It is a difficult time to be a Roman Catholic.
Barely a month after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, accusations of sexual misconduct, abuse and coverups have quickly enveloped multiple dioceses in several states and implicated high-ranking prelates in the U.S. and in Rome.
While a handful of bishops have been unequivocal about the extent of the church’s moral decay and what is required to cleanse its ranks, others continue to deny and obfuscate, expressing indifference for the victims and arguing that the church has more important things to do (address climate change and immigration policy) than care for its flock and root out the enablers of such unadulterated evil.
For a church whose faith is predicated on truth and love, this isn’t simply demoralizing — it’s criminal.
At least seven states now see it that way. In the weeks since the Pennsylvania report, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Missouri, Illinois and Nebraska have opened investigations into sex abuse by Catholic priests in their states and have asked local dioceses for records.
Take note, Attorney General Paxton. Texas should waste no time in following suit.
There are some Catholics who for good reason fear the interloping of secular authorities whose objective is not to cleanse and renew an institution they likely don’t understand. If the Pennsylvania report is any indication, investigations in any of the 50 states are likely to uncover terrible things that will overshadow much of the good the church does, and may weaken her ability to proclaim the Gospel in the near term.
That’s disheartening — almost unfathomable — but necessary.
We must remember that the church’s image is not what matters. For those who love her, the beauty of the church lies in her teachings, not her brand. Her foundation will never falter and time and again we’ve seen that half-measures in dealing with a crisis only invite a future reckoning that causes even more souls to be lost.
Of course, it would be a far better thing for the church to police herself; to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment that is unapologetically transparent about her failings.
But the comments of leading American bishops, from Cardinal Blase Cupich’s warning to not “go down a rabbit hole,” to Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s preemptive PR campaign to protect his own reputation, confirm that church leaders are unwilling and unable to orchestrate the kind of institutional cleansing and that justice and decency demand.
Even the Pope’s commitment to reform seems tentative.
This week in a homily, Pope Francis seemed to imply that the bishops who are exposing their fellow clergy of crimes and cover-ups are the primary source of scandal within the church. The “Great Accuser” “tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people,” he preached.
Was Francis suggesting the church should not have to answer for its sins? We can only hope not.
If that means the Church must submit itself to investigations by secular authorities, so be it.