With all due respect, Cardinal Wuerl, No. Bishops Investigating Bishops Won’t Do

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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2018-08-06T16:57:37+00:00

18 Comments

  1. emullen August 6, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Did Cardinal Wuerl really just say that? The lack of understanding on his part, and, I am forced to conclude by their silence, the other US bishops, is staggering. Do they really think they can just wait for this to blow over while maintaining their comfy positions? A mass offer of resignation is probably the only acceptable way forward at this point. I’d hate to lose some of the good bishops, but we need a clean slate. The faithful in this country and not a few others are hanging by a thread.

  2. Anthony August 6, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    At this point the only thing keeping me from running to the nearest Orthodox prarish is Belloc’s old comment that the Catholic Church must be divine as no human institution of such lavish imbecility could survive a fortnight.

  3. […] Elizabeth Scalia, the Anchoress, blogs that it should not be Bishops investigating Bishops.  I agree. […]

  4. […] Previous BREAKING: Albany Bishop Scharfenberger Calls for Lay Inclusion into Investigations […]

  5. mkay August 6, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    As a recently “returned to the faith” cradle Catholic, I find the Church’s reticence to treat this “cancer” in the appropriate manner, disgusting but not surprising. The cover-up mentality is quite similar to what recently happened in the entertainment industry. The difference being, one could expect evil to be flourishing in an environment with very blurred boundaries, but one would never expect the Catholic Church to give shelter and indeed, safe harbor, to the devil. As disappointed, angry and disgusted as I am, however, I will never again abandon the Sacraments because that’s when evil really wins. Ms. Scalia, thank you for your excellent writing on this subject. You have given so many of us an eloquent voice.

  6. […] Card. Wuerl Proposes a Panel to Investigate Rumors Against Bishops – Catholic Herald Cardinal Wuerl, No, Bishops Investigating Bishops Won’t Do – E. Scalia, The Anchoress Univ. of Notre Dame Won’t Rescind McCarrick’s […]

  7. Benedetti August 6, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    Cardinal Wuerl was Bishop of Pittsburgh for years and his name is expected to feature prominently in the upcoming release of information about abuse in Pennsylvania. I imagine he is worried.

  8. […] This is insane. Insane.  This tells us that the group has devoured the individuals. Not in all cases, but in far too many. Maybe once these men became priests and then bishops out of a desire to serve God through serving the Church, but now far too many are putting all their efforts into strengthening the walls between them and their flock. […]

  9. KJackson August 6, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Thank you for pulling all of this together. This is precisely how I feel. I am to the point where I am considering redirecting my financial support away from the Catholic Church to charities I trust. While we’re on the subject of trust/bishops/corruption, where is the Catholic Church on producing world-wide, consolidated, audited financial statements? Having proven that immoral behavior won’t flatten your career trajectory, what does that say about financial stewardship? I propose that every year, every parish, every diocese goes through a full-on financial statement audit (This may be happening in some places already). Those would be rolled-up into an audit of every facet of the Catholic Church in Rome and all her institutions. The result is a fully integrated set of audited financial statements and notes signed by an independent public accounting firm(s) and made publicly available. I would like to see a blog or book written about the current status of financial accountability in the Catholic Church. For example, what is the consolidated cash position of the global Church? What are total assets? What are the assets comprised of? Liabilities?

  10. patsw August 6, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    With this sort of logic I can imagine a hand-picked commission to investigate organized crime in the 1960’s composed of Michael Corleone, Tom Hagen, Hyman Roth, and Moe Green.

  11. concerned_citizen August 6, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    Yes, Elizabeth, thank you for giving a voice to so many of us. I came into full communion with the Catholic Church almost 20 years ago, just before the Long Lent of 2002. Part of what helped me ride out those years was the doctrinal and moral clarity of Catholicism, especially as evinced by the Catechism. Along with this was the hopeful narrative of “a righted ship” under JPII and later Benedict. But I have come to see now that this rot goes deep and does not organize neatly into orthodox/liberal file folders. The horror of Maciel made that perfectly clear. Moreover, with Francis at the helm and sowing so much confusion (most lately by seeming to contradict the Faith in his change to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty), I have to admit, I’m at sea. Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, pray for us.

  12. […] With all due respect, Cardinal Wuerl, No. Bishops Investigating Bishops Won’t Do. Elizabeth Scalia says what needs to be said about this. Collegiality at it’s worse, although collegiality always seems to be at it’s worse. This is a totally a “not getting it” proposal. A by the numbers corporate approach at PR control. A ’For the good of the Church” mindset that thinks controlling scandal, controls scandal. The outrage over McCarrick and his enablers seems so feigned. Seeming like this is an inconvenience on his watch. The Church as a whole punted in regards to the repercussions for bishops who were either abusers or participated in coverups. Accepting their resignation was pretty much the most that would happen. […]

  13. Matthew August 7, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Here are some concrete suggestions from an archbishop that go down the same road as you: https://www.archbishopetienne.com/the-body-of-christ-is-hurting-some-practical-considerations

  14. […] the bishops vet themselves to prevent future abuses. Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia rejects that call, demanding that oversight be given to an independent board of the laity. We’ll talk about […]

  15. […] the bishops vet themselves to prevent future abuses. Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia rejects that call, demanding that oversight be given to an independent board of the laity. We’ll talk about […]

  16. […] the realities of how and where our leadership have sinned, and that those commissions be led by faithful and agenda-free lay people of varying gifts, from canon lawyers to insightful moms and dads, for the sake of […]

  17. […] times suggested how important it is that, as we pursue truth and justice in these matters, we leave our specific agendas, and passions, and hobby horses aside, so that our focus is not scattered. I don’t think there has been a single bishop statement […]

  18. […] has played in helping our church to “rebuild trust.” In the piece, Wuerl makes the by-now not particularly original or startling suggestion that hey, “Perhaps a board, made up of laywomen, laymen and bishops, could be established […]

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