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Summer of Shame

In Christianity on August 29, 2018 at 12:30 am

The “Summer of Shame” refers to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report, released by the Attorney General of the state on August 14, detailing sexual abuse extending over 50 years in six Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. 

What can a faithful Catholic Christian say? What are you saying? What should I say?

Every Catholic must be prepared to “speak a word in season,” to “know how to speak to the weary.”¹ So what is my response—and what’s yours—as we look to the Church’s episcopate (Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and Pope Francis) for their next steps?

Anger at Complicity
I am angry, as every faithful Catholic is. After the 2002 Boston Globe report on the sex abuse scandal in Archdiocese of Boston, Church leadership reacted with contrition and assured the faithful (and the world) that steps had been taken to remedy the problem—not just in Boston, but throughout the United States. The aftermath of the Boston scandal led to what is often called “The Long Lent.”

True, some abuses reported then and now took place decades ago. The Church has done much, particularly since 2002, to ensure parishioners and their children are protected. Nor is the crisis limited to the Roman Catholic Church. Protestant assemblies and missionary associations also have had to address serious moral failures. Sins of celebrities and the sexual dalliances of powerful figures, from Hollywood to America’s newsrooms, have been exposed. High school teachers, college football coaches, and a prominent sportsmedicine doctor have disgraced themselves. Elected officials have resigned. We live in a sex-saturated age.

Yet not one, single moral failure in the Catholic Church is excused by those cases. And now, sixteen years after Boston, a prominent Cardinal has stepped down for grave immorality extending over forty-seven years, despite widespread awareness by others in episcopal leadership.

Concern for Concrete Action
I am concerned about early statements from Church leaders asking for “prayer, fasting, and penance.” Words aren’t enough. Yes—prayer, fasting, and penance are important. Prayer is powerful. St. Augustine wrote:

I thought that continence [self restraint] arose from one’s own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know . . . that no one can be continent [in control of one’s impulses] unless You grant it. For You would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached Your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on You.²

So let’s pray. Let’s all pray for purity. But at the same time, we can be concerned that, as a recent social media post said, “prayer, fasting, and penance” (words also said in 2002) amount to little more than the anodyne sentiment, “our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

St. James could have been addressing the Church’s leadership about sexual abuse, when he wrote:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith but has not works? . . . If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?³

In other words, don’t just talk. Act.

Notwithstanding the current “Summer of Shame,” the Church has many extraordinary leaders and faithful priests in dioceses across the U.S. and around the world. They are the large majority. They, too, are grieved by “blasphemous . . . twisted and monstrous sins,” as one faithful priest called them.  Here are just three examples of men who spoke out early (and these were written before Archbishop Vignanò’s recent letter):

For Archbishop Carlo Vignanò’s letter, click here.

So actthose of you in the Church who have the power to take action. Act concretely and communicate clearly. Individuals will sin for as long as this life endures, but institutional coverups must not continue.

In closing and in the awkward syntax used for emphasis in social media:

This. Must. Never. Happen. Again.


¹ Isaiah 50, verse 4, from two translations: the King James Version and the New American Bible for Catholics.

² Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2520.

³ James 2:14–17

Summer of Hope

In Christianity on August 29, 2018 at 12:29 am

Purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God. Even now it enables us to see according to God. . . . ¹

Note: If you have not yet read “Summer of Shame, start here, then continue below.

So, what happened? How could priests, Bishops, and even Cardinals go so far off-the-rails that we find ourselves in the current situation?

  • Beyond the tragedy imposed on the victims (without suggesting in any way  that we should “get beyond” the impact on their lives)
  • Beyond the episcopal failures that allowed it
  • Beyond the Bishops and priests who behaved in a way contrary to all they professed to believe
  • Beyond the fact we’ve seen this all before, 16 years ago . . .

what happened? What really happened in Pennsylvania and elsewhere?

Love is the gift of oneself—not satisfying one’s own desires at the expense of another. Radical individualism views self as the highest authority. Imagining somehow that they were “free” to engage in such behavior, the abusers were taken prisoner by their individualism and enslaved to their physical impulses.

The opposite of love is not hate, but to use another person as an object for self-gratification. This teaching is at the heart of Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.² By using others to satisfy their own selfish desires, the offenders in this scandal failed to see the victims as persons, but only as objects of pleasure.

The offenders made an idol of pleasure and worshipped sexual gratification instead of the one, true God. This sort of hedonism is idolatry.

Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.³

As idolators, they gravely harmed the lives in their care, violated their sacred vows, repudiated much they claimed to believe, and damaged Christ’s Church.

The three-point outline is not mine. It is from Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae. This encyclical is worth re-reading in light of the current crisis. From paragraph 23:

The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Romans 1:28)

The criterion of personal dignity—which demands respect, generosity and service—is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they “are”, but for what they “have, do and produce”. This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak. [Emphasis mine]

Saint John Paul II then continued at length to address the “culture of death,” an expression that typically refers to abortion, euthanasia, and more generally, cultural disregard for the sanctity of life. Yet curiously, “culture of death” also is included in Pope Francis’ statement about the current abuse scandal and cover-up.

Where’s the Hope?
Can we hope the Bishop of Rome sees the worldwide abuse scandal as manifesting the culture of death? Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wants to find out. The following excerpt is from his request for an audience with Pope Francis:

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

We can hope Pope Francis rapidly grants the audience and Cardinal DiNardo will return with a report of positive, concrete results.

Our True Hope
Yet our true hope—our confidence—is in Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18. He declared unequivocally the powers of hell and death will not prevail against His Church. Quoting Benedict Kiely’s article in First Things, “The House of God Will Not Be Closed”:

Hilaire Belloc once said of the Church: “No merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” This proof of the Church’s divine origin remains true in every season, but it seems especially appropriate for our current moment.

God is in control.

Need More Hope?
For twenty-five minutes of total clarity about the present crisis, watch Fr. John Lankeit’s August 26 homily on YouTube. Fr. Lankeit is the Rector of the Cathedral of Saints Simon & Jude, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Want more? Check out the “Triumphs and Tragedies” podcasts by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. Christ always cleanses and renews His Church. Just as one example, listen to the scandalous history of Pope John XII in the tenth century. Then skip to the last four minutes of podcast 14. You’ll hear a much-needed reminder that there may be corruption in the Church today, too, but we continue to be Catholics because that is where we find Jesus Christ.

Listen to Fr. Longenecker’s entire “Triumphs and Tragedies” series. It will give you the history, the long view, to see the current crisis in perspective.

This is not the time to walk away from the Church. Even if we momentarily imagined that we might, “Lord, to whom would we go?” (John 6:51–69). In Christ’s Church we are nourished by Word and Sacrament. We are surrounded by the Saints, a great cloud of witness, urging us to finish the race and to keep our eyes on Christ. We have many, many holy priests, Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals who are diligent in their roles as shepherds and spiritual fathers.

God is in control. He is not finished with His Church. Our responsibility is to become men and women of such holiness He can use us as instruments of renewal, as He has used others in centuries past. Let’s make this a summer of hope.


¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2519.

² West, Christopher. Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II’s “Gospel of the Body”. Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2003, p.50.

³ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2113.