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Burying The Lead

October 15, 2018 (1,157 words)

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has recently reasserted his long-standing opposition to any revision of the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania on the reporting of sexual abuse of minors from past decades.

As he has previously stated on numerous occasions, any sort of retroactive “window” or “reviver” legislation to address long-past abuse would be, in his view, “unjust to the innocent Catholic laypeople, clergy, and families who make up our communities today. In the sense that the legal claims such legislation might inevitably lead to would be financially disastrous” to Catholic ministries and parishes throughout all eight dioceses across the state.

This latest reminder was presented in an open letter distributed to all 257 parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia over the last weekend in September. But the Most Rev. Chaput also took this opportunity to announce a new voluntary plan to help abuse victims whose claims are time-barred.

… a voluntary plan to help victims whose claims are time-barred

This is a good move. While the Archbishop is wise to try and protect the Church’s good work from possible financial ruin, that stance on its own has always given the unfortunate impression of turning something of a blind eye and a deaf ear when it comes to addressing the legitimate claims of the victims.

The details of this brand-new, just-proposed voluntary plan to help abuse victims are still under development. But the bishops who lead all eight Pennsylvania dioceses announced their commitment to the plan in a joint statement that was released on September 21.

Such a course of action, we are told, “will require extraordinary Church resources,” but the hope is “it can avoid the bitter litigation and diocesan bankruptcies that will follow any destructive changes in the statute of limitations.”

Will such a voluntary plan appease the Church’s critics? That remains to be seen. While there is no denying the widespread nature of the clerical abuse that has taken place, it is also true that only a small minority out of a vast army of ordained, celibate men were involved.

… a critical mass of people who oppose the Church’s stance on chastity

There is also no denying the Catholic Church has been singled out for such investigations and prosecutions. That’s probably because her centralized organization makes her an easy target. But it’s also no secret she has always had a critical mass of serious enemies – that is to say, people who oppose what she stands for, starting with chastity – in this country.

Here in the Philadelphia archdiocese, Archbishop Chaput has established something of a model program for addressing clerical sex abuse, moving forward. Accessing the web site will yield a wealth of information regarding safeguards now in place to prevent any such abuse from happening, and detailing a commitment to reporting any new claims that may arise directly to the civil authorities.

The entire package is an impressive demonstration of the two things the Church’s many vocal critics are clamoring for: more transparency, and more lay oversight. So a tip of the hat is due the Archbishop for addressing the concerns of the general populace.

… the faithful still wait for a full moral reckoning

While all this amounts to a very thorough legal reckoning, it strikes me that we, the lay faithful, are still waiting for a full moral reckoning. Such an accounting would rightfully involve a detailed discussion of where this unprecedented crisis came from, and why it was allowed to persist. What exactly prompted some of our priests to think it was perfectly normal to “get it on” with young boys and adolescents?

In this sense, this latest round of responses to the on-going prosecution of the now-past (we sincerely hope and pray) instances of clerical sex abuse is still “burying the lead” to an important extent.

That lead should involve nothing less than a full-out expose of the sexual revolution, which affected us all in a profound way, laity along with ordained men and religious women alike. It did not start in the 1960s, as is popularly thought, though that’s certainly when it did go “mainstream” with a bang and gained widespread acceptance.

A big part of that revolution was the normalization of homosexuality. And all this dramatic social upheaval occurred at precisely the same moment the Catholic Church in this country decided it had nothing to fear from, and could therefore afford to get cozy with, the modern world. In other words, just as the modern world was taking yet another disastrous turn for the worse.

… what got us into this mess in the first place?

I’m wondering if the reason we are not getting a full moral reckoning is because it would require many of our leading prelates to confront how their newfound sense of “respecting the differences of various moral traditions” is exactly what got us into this mess to begin with. What I am talking about here would fall under the heading of “error has no rights, but people do,” one of the cherished formulations to emerge from Vatican II.

In his comprehensive response to the crisis, yet another thing Archbishop Chaput can rightly be credited with is his recent, late September encouragement to have the lay faithful and clergy say the Prayer of St. Michael in all Philadelphia parishes and institutions. The prayer reads as follows:

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

This simple prayer was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1866. Leo is also the guy who wrote an entire encyclical in 1899 on the dangers of “Americanism” that were by then infiltrating and undermining the faith on these shores. The full title of that document is Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (Concerning New Opinions, Virtue, Nature and Grace, With Regards To Americanism). It remains as relevant for the insight it provides into our wayward tendencies as the day it was written.

I mention this because as careful and caring as Archbishop Chaput’s open letter from late September is, it feels like something is missing. That sense is encapsulated for me in his last sentence: “We need to ground ourselves in the Lord, the Church and each other; and if we do, there will come a time when today’s anger and confusion are behind us.”

All true statements. But the source of our anger and confusion has not yet been properly addressed, has it? What brought on this clerical sex abuse crisis? Why have so many of our priests chosen to ignore and violate their vows at this juncture in the Church’s history?

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
October 15, 2018

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