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

  1. […] of trying to put a lid on discussion more evident than with the laity’s response to the summer of shame. An unending stream of social media posts and comments make it clear the glacial pace of the […]

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