While it might seem that way, I’m really not trying to pick exclusively on Cardinal Donald Wuerl at this blog, but things…keep…happening. Last night I discovered that the Archdiocese of Washington, DC appears to have commissioned some PR help and created a website meant to support and/or protect the prelate’s reputation.

You can find it here, at The Wuerl Record.

This is the sort of action we usually see being taken by a Chairman of the Board, or a CEO, or a politician, and that’s very telling; it exposes a mindset that is geared toward management and administration, with a less-than-optimal pastoral sensibility on display. It’s all too much of the world.

I’m being kind, okay? Here’s the truth: Too many of our bishops are men who have not heard someone talk straight to them in decades. They’re beyond insulated — they never hear anyone say “no” to them, or give them a hard time. You need a little friction in life to keep you grounded — without it you just become slick, and start to spin.

All day yesterday, as Catholics read the devastating and sickening Grand Jury report out of Pennsylvania, Catholics on social media repeatedly asked: “What can we do? How do we begin? What are the first steps to restoring trust and rebuilding our Church?” Good questions which we need to answer because it actually is our Church — the People of God’s.

One noteworthy line in The Wuerl Record may answer “How to begin?”

While I served as Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and as our understanding of child sexual abuse increased, the Diocese worked to strengthen our response and repeatedly amended the Diocese’s safeguards and policies. The Diocese worked to meet or exceed the requirements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the reporting requirements of Pennsylvania law.

Emphasis mine, because it’s important; this is the language of the boardroom, where Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are cited to help assess failures or successes, and to produce subsequent values. Within context, they are all about the measure of management, not ministry.

And that’s where The Wuerl Record has unwittingly shown where we might look to “begin to effect change” — and it is a change that isn’t even contingent upon a Papal action; the bishops can voluntarily take this up tomorrow if they are sincere about finding ways to restore trust within the American church.

It’s quite simple: Currently, most of our bishops are more executives than priests, so let’s get them out of the boardrooms, entirely.

In one part of the grievous Grand Jury Report, Cardinal Wuerl is reported to have have presided over the funeral of an abusive priest — one member of a horrific and perverse group who gave gold crosses to altar boys meant to signal that the boys “were optimal targets for further victimization”. At the Mass Wuerl “stated, among other things, that ‘a priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever.'”

Well, if so, then let our bishops and cardinals act like priests, not elite executives. It’s very clear that too many bishops and cardinals have shown themselves to be untrustworthy overseers; they need to learn how to be priests again, and there is no better way to do that than to toss them out of the cushy offices, greatly reduce the number of personal assistants, end the entourage, discourage the gold cuff links and the bespoke shirts and the limos. Send them forth with a pair of good shoes and a working phone, into the mission territory of their parishes.

Let each bishop acquire a diocesan administrative team of trustworthy, capable professional lay people who have no disordered attachment to ideas of protectionism or clericalism. That removes the prelate from management concerns and permits him to become reacquainted with the real and practical ministry for which he was ordained and should be at the very core of his priesthood.

  • Make the course of their day all about ministry and service, bishops reconnecting to their priesthood not through careerist networks but by spending their time actually working and praying with the people of their diocese they’re supposed to be serving.
  • Get them into the outreach offices, helping families with strained economies — learning about what their daily lives, joys, and struggles involve.
  • Get them into the soup kitchens, serving hungry people, and maybe even sitting with them and hearing their stories, learning their names.
  • Let them show up at parish RCIA classes and participate in adult formation; let them bless houses, and meet with the bereavement groups and the local Knights, and the Biker’s Club, and the Venturing crew. Let them take a seat at a choir practice, once in a while.
  • Let them become pastors who talk to their sheep not at them — who are not hidden in a posh house with layers of filtering office staff keeping the flock at a preferred distance, only connecting them with the bishop when matters absolutely demand it.

People ask, “Where do we start? How do we make the bishops accountable? How do we dismantle this systemic and shameful infrastructure that has been permitted to grow like a cancer within our church?” Most of the answers are complicated; this one is not.

Some of the answers will need time; this undertaking can begin almost immediately.

Many of the answers must involve Rome; this one need not, because there is absolutely nothing stopping America’s bishops from voluntarily detaching themselves from their offices and the administrative duties which have strained the character and nature of their priesthoods. Let them come out, and discover how the laity live the priesthoods into which they were baptized, and by which they too do serve.

Perhaps by doing this, these men who have demonstrably lost touch with the Gospel may become reacquainted with the small still voice that first called to them, and enticed them forward, and they may fall in love with it once more.

We should want that for them. Within our own priesthoods, we should want the rehabilitation and reawakening of souls for everyone, and pray for the salvation of these men as for our own.

But…No more secrets; no more distance. If a bishop can’t bear the idea of roughing it out there among the sheep, then let another take his office. Let him resign his office because he is unworthy of it. Let him go into seclusion in a monastery or a hermitage, and live out his priesthood (because “Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever”) in prayer and penance, for the sake of the Church that has been so ill-managed, and in reparation for the souls that have been lost or driven away.

This, perhaps, is how we start to #RebuildMyChurch.

And yes, let’s make those words to St. Francis of Assisi, “Rebuild my Church, which is in ruins” inspire us. Let’s use that hashtag to work together and begin our restoration: #RebuildMyChurch (Thank you, FJA)

C’mon, bishops. We’re an angry Church right now, but we want to see it survive and thrive for our children and our children’s children. Do something to show us you’re sincere about fixing what you have broken, and we’ll try to relearn how to trust you, which is better than the pitchfork alternatives currently under discussion.

UPDATE: Deacon Greg Kandra writes that the Archdiocese has pulled The Wuerl Record and carries their well-done explanation.


ChrisW · August 15, 2018 at 7:35 am

I think there is a danger here as well. With the best of intentions, lay leaders have taken the responsibility of guiding our Catholic hospitals and universities for decades. The results are mixed at best.

exhelodrvr1 · August 15, 2018 at 9:07 am

two comments, as a Lutheran:
1) Praying very much for the Catholic Church – you play a huge and very important role in our world.
2) I haven’t seen any articles yet placing blame on Popes. It seems clear that this is not a recent phenomenon, and has been going on for centuries. I don’t see how any pope could not have been aware of the existence of the problem, even if (perhaps) not the extent of it.

jplacette · August 15, 2018 at 10:25 am

I would love to see a comprehensive evaluation of the sexual abuse in Pennsylvania by date. The Dallas Charter has changed the way the church operates. There has been a paradigm shift from sexual abuse as a personal sin to that of it being a deep seated psychological horror.
I would urge everyone to read the Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Please review all of them. They show the steps that the church has taken.
The Church will continue. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. We know that. Jesus told us.

kerry · August 15, 2018 at 10:28 am

You’re a better Christian than I am. I’m filled with rage and disgust. To think, I sometimes feel guilty if I miss Sunday mass.

jplacette · August 15, 2018 at 11:12 am

The USCCB will discuss the ways and means of addressing the McCarrick fiasco.

Perhaps the bishops are over complicating the response:

Simple suggestions:
1. Post the names and photographs of all clergy who are working within a diocese on diocesan websites along with their history of assignments.
2. Report all incoming complaints of misconduct that could be a criminal violation to law enforcement.
3. Implement a system similar to what is currently used by law enforcement agencies nation-wide: when there is an accusation of misconduct, immediately place the person on administrative leave pending the investigation. If accusations are found to be credible; fire the person (terminate “employment” and if clergy, seek laization).
4. Work hand-in-hand with law enforcement in their investigations.
5. The personnel files of law enforcement employees are basically open to the public. Adopt the same system for clergy. Make the open records a condition of employment (ordination).
6. If an accusation if found credible, post the information on the diocesan website.

When the curtains are opened, there will be light.

lisajulia · August 15, 2018 at 2:29 pm

Every priest or bishop who is not guilty should form one unified voice against this horror. There is power in numbers. I expect them all at the protest in Baltimore this November.

quidkat · August 15, 2018 at 4:21 pm

Amen. Seems to sum it up for me.

NMassong · August 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm

This whole scandal is horrible. The accounts in the Grand Jury documents as reported are beyond comprehension. How the Church bishops and other hierarchy could act to cover this up is beyond rationale thought. I wonder how many within the Church bishops and clergy are aware of the heavy millstone around their own necks.

The Church is in great need of another St. Athanasius, aka Hammer of the Heretics. Another hammer is sorely needed.

Artsgolfer · August 17, 2018 at 12:04 am

Dismantle the USCCB. Now. Bishop conferences have no standing in canon law. It just feeds the bureaucracy mentality. As you say, give them a good pair of walking shoes, have them re-read the Church Fathers, and send them forth to shepherd their flock.

HChapman-Jaipur · August 18, 2018 at 3:01 am

Hi! Writing from India. The fault lies with both the clergy and the laity. Human nature at work! Half the congregation are lukewarm Catholics and do not participate in church matters. The other half are further split in the pros and the cons – for the pros the clergy can do no wrong, for the cons the clergy can do no good!
The same applies to the clergy. Half of the clergy completely ignore the laity. The other half do get involved with the laity and again there is a split down the middle – half do the right thing by the laity, the rest get involved in community politics!

I agree with some of the comments here – the GOOD priests, bishops, and cardinals should make a STRONG stand in clerical forums. They must make their presence felt, their voices heard.
AND the laity must be kept in the loop albeit judiciously, because there may be some sensitive issues that could do more harm than good. Also, we must refrain from character assassination and media lynchings. Some of the accused protesting their innocence may actually be Innocent!

And let us ALL close ranks against the guilty – but not buy into anti-Catholicism.

Peace to all!

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