That is a very healthy starting point to getting to a better place. In this context, it is an important part of rightly channeling our energies and our reactions prayerfully and in docility to the Holy Spirit. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to come fully into that experience of hurt in this ecclesial context.
The immediate victims of McCarrick, those who have suffered sexual exploitation, they are hurt in a very unique way, but in some sense this has inflicted a hurt on all of us. And those who failed, those who enabled him, those who pulled him up the ecclesiastical ladder, if they did so with knowledge of his sexual predation, that inflicts a real emotional hurt on all of us, and we should just admit that.
Many Catholics first faced these initial feelings of betrayal, shock, bewilderment in 2002. After positive steps forward like the Dallas Charter, these Catholics found some consolation in the fact that the Church had made positive changes. Now there are layers of hurt there, particularly the hurt of thinking that things were better and then discovering that they are not.
The Church might not change in our lifetimes. Reform in the Church takes so long. The Church is very good at reforming herself, but it can take centuries sometimes. I'm worried for people who are looking for a quick fix.
I think that you are hitting at the heart of the problem. One thing that we are being faced with in this crisis is the reality that effective change within the Church takes a very, very long time. Even within organizations, people talk about changing the internal culture of a business, even that in itself can take a long time.
First of all, there is no reason why we cannot continue to take genuine pride in the programs that have been set in place with the sacrifice and dedication by the way of hundreds of lay Catholic men and women who have jumped into this breach and who have instituted requirements for background checks, safe environment training, safe environment programs, who serve the Church as sexual abuse assistance coordinators in dioceses (these are people who deal one on one especially with victims of clergy sexual abuse.) So we have every reason frankly to be confident that we are in a much better place then we were 15 years ago to protect our children. There is no reason to doubt that.
What people are still reeling from, and this has been the real revelation, is that there has been, especially within the episcopacy, there has been an internal culture which allowed -- and I am not faulting all bishops here, but McCarrick is the child of an old boys school mentality, a culture where bishops too often understood themselves as members of this kind of privileged caste who used power and authority to manipulate and frankly to bring about all kind of harms and hurts in people's lives. Bishops have sadly often been the perpetrators of much of the hurt that has been experienced on many levels and in many forms in the Church. And that is a sickly culture and it has to change.
The Church desperately needs a healing in its episcopacy. This is very much a crisis of the episcopacy. The current ethos is in so many ways it is failing us. It is failing the Church. What we have is, in far too many cases, a kind of managerial approach. Bishops simply seek to manage, to contain, to bureaucratize our apostolates, and that is not a culture where the Church is going to thrive.
Is that going to change anytime soon? No, but I think that we have an opportunity. This crisis is putting a spotlight on that problematic culture within the episcopate. I think that we can be hopeful for some kind of change, maybe even sea change.
There are good and holy bishops out there who are as incensed about this as you or I or any of us are. It is my prayer and hope that they will begin to exercise some very kind of unprecedented leadership within the body of bishops and certainly within their own dioceses.
So what do Catholics do meanwhile? Well, we are challenged to exercise the supernatural virtue of hope. We are challenged to believe that that kind of change, if it is meant to be, will take time, but we have to support every bishop who shows signs that they are getting it.
We have to support every bishop who shows signs that they understand and that they are taking unprecedented steps towards transparency, toward addressing even the faults of their own brother bishops.
We need to be supportive and helpful, and I guess that is a long way of saying that we need to hang in there and trust in the Holy Spirit. Change does take a long time in the Church. We are called to continue to exercise hope and it is by sustaining hope and sustaining a healthy pressure on the bishops that can bring about some really positive change here, maybe faster than we think.
As outrageous as it is, I can imagine the temptation a leader might feel to keep something so scandalous secret, to think that they were protecting Catholics from scandal by a sort of false charity, if you will. How does a leader find the courage or strength to come forward with the truth after they have covered up?
In the context of the Church, bishops who get it have come to understand that the scandal has been the supposed effort to "avoid scandal." The scandal has been covering this stuff up. The scandal has been keeping this stuff quiet.
This is what I always tell our seminarians. Transparency is your friend. Light and truth are our friends. Institutionally, I think that we are understanding that. In the context of seminary formation, I really believe earnestly that the vast majority of our men understand that.
And I think understanding that also makes it easier to come clean when there has been a failure of any sort. In a sense, it all boils down to the old adage, 'Honesty is the best policy.'
Obviously, when you are talking about something as complex as sexual abuse and exploitation, that is obviously much more complex because sometimes you are dealing with victims who desire to remain anonymous.
It takes an enormous amount of courage for victims of abuse to come forward and go public. That's been one sad part of this whole tragedy. It is so difficult. The courage there is just amazing sometimes. I think the message of what we are learning in the sexual abuse crisis is that transparency is the only way to go.
Honestly trying to protect the requirements of justice and people's reputations is a difficult balance and it definitely requires that transparency.
What do you recommend for those who are specifically dealing with disillusionment? How do Catholics keep their eyes open to the truth without totally succumbing to cynicism?
I think that the level of cynicism and disillusionment right now is off the charts.
You know people often use that image of having a bandage ripped off a wound. I don't think that we have yet healed from -- I know we haven't healed from 2002. This isn't having a bandage ripped off. This is having that wound ripped open and stamped on.
I'm fully expecting that the level of disillusionment and just shear kind of numb confusion is going to be a very common experience. I think that there will be different outcomes. I hope that Catholics can believe that there is a way forward here, especially committed Catholics.
It leads you to question your faith. I have been there. I have had that experience. The more you expose yourself to this, the more faith is going to be severely challenged.
I would just hope though that Catholics can understand that Jesus can lead them through that fire. He can lead us through this fire and make it a purifying fire, so that we can emerge from this really sad and really critical chapter of crisis in the Church, that we can emerge from this as stronger disciples and more committed Catholic Christians.
What transformation the Holy Spirit brings about, I hope we could no matter how hard this is, I hope we could kind of look forward to that with a sense of hope and expectation and maybe even the sense that as bad as it is, I want to be a part of what happens now. I want to be a part of the renewal that the Holy Spirit is going to necessarily going to bring about. I want to be a part of the action here. I want to be a part of what the Holy Spirit is going to do now in the Church.
I am absolutely convinced that the Holy Spirit is working in and through this crisis in a very real way. I have experienced it myself. I have seen it and I have heard it from others.
We have to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us beyond this very profound disillusionment.
This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 16, 2018.