Fear God, not Rome – advice for the US bishops

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A former senior staffer at the USCCB wrote Friday to the country's bishops ahead of their general assembly, urging them to deal with the sexual abuse not out of fear, but by demanding an open investigation of the McCarrick case.

Jayd Henricks' letter to the US bishops was published Nov. 9 at First Things. Henricks is executive director of strategic partnerships at the Augustine Institute, and worked for the USCCB for 11 years.

He wrote that the impact upon his young children's lives by the decisions to be made at the general assembly is what compelled him to write "about the critical moment we face in the Church."

"The revelations of Archbishop McCarrick's horrid behavior, its long-term cover-up, and the failure to hold accountable those who empowered him could cause the faithful to distrust all bishops," Henricks said.

"This is a tragedy," he said, noting that the bishops are "faithful men who give your lives to the Church out of your love for Jesus."

"There is, however, something wrong with how the body of bishops functions as an assembly and how bishops relate to and interact with one another. Far too often, fear appears to govern what is done or not done by you as a body. There is the fear of disunity, fear of conflict, fear of disrupting a superficial collegiality, and today, more than ever, fear of Rome."

While the bishops face intense pressure, "the bottom line is that it sometimes appears that many of you are governed by fear of each other and of the institutional order more than by the fear of God."

Hendricks also observed that "your work as an association of bishops leads many of you to value the appearance of unity over adherence to principle," which leads to "patterns of conflict avoidance."

He wrote that this can at times be charitable, but "far too often … I watched good men back away from conflict when what was needed was confrontation and forthright debate."

"This culture of fear enabled the likes of Theodore McCarrick to attain power and to scheme and maneuver at the highest ecclesial and political levels."

At least in the US, Hendricks said, bishops are divided into two dominant camps: one which sees the Church "as a platform for political interests," which "includes key authorities in Rome," and the other, which see the Church "as a pastoral reality."

However, this second group "is reluctant to address critical issues if doing so would entail conflict with Rome."

"The curial advisors of the Holy Father have failed to understand the nature of the present crisis," Hendricks wrote. "They have chosen a path that only exacerbates it."

"They have failed to undertake a swift and full investigation of the McCarrick case. The Vatican's failure to act is now aggravating the real harm done to the Church. In the end, however, the faithful in the United States will hold you-and not the curial officials-responsible for what does or does not happen in the wake of the most recent scandals."

Henricks stated: "I urge you to petition forcefully for an open investigation led by the laity. Do not allow a false notion of unity to prevail, a false unity in which your integrity as bishops is sacrificed to expediency."

He said he understands, "as a former Church bureaucrat … the instinct to do whatever Rome asks."

"I implore you, nonetheless, to state publicly what most of you know needs to be done so that the corruption within the Church is brought into the light and eradicated."

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"Only if the evil is exposed can the Church be healed," Henricks wrote. "If you do not pursue this course, the faithful will blame you for the next scandal, which is sure to come, and their distrust will surpass that of the present moment. The result will be that more parishes and schools will close, and less charitable work will be available to the poor and the marginalized. Most damaging of all, fewer people will avail themselves of the grace of the sacraments. The losses will be eternal."

If the USCCB speaks to the crisis and demands an open investigation, "then you will begin to regain the trust of the faithful," he stated.

Henricks said his children "need strong ecclesial leadership as they face the strengthening winds of secularism."

"Without your witness of standing up to misguided ecclesiastical powers, without your fatherly care for the Church and the faithful, I cannot point to Church leadership as a model for their faith."

"I beg you not to allow fear to rule the day," Henricks concluded.

"Please govern as fathers, stay true to Jesus Christ, and proclaim the truth, in season and out of season, regardless of the cost. Be assured of my prayers and the prayers of so many of the faithful as you execute your solemn responsibilities."

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