If the American Church ever needed to resemble the field hospital that Pope Francis described in the early days of his pontificate, that time is now.
The scope of the horrors inflicted upon over 1000 victims described in the Pennsylvania grand jury report released yesterday and the amount of negligence and deliberate cover-up by Church leaders in the past 70 or so years is staggering. In 2002, we thought the worst was over. Sixteen years later, we are confronted with it all over again.
We must continue to stand in solidarity and prayer with the victims, the betrayed faithful, and all of those who are suffering from this betrayal by priests and members of the hierarchy. We must remain vigilant and do our part to prevent and report future abuse. While many of us have voiced our rightful anger and disgust over these crimes on social media or other platforms, we understand that our cry for justice might have little direct impact on bringing offenders to earthly justice and holding their enablers to account for what they’ve done. A realistic outlook already knows that our cries for transparency and reform will not be openly or adequately addressed; we’re calling out to many of the same bishops who failed to provide transparency and adequate reform the first time around.
I worked for the institutional Church for over seven years and I have seen firsthand the lack of efficiency, the resistance to change, the complacent acceptance of the status quo, the lack of accountability (financial and otherwise), and the organizational “restructuring” that fails to address serious problems and often creates more. In the Church, it seems that leadership is something that is rarely given up willingly for the good of the Church and is only taken away in the most extreme of circumstances.
Other writers and pundits have suggested a number of common sense reforms (lay involvement and oversight, revisions to the Charter, etc.) that will hold bishops more accountable and will hopefully help prevent another crisis from happening.
That said, as many commentators have argued already, a slew of new programs or accountability measures or assurances isn’t going to truly change hearts. Systemic changes are ineffective without the genuine conversion of the hearts of those entrusted with enacting change. For this to happen is not in our hands. This should be a prayer intention in the heart of every Catholic.
As I wait and pray that the truth (for good or ill) about my own archbishop is fully revealed, it seems as if the debates that we’ve often immersed ourselves in at Where Peter Is seem rather pedantic. Questions about whether “inadmissible” is synonymous with “intrinsic evil,” or whether objective or subjective culpability should be the deciding factor for whether a small number faithful may approach the sacraments just don’t seem that important when the Church is facing a crisis of this scale.
As Pope Francis once said, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
I won’t argue with that. Still, a major part of our mission at Where Peter Is is to engage in these debates for the sake of clarifying the Holy Father’s position on such issues. And we will continue to do so, if for no other reason than to remind other Catholics of why our Faith and our Church exist. Just today, in the midst of all this breaking news, another “petition” against the Holy Father (this time protesting his change to the Catechism on the death penalty) appeared in First Things. We are committed to responding to and countering voices such as this, which threaten to lead many astray. Voices such as these threaten to further divide the Church, and we are among the very few outlets that take the time to explain why they are wrong.
My pastor recently reminded us in a homily that Jesus, in his providence, made the sacraments “priest-proof.” As we are painfully reminded, the priesthood and the episcopacy are filled with all kinds of men; from the very holy to the extremely wicked. Some of us cannot help but be distrustful of those who lead the Church, but thankfully even the worst of them cannot hinder the True Presence of Jesus.
This crisis wounds each of us, and the Church as a whole. Even in our woundedness, however, each of us plays a role in healing the Church. With Christ among us, we can be the doctors and the nurses in the field hospital, responding to the suffering, healing to the injured, medicine to the sick. We must be listeners, healers, friends, companions. In a world filled with so much suffering, there are many opportunities. This healing begins with ourselves, and we can use our own healing to help bring about healing in others.
Each of us, with God’s grace, is an integral part of the Field Hospital and the Body of Christ. May each of us work to heal the woundedness in the Church.
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.