I spent the better part of November scrolling Twitter, as many of you may have, too. This past month, the bishops met in Baltimore for the biannual meeting of the USCCB. Since the latest round of scandals broke, American Catholics have held out hope that something would come from this meeting. Surely, the bishops would understand the gravity of the situation and do something to reassure the faithful that they cared.
On the first day of the meeting, the assembly was informed that the Holy See requested that they hold off on voting on two policies related to the sexual abuse crisis. And, although there was some good discussion throughout the course of the meeting, the end result was a rejected proposal. (The proposal was to send a message to the Holy Father, encouraging him to release documents related to the McCarrick scandal soon.)
Although there were a number of bishops who spoke strongly, there also were also many who said nothing (and others who said things that were unhelpful). From the perspective of the laity (especially those who are victims) it was more of the same.
Even as someone who isn’t a victim of clergy sex abuse, I found the whole thing discouraging. Were I a victim, I can’t imagine how upset I would feel…and rightly so. There is no excuse for the ongoing cover-ups and inaction that has taken place. There is no excuse for justice not being done.
There are two analogous relationships for the role a bishop (or any priest) is meant to play — that of father and bridegroom of the Church (in the person of Christ). If someone were to abuse me or one of my children, I cannot imagine my husband responding calmly, referring to procedure. He would be outraged. If he weren’t, people would be shocked, and his family would be hurt. So, if you are feeling hurt and confused, it makes sense. Not only is justice not being done, but many who are meant to be protectors of their flock are failing to defend them.
I don’t have an answer for that. I am struggling with a lot of the same feelings everyone else is, but I do have a word of hope.
In studying theology, I remember reading stories from Church history. I remember reading detailed accounts of theological controversies. I remember being amazed and occasionally amused by these exchanges. I’m sure the faithful were confused and upset by things at the time, but when we look back through the centuries with a collective eye roll we ask ourselves, “How could they not have realized the truth?”
But, in the midst of these historical crises, there were always one or two figures who stood out. These men and women were typically not popular. Some of them were even killed for their defense of the faith. Figures like St. Thomas More or newly canonized St. Oscar Romero could have chosen to keep silent, instead of defending the faith. Most public figures in their day did. But did you notice that they are the canonized ones, not their historical peers?
I also frequently reflect on St. Therese of Lisieux, who begged the Pope to allow her to enter the Carmelites early. He didn’t, choosing to tell her she would enter “if God wills.” He could have granted her request on the spot, but he chose the safe route.
Is this any real consolation to victims and other laity in the Church today? It is still incredibly frustrating and upsetting to see justice impeded in the Church in our day. But do you know what? God is outside of time, and even if it isn’t happening as quickly as it should, God will see to it that justice is done.
If nothing else, future generations will look back at this era in the Church and pass decisive judgement. There will be those spoken of with condemnation, for the damage they inflicted on the Church. There will be those who are now maligned that will be praised by future generations, like a certain former nuncio and a bishop from a little known diocese in Texas. But there will also be many, many bishops whose names will simply be forgotten.
I am reminded of Revelation 3:15-17, where God chides those who are neither hot nor cold, but are lukewarm. Rest assured, history doesn’t look favorably on those who are wrong or who are lukewarm. In the end, the gates of hell will not prevail.