I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down over the past few weeks in an attempt to write something about the current wave of scandals in the Church, particularly the news that seems to come out almost daily of the United States.
I won’t go into detail; I’m sure those of you who read this paper and other Catholic media know what I’m talking about: the revelations about Cardinal McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the Archbishop Viganò letter, Pope Francis’ decision to not speak about the matter (except, it seems, during homilies) and now the summoning of presidents of Bishops’ Conferences around the world to a meeting in Rome.
And then, last week, there were unconfirmed reports that the confidential file given to Pope Benedict XVI following an investigation into the so-called Vatileaks scandal has been leaked to Italian media which, at this stage, considers it too shocking to publish.
Elsewhere in this edition of the paper, you will read Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and Personal Secretary to Pope Benedict XVI describing it as the Church’s 9/11.
It’s a mess, and not the good “make a mess” kind of which Pope Francis so often speaks!
And it’s getting vicious. Watching people openly call for the resignation of the Pope and a number of bishops as if they were MPs who had been caught out accepting foreign donations, is surely unprecedented. Surely the Church should be above some type of factional war.
The harsh reality is that we will likely never know the full truth about some of the accusations and innuendo that have been flying around, because the truth is being choked by the weeds of what Archbishop Mark Coleridge recently described as a kind of “ecclesiastical politics.”
On the one hand, as Catholics, we are going to have to make our peace with that, but on the other, we don’t want to be so peaceful with it that we end up participating in a culture of secrecy that allows bad things to happen.
The pain and betrayal experienced by survivors of child sexual abuse must not be visited upon anyone else, and we don’t want to let survivors down (again) by being ‘okay’ with not knowing. As I said, it’s a mess. What’s a Catholic to do?
A number of good, faithful Catholic women penned an open letter to Pope Francis, asking him for answers to the allegations made by Archbishop Viganò. As I write this, the letter has been signed by more than 45,000 Catholic women around the world. A similar letter from Catholic men has been signed by more than 10,000. Respectfully raising our concerns with the Pope in a letter is one way to respond, I guess.
But on Wednesday, I saw a better way, in the form of another letter. This one was from priests, and addressed not to the Holy Father, but to the People of God. Signed by hundreds of priests from around the world, including Australia, the letter said that the priest signatories were “revolted and heartbroken” over the most recent reports, and expressed their love for “all the victims whose pain and suffering are unfathomable.” It also acknowledged the grief being experienced by faithful Catholics during this time.
For their part, the priests commit to bearing the weight of the crimes of other priests who “disgraced the dignity given them at ordination, and betrayed the trust and confidence placed in them” and further commit to ensuring that the sins committed by priests in the past are never repeated.
They express their love for the priesthood and recommit themselves to celibacy and to their own priestly ministry, with the same conviction with which they responded to God’s call to priesthood.
And they commit to rebuilding the trust that the people of God place in them, and resolve to show themselves worthy of being called “Father.”
“Therefore, as a sign of our sorrow at the sins committed against God’s people and of our resolve to work for the renewal of the priesthood,” the letter read, “we are committing ourselves to a day of prayer and penance on 13 September 2018.” This would include making a holy hour between 3am-4am, and fasting in the same way as is done on Good Friday.
“During this time we will also pray for the grace to be steadfast and faithful to the call we have received to serve you and to live up to the privilege of trust you place in us,” it continued.
The letter recognised that prayer and penance isn’t the complete solution, but a very good start:
“As we make this commitment we recognise that there is much more to be done beyond this, but we know that any true reform begins with our own acceptance of our responsibility to be faithful to our vocation. And so, with these actions we commit ourselves to faithfulness: faithfulness to the God who called us to be priests and faithfulness to you who call us “Father,” the letter concluded.
The letter acknowledged the betrayal of the victims and the suffering of the faithful. It recognised that trust needed to be rebuilt, beginning with visible signs of repentance and resolve. It noted that while the signers of the letter were not themselves responsible for the scandal, they accepted responsibility for its repair. It was a reminder that true leadership begins with service, and that the answer to scandal is fidelity. It was, in my humble opinion, just perfect.