We Need More Than an Admonition to Pray Harder

When my wife was in the third grade and attending a Catholic elementary school she struggled one day with fractions. The teacher was a nun and forced my wife to get down on her knees in front of the class and pray until she could solve the fractions and when the tears of shame streamed down her cheeks, the nun demanded that she pray harder.

My wife survived the brutish behavior of Sister Estelle not because she prayed harder but because her mother, a devout Catholic, recognized an abusive teacher immediately and pulled my wife from the Catholic school and enrolled her in the public schools where she did just fine. She has prospered in her life and remains a devoted Catholic, as do I.

But that incident precisely defines the problem with the Catholic Church’s failure to confront and resolve the fact that the Church has become a magnet and a refuge for sexual predators who prey upon the children of the faithful. For decades, if not centuries, the Church’s response for improprieties in the Church is to request that the penitent and the rest of the clergy and congregation to pray harder for resolution. It hasn’t worked. And the announcement of Pope Francis at the conclusion of last week’s conclave of the leaders of the Church to address the problem of sexual predators amongst the clergy was disappointingly a rehash of the ill-founded solution – pray harder. In doing so the Church has ignored the nature of man.

While the Church is primarily an institution to address the spiritual side of man, it cannot ignore that it is populated by the human side of man – men challenged by the very nature of man. There was a reading last Sunday from the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (15:45-49):

“Brothers and sisters: It is written, The first man, Adam, became a living being, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural man and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man from heaven. . .”

Before there was man as a spiritual being, there was man as a temporal being. It is that temporal being that is preying on the children of the faithful. And praying for the spiritual side of those men is not going to crush the evil that they bring with them. (It is interesting that while the Church leaders are urging us to pray harder, so many members of the clergy are actually preying harder.)

I wrote in a previous column (November 14, 2018) the following:

“Archbishop Sample’s comments stand in stark contrast to some of the local priests’ comments to their parishioners. In September, shortly before returning to Phoenix, a priest in Lake Oswego, addressing the continuing scandal, noted that there were “evil forces intent on destroying the Church.” In failing to identify those evil forces as internal to the church’s priest, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and even the Pope, he left parishioners to speculate about whether this child abuse scandal was just an anti-Catholic publicity attack or a real scandal. Trust me, it is a real scandal.

“And now Pope Francis has driven a stake through the heart of those who are attempting to rectify past abuses and prevent future abuses. He barred American bishops from implementing remedial actions. Pope Francis has acknowledged his past failures while an archbishop in Argentina in dealing with complaints of sex abuse by members of the clergy – re-assigning them rather than removing them. He restored Theodore Cardinal McCarrick and elevated him as a principle adviser even though his predecessor, Pope Benedict, had censored the Cardinal and limited his public ministry. Pope Francis knew of Cardinal McCarrick’s serial abuse of seminarians and demanded his resignation only after Maria Cardinal Vigano, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, published a letter detailing warnings to the Vatican of Cardinal McCarrick’s transgression.

“And what is Pope Francis’ rationale? He has said that he wants everyone in the Church’s hierarchy to “be on the same page” after a gathering of those members of the hierarchy to be held later in 2019. It is a monotonous excuse used by politicians of every stripe to delay and defer action. It is as if a decision can only be made once or that a course of action cannot be altered in the future. It is nonsense.”

But at the conclusion of the conclave designed to get everyone on the same page what was the result? A stunning lack of any response. Pope Francis condemned the history of sexual abuse within the Church and did nothing else. It is the moral equivalent of Hillary Clinton condemning corruption in government while salting away nearly $200 Million while serving in public office. At the end of Pope Francis’ message we are left not only with empty condemnations but a ban on American bishops who had programs to address the problems appears to still be in place. In other words Pope Francis did less than nothing – he barred the only effective action on the table.

How can the shepherd protect his flock while allowing the wolves to roam freely within the flock? The Church cannot be said to administer to its flock while allowing the predators access to its members.

With no “next step” enunciated we are left to wonder whether this is all that the clergy of the Church will do. It may take subsequent meetings to set up a practice and procedure for defrocking predatory priests and clergy but there is no indication that such a process is going to begin. So what are the faithful left to do? The Church appropriately is not a democratic institution – and thank God for that or it would soon look like the United State Congress. So the faithful are left to utilize the only tool available – the power of the purse.

We have decided that we will no longer provide financial support for the Church or its affiliated institutions. Instead we will direct our financial support to any legitimate organization dealing with the carnage left by the evil of those priests and clergy who sexually abused children. We urge others to do likewise until the leaders of the Church execute a plan to deal with this scourge. And the leaders of the American Church should not wait for Pope Francis or a “universal” solution – it isn’t coming. Several of the more outspoken bishops and archbishops, including Bishop Thomas Olmstad of Phoenix and Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland have proposed aggressive solutions including the disclosure of the names of those accused of sexual abuse and referral of those accusation to proper civil authorities. We urge them to now implement those proposals.

At the very least this should become a universal of the Catholic Church in America:

  • Disclosure of the names of those accused upon a finding of probable cause
  •  A referral of those names to the proper authorities
  •  A public defrocking of those found guilty

The veil of silence pursued by Pope Francis while he was an archbishop in Argentina led to continuing abuse of children. The Church can no longer abide such silence. A good #MeToo movement amongst survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy of the Catholic Church may be needed to force action by the leaders of the Church.

And having said all of this I feel compelled to repeat a statement from an earlier column:

“For us, these horrible atrocities by members of the clergy do not effect our belief in the teaching of Jesus or the Catholic Church; however, they do effect our belief in the administration of the Church – from priest to Pope.”