September 10, 2018

Why I signed the women's letter to the pope

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *
Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Despite feeling humiliated and betrayed as a faithful Catholic, I am thankful for our summer of shame. I am grateful that a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed decades of clerical sexual abuse in the state, and grateful for the loud public demands for a complete accounting of who knew what and when about former-Cardinal McCarrick’s predatory behavior. I want to continue to add my voice to the call for answers because protecting one more child or young adult from abuse is worth any shame we may suffer.

A decisive response is needed immediately, not only to stop the cycle of abuse and corruption, but also to start the process of restoring the Church’s moral authority. In a world where so many young people are growing up without a moral compass, and where social pathologies like drug abuse, suicide, and the destruction of the family abound, a holy and faithful Church is needed more than ever.

I was glad to be among the original group of Catholic women in the United States to sign a letter to the Holy Father asking for answers to allegations involving former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The letter is a heartfelt demand that the leader of our beloved Church come clean so that the Church can continue to lead.

Since the letter was first posted on August 30, over 43,000 women have added their names. Why would so many faithful daughters of the Church go beyond silent prayer, suffering, and sacrifice and ask for answers?

For starters, I can explain what did not motivate me.

First, I do not have an axe to grind with Pope Francis. I am fully behind the pope’s call that we care for the poor and be better custodians of the environment. And I understand that cultivating a spirit of mercy toward each other is a foundational principle of Christianity. Asking for answers is not some opportunistic backlash against this papacy.

Second, I think it is great that the papacy is held by someone from the Americas. The Catholic Church is universal, and its vitality can also be seen outside of Europe or the United States. Having lived in South America for over a decade, I understand the pope’s cadence, frankness, and charisma. I love Pope Francis not only because he is the head of the Church but also because he is Latino.

Third, and most importantly, I did not sign the letter to sow division. I am not taking sides in what some journalists are calling a “civil war” within the Catholic Church. The last thing I want is for anyone to abandon their faith because of the sins of those within the Church or for anyone to believe that Catholicism is subject to partisanship. I know that Catholics owe obedience to the papacy and I am completely committed to unity in the Church.

So why did I sign the letter? The Catholic Church’s reputation is deservedly tarnished. We are responsible for this reputation. But some things can only be done by the pope and his brother bishops here in the United States. Pope Francis has chosen not to answer very serious allegations brought by a highly-regarded member of the hierarchy. But it is not too late to set the record straight and decisively lead the Church forward in truth.

Over the past few weeks, many faithful Catholics have proposed steps for restoring the Church in the wake of grave wrongs occurring from within. And we are waiting to hear the voice of the Holy Father —our good shepherd— to lead us along the path of redemption.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.