A Church of Peace and Repentance: post-Viganò

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States. PHOTO: CNS

Just before intoning The Lord’s Prayer in the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite, and after invoking the angels and the Mother of God, the priest leads the chant with this plea: “That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.”

Over the past few days this chant has been echoing about in my head.

This week for many of the faithful, the Catholic Church seems to offer no place of peace.

Disorientation it seems is a universal first response for those touched by social media.  It is best not to dwell for too long. It is like pub brawl, alternating between unfocussed anger and exhaustion, dismay and shame while reeling about for want of solid ground.

How do we begin to know the homeward path to authentic repentance when recent credible “revelations” seem to corrode all that we profess about the Faith as “apostolic” and “holy?”

Add to this, what in nuce,  as the Catholic Weekly editorial outlines, has been called a “nuclear” 11-page document has been unleased to the press by the former nuncio to the United States, one of the most senior diplomats in the world, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

The document, names and shames, page after page, a clique of very senior prelates who it is alleged lied, manipulated and contrived to protect and promote the now disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the indisputed sexual and emotional predator and power-broker.  The document contends, that this group used McCarrick as a ladder and shield for their own preferment and in order to rationalise and secure revisionist moral and behavioural agenda throughout the Church.

The document is blunt and shocking.   It has prompted a firestorm of claims and counter-claims.  “Whistle-blowing” is, (for that is clearly the genre of the document) is often a desperate human affair often mixing attempts to rally details with the seepage from personal wounds and resentments.

Perhaps we are too far from ground zero, to assess either the immensity or the details of this detonation or to judge the motivations or the mind of its author. Many have told me the explosion has given them hope.

Neither Catholics nor the wider world, will stand for bishops or Church agencies covering their bases with bland and defensive safe speech or promising yet more internal corporate “processes”  as if these alone will heal the now open wounds in the lives of the abused or in the body of the Church.

We do not need facile “ideologizing” (Pope Francis’ words) of whatever truth can be verified in the Viganò document.

It is ludicrous to dismiss the entire document by labelling it “right-wing” or by attacking the author for being “bitter” and “disgruntled”.   Just as it was naïve to brush aside all the findings of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe which in 2002 exposed the shocking web of child-sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese simply because the journalists were “left-wing” and were hopping angry.

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists in regards to Archbishop Vigano’s statement on his flight back to Rome after attending the World Meeting of Families in Ireland. Beside the Pope is director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke. PHOTO: CNS

Political position may distort the interpretation of events and emotions may cloud the picture, but they do not in themselves negate ugly truths.

Bishops and others must strive to track the pathology which causes this type of scandal.   There is a simple and root cause the Bible calls it “sin.”

What is more complicated is to understand and overcome the way that personal sexual immaturity and moral depravity, combines with “knavish” rationalisation and dishonesty, the predatory manipulation and defilement of the faith and trust of vulnerable people by men who profess to be both chaste and Christ-like.   There is much in wise and competent psychological and sociological science that may help here.  Pope John Paul II described this type of diabolical and social synergy in pastoral terms as type as an “analogous” and “structural” sin.  (Here it may be called “clericalism”)

He warns however in his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance (no 16): “to speak even analogically of social sins must not cause us to underestimate the responsibility of the individuals involved.”

It is a plague that seems to have descended upon the houses of both “left” and “right” (if these labels have any meaning at all) in different ways.   In the rogues’ gallery Theodore McCarrick is matched by the now deceased Marcial Maciel whose own sins where catastrophically wall-papered over and un-hindered.

There are two wise ways to proceed it seems.   One is reflected in the sober comments of Daniel Cardinal Di Nardo President of United States Bishops Conference statement of 27th August, 2018.

“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.

The other is to pray, think and work in hope as if our core business is holiness- not ours but Christ’s.  It is only from Him that we can seek out and promote authentic examples of priesthood and Christian discipleship. Fr Benedict Kiely’s article here is an uplifting place to start in The House of God Will Not Be Closed

As the Byzantine litany, reminds us “again and again”, we are in the end beggars- fervently and without guile imploring the Lord to pick us out of the gutter and to re-espouse us sacramentally to Christ the Redeemer.  That is the basic mission of the Church- for us all: Pope or parishioner on the path of truth, the precondition for the gifts of peace and repentance.