function normally again.

The most fundamental task of a bishop, and most sublime: provide the parishes of his diocese with priests.

The more invisibly the bishop does this task, the better. Because the goal clearly is: That everyone who enters the parish church does so with the safe and true assumption that they will find a priest there they can trust. A priest who honestly represents the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ.

I think we all know that, a generation ago, a tidal wave began to wash away that trust, here in the USA. It started to wash across the land in Louisiana, thanks to the work of the journalist Jason Berry.

Catholics had to face the fact: you might not find a priest you can trust in your local parish church. You might find a criminal sexual abuser, fleeing justice. Because Catholic bishops do not know how to deal with criminal sexual abuse.

McCarrick NBC screen shotThe tidal wave crashed down over me in the summer of 2018, when I learned that I received Holy Orders from a criminal fleeing justice. I received Holy Orders from the very man who convinced America, in 2002, that the bishops had finally figured the thing out. Turns out he did that con-job on us as a criminal fleeing justice himself.

As you know, Bishop Barry Knestout threw your unworthy servant into the ecclesiastical gulag for the ‘crime’ of pointing out this evident fact.

My friend Bob Hoatson runs “Road to Recovery,” a non-profit that helps victims of sexual abuse. Last week, Bob mailed the same package to both Bishop Knestout and myself, a copy of Carmine Galasso’s book Crosses.

Bob mailed me a copy because of our friendship. He mailed Bishop Knestout a copy because the bishop serves on the Bishops-Conference Committee for Child and Youth Protection.

Crosses is an incredibly painful book to read. Also enormously illuminating. Catholic sex-abuse survivors tell their stories, in the first person. Galasso captures their world with haunting photos. The late A.W. Richard Sipe, expert in clerical sexual abuse, wrote of Crosses, “This book is a triumph of making sexual abuse by religion understandable.”

Now, speaking of trusting bishops…

Two weeks ago, a retired titular Archbishop,* Carlo Maria Viganò, wrote to the priests and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Washington. advising them to distrust their sitting archbishop, Wilton Gregory.

Why should they distrust him? Archbishop Viganò’s letter does not explain. Rather, Viganò simply takes for granted a certain interpretation of a number of unclear facts.

The White House apparently organized a visit by President Trump to the St. John Paul II Shrine in Washington, and invited Archbishop Gregory. Gregory, it seems, begged off.

Then, the night before the visit, White House security forces used some violent tactics to remove peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square, the lovely park just north of the White House.

Archbishop Gregory chose to condemn those tactics, in the form of a statement about the president’s visit to the JPII Shrine, which occurred the following day.

Crosses Galasso HoatsonDoesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Criticizing one thing by expressing bafflement about another. On the other hand: the police did, in fact, forcibly remove peaceful protesters from a place where they had lawfully assembled, without proper warning.

Let me simply note the following:

I wrote to Archbishop Gregory myself in April, 2019, while he was still Archbishop of Atlanta, Georgia. I gave him some unsolicited advice. I recommended that he insist on full public disclosure about the McCarrick cover-up, before agreeing to take office in Washington.

I pointed out to Archbishop Gregory that, had Donald Wuerl done this–insisted on honesty about McCarrick–then the cover-up would have ended fourteen years ago.

We would have a much-larger reservoir of trust and good will in our Church, had either Wuerl or Gregory insisted on full disclosure of McCarrick’s crimes, prior to taking office as McCarrick’s successors.

What do we have instead? Well…

…Remember “Nathan Doe,” abused by Theodore McCarrick? Nathan moved me to tears with his loving solidarity last October. He told a reporter:

“McCarrick was charming. He was self-effacing. He was completely disarming. And he ran that game on everyone. He ran it on his colleagues, donors and on young boys. Everyone around this guy is just a different shade of victim.”

Nathan reported last fall that Vatican investigators had spoken with him. Nathan expressed his confidence that a healing ‘McCarrick Report’ would see the light of day.

Nathan kindly wrote to us again ten days ago, to offer an update. He remains hopeful. In spite of everything, Nathan trusts Pope Francis. He trusts the pope to give us a painful but soul-cleansing McCarrick Report.

After all, the pope has a most-important, most-sublime task, too. To provide bishops we can trust to give us parish priests people can trust.

I, for one, wonder why the duty of encouraging trust in the hierarchy falls to this particular anonymous sex-abuse victim. Nathan’s public hopefulness about full disclosure only makes the long, dull silence of the miters all the creepier.

…Nathan insists that earnest Vatican investigators have collected a huge amount of information. Presumably facts about McCarrick’s abuses of minors and young men, during the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

Tornielli Giorno GiudizioGetting all those facts on the table someday will certainly help to clear away the tidal-wave waters of American-Catholic disillusionment. Thank you, Nathan, and all the victims who have spoken to these investigators.

But certain facts already sit squarely on the table. In August of 2018, Archbishop Viganò revealed a great deal of theretofore-secret information. Anonymous Vatican sources confirmed a large chunk of that information, in Andrea Tornielli & Gianni Valente’s book Il Giorno del Giudizio, which I summarized for you, dear reader, in December 2018.

Let’s call the consensus of Viganò and Tornielli/Valente the “common ground” facts. (That’s what judges call the facts acknowledged by both sides in a court of law.) The common ground facts include: The pope, the heads of the Roman Congregations, and Donald Wuerl all knew something about McCarrick’s crimes. In 2005.

I pointed out those “common ground” facts in my letter to Archbishop Gregory last year. Archbishop Gregory never answered me.

…A few days after writing to the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Viganò then wrote to President Trump.

In this letter, Viganò paints two pictures. The first: a contest between good and evil in politics. I certainly cannot agree with the archbishop’s analysis there. He sees the protests over George Floyd’s death as purely theatrical, the result of behind-the-scenes manipulation. I don’t see that. To the contrary, I fear disastrous riots–all 100% sincere–if the prosecutors in Minnesota do not obtain guilty verdicts for the officers who killed George Floyd.

But Archbishop Viganò’s second picture touches our theme here: There’s a “deep Church”–a corrupt, hidden bureaucracy, hostile to the cause of Christ. This “deep Church” wages a vicious battle against the “good shepherds.”

Viganò provides no facts to substantiate this assertion. Which makes it sound more like Donatism than like orthodox Catholicism.

The truth–the ugly, detailed, tedious facts: they will help to purify our Church. On the other hand, broadside condemnations, unsupported by evidence, do more harm than good.

What I see is this:

The “corruption” causing such widespread disillusionment among Catholics involves, above all, unexamined self-righteousness.

I think we, the victims of the deception, could pretty easily forgive all the conspirators in the 21st-century part of the McCarrick cover-up, the “Washington phase.” If only those conspirators had the humility to acknowledge their culpable cowardice in failing to bring the malefactor to justice.

(Indeed, the “great” Viganò seems to have a hard time facing the fact that he himself was, for years, one of the conspirators in the 21st-century phase of the McCarrick cover-up.)

We could pretty easily forgive, if only there was some ‘fessing up. But the obdurate self-righteousness of the conspirators has stalled the whole process. And made the situation ten times worse than it ever had to be. (With a well-meaning parish priest in southwest Virginia languishing in an outrageous ecclesiastical gulag, with his people suffering needlessly.)

Instead of lining up on two teams, let’s remind ourselves:

Why do we enter a parish church in the first place? In order to take our rightful place on the “true Church” team?

Speaking for myself, that’s not my reason. I walk into the parish church because: I fear winding up on the other team, in the end. I fear I’m on the other team right now. I need every bit of divine mercy to help me. And we find that mercy in the ministry of priests.

I violated Bishop Knestout’s “no trespass” order against me on Saturday. I entered St. Francis of Assisi parish church in Rocky Mount. (I had violated it the preceding Sunday, too, at St. Joseph’s in Martinsville, for the same reason.)

To go to confession.

* Higher-ranking officials of the Holy See of Rome generally become archbishops of places that no longer have Catholic populations, or of dioceses that have gotten absorbed by other dioceses during the course of history. A “titular” archbishop, therefore, has great responsibility in assisting the pope, but does not actually govern an archdiocese.