This morning comes breaking news out of NCR, that Washington DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl has proposed a “national panel” to investigate any serious allegation made against Bishops.

And the panel would be comprised of, wait for it…bishops.

“Would we have some sort of a panel, a board, of bishops … where we would take it upon ourselves, or a number of bishops would be deputed, to ask about those rumors?” he suggested.

“It seems to me that’s one possibility, that there would be some way for the bishops, and that would mean working through our conference … to be able to address the question of sustained rumors,” said the Washington cardinal.

To that I would respond, “Well, your Eminence, yes and no.” Yes, there should be a panel– there should be panels in every diocese and every deanery, ready to look into serious allegations made against any representative of the Church. But with all due respect, sir, no, there ought not be a bishop residing on a single one of them.

There is an old Roman saying, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards?) In a sense that needs to be asked, now. The suggestion that the laity and the priests who trusted the bishops to do the right thing before — and have been amply burned for it — should just trust the bishops to do the right thing again would be farcical if it were not so insulting.

Wuerl’s remarks suggest that he really has no idea how catastrophic the revelations about Theodore McCarrick’s long-standing abuses (about which too many Cardinals and Bishops profess themselves “Shocked, shocked” as they slouch toward Eternity via Casablanca) have been to the trust of the laity. Let me spell it out: That trust has been shattered. It no longer exists.

The McCarrick story, joined to other tales now emerging about mistreatment of seminarians and lay folk, have effectively worn us out. We look at stories coming out of the United States, out of Chile, Honduras, and Australia, and we are finally — as perhaps never before — understanding the worldwide nature of the corruption that has taken hold within the depths of the Church, and we’re saying no more.

Your Eminence, Esteemed Bishops, please listen: Don’t give us another paper; don’t give us another bloodless statement about policies and procedures that somehow manages never to admit to failing, never offers a mea culpa, never uses the words “sin” or “Gospel” or brings forth the name of Christ Jesus.

Forgive me, but it feels very much like our bishops and “princes” have lost the plot. Too many of them, if they comment at all — and it’s astonishing to consider all of the bishops who have said nothing these many weeks — sound like they’re addressing a board of corporate directors rather than the Church founded by Jesus Christ, the One to whom they are publicly vowed and in whom they are presumed to live and move and have their being.

It is apparent to those of us in the lowly pews that our leadership could use a sustained retreat — a “time out” from temporal concerns — in order to refocus and recenter their lives around Christ and the Gospels, before all else; certainly before offices, before influence, before ambition or self-protection.

There needs to be self-examination and prayer and genuine penance undertaken by our bishops. All of them, the really great ones as well as the seemingly lost ones, because we all have a share in the reparations that must be made to God Almighty for the sake of his Church. And if any find they cannot make a full confession to their failings and re-commit themselves to the very Incarnate Word by whom they will be judged (just like the rest of us), then it would be better they resign, before they do more damage to souls and have to account for it.

If I sound cruel, that’s not my wish; I am genuinely concerned for the souls of these men, who need to finally hear us and understand the pain that has been caused because of what has been done, and what the leadership has failed to do.

From Mary DeTurris Poust, writing in Catholic New York:

…we wonder how much more—how much more can we take, how much more is still to come, how much more before we finally can’t bring ourselves back to church out of sheer exhaustion and disgust and, sadly, the gnawing realization that disbelief is creeping into our souls, because if one of our most powerful and respected leaders in the hierarchy could be so corrupt and the people surrounding him so willing to turn a blind eye to his immoral and destructive deeds, is all of this just a mirage?

Quite frankly, Catholics want leaders to talk about this, to acknowledge the horror and pain, and to ensure that what is happening now never happens again, because with each new revelation, the Body of Christ takes another blow and a few more parts drift away.

From Simcha Fisher:

You can’t do this to us anymore. I want to hear the bishops acknowledging that we are their children, and they betrayed us. Priests are their children, and they betrayed them. Seminarians are their children, and they betrayed them. …so many of our bishops have betrayed us, and so many of them still won’t listen. They’re still trying to save face, still planning to keep the farce going.

I want to see bishops — many bishops — writing a pastoral letter that says, “Yes, I knew what McCarrick was doing. Yes, I knew what the seminaries were like. Yes, I got letters from whistleblowers. I didn’t do anything. I helped keep it quiet. I persuaded myself it was in the Church’s best interest to pretend these horrors weren’t happening, even though it was my job to protect and defend my flock. Please pray for me, because I betrayed Christ, I betrayed my office, and I betrayed you all, and so I resign.”

There is no document that will be just as good.

Cardinal Wuerl is correct that there should be investigatory panels, but — as I have been writing for a few weeks — they must be entrusted to clear-eyed layfolk of varying gifts (from canon lawyers to stay-at-home parents) who bring with them no agenda beyond seeking out what is true. People who will bring in civil authorities when warranted and will not be afraid to make strenuous and public recommendations as to what actions should be taken. We might want to throw a few good priests and religious, and even a seminarian into the mix, too.

Look, I have no particular animus toward bishops, many of whom I admire and regard highly, but on the issue of accountability and sexual abuse issues they have proven themselves unequal to the task of thorough self-examination, investigation and follow-through. That responsibility must now be handed off.

There is a great deal to be considered and discussed and prayed over.

  • We are going to have to support our faithful and hard-working priests, who are once again being looked at with suspicion because their bishops have failed them.
  • We’re going to have to get the laity involved in every aspect of the administering of the church from the soup kitchens to the seminaries, where layfolk should participate in the screening and formation of our priests.
  • We’re going to have to stop insisting that the revelations that are going to come upon us like a deluge are strictly about sexual morality, or strictly about an abuse of power, as though the two are mutually exclusive. They are not.
  • We’re going to have to talk, calmly and thoughtfully, about whether closeting gay priests helped to contribute to the culture of clerical corruption.

That’s just a few things off the top of my head. There will be much more.

Dear bishops, please pay attention. I am hearing from people who are refraining from receiving Communion because they are so angry they feel unfit to partake. “I don’t want to be looking at the priest and wondering, ‘are you living a double life, too’ but the thought comes unbidden” a woman said to me this weekend. Multiple people have said they are so shaken it has affected their sleep.

If your people cannot sleep due to a sense of betrayal, disgust and anxiety over what is happening within their church, how in Christ’s name, can you?

UPDATE: Encouragement from the Diocese of Albany

Image: Public Domain

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