But after the McCarrick allegations, more allegations of abuse of power, of negligence in office, or of a propensity for cover-up were thrust into the spotlight: Bishop Bransfield, Bishop Salazar, Bishop Malone, Archbishop Zanchetta, Archbishop Nienstedt, Bishop Hoeppner, Bishop Hart, Bishop Binzer, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Mahony.
Bishops offered investigations, new policies, new hotlines, and new pledges. The U.S. bishops faced off with Pope Francis when it seemed the Holy See would thwart their attempts. Eventually some of their proposals became policy not just for the U.S., but for the Church around the world.
Bishops conducted listening sessions, bore the brunt of anger, watched diocesan revenues decline, and found themselves under state and federal investigations.
Diocesan and parish staffers implemented policies, prepared records for investigators, and tried to keep their composure amid months of demoralizing news.
Priests wondered what to tell their people, while wondering whether they could trust their bishops, and wondering what all this might mean for the future of the Church.
But what many Catholics said they wanted, they have not yet gotten: Accountability. Who knew what when? Who participated in coercive, abusive, or immoral behavior? Who enabled or facilitated it? Who ignored it? What will be the consequences?
Diocesan investigations in New York and New Jersey have not been published. Records sit in file cabinets in the Washington archdiocese, but have not been released. A long-promised report from the Holy See has not been published. Most bishops have simply stopped asking for the McCarrick report, at least out loud; whatever zeal they showed in the first few months has apparently been tamped down.
For many Catholics, the silence has become its own scandal. The delays seem, to many observers, incomprehensible, regardless of whether the reason is to avoid litigation, to avoid embarrassment, to avoid accountability.
And a long wait has turned, for many lay Catholics and clerics, into a kind of cynical resignation that very little might actually be coming, and even that won’t be coming soon.
But losing trust over McCarrick is really part of a broader trend.
The context for the last two years in the Church’s life is a growing loss of trust among Americans in all of the country’s long-revered public institutions, including the Church.
Trust in the government, the media, the academy, and in religious institutions has been on the decline for years. The last three months of American life demonstrate how far that trust has fallen: In the eyes of many Americans, the credibility of the federal government, of public health experts, of the police, and of the media is reaching historic lows.
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Institutions have become platforms for personal advancement and brand-building, instead of forges by which character is formed.
Amid that social change, institutional loyalties and connections have become passé. In the social media era, even with an expectation of evermore rigid political orthodoxy, each person has become a brand of one.
Practicing a religion no longer offers some unique business, civic, or social benefit for Americans. There is no longer much point to lukewarm Catholicism.
The Church asks Catholics for a kind of trust that is, in contemporary America, countercultural. And in the wake of the last two years, that kind of trust seems also counterintuitive.
To be a faithful Catholic is to say “I place my trust in the teachings, and formation, and leaders, and way of living offered by the Church so much that I will give my life over to it.”
To be a faithful Catholic is to say “I surrender my will to the will of Christ and His Church.”