I talk to Catholics across the country all day, every day. That’s my job. It seems evident to me that the American hierarchy is facing a crisis exceeding in magnitude any other in recent memory. Those who understand that will lead people to Jesus. Those who don’t will not.
— JD Flynn (@jdflynn) August 11, 2018
I had not intended to post another Catholic scandal item today, but then I saw the above tweet by J.D. Flynn, and, given Flynn’s reputation and his position as editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, I had second thoughts. That J.D. Flynn believes this is big news, I believe. And for me personally, it’s a strange feeling to observe that the same sense that overtook me around 2005, and led to me leaving the Catholic Church, seems to be arising more generally.
Looking back on it, it was not sexual abuse by priests that caused me to lose my Catholic faith. It was the chronic lying and deceptive actions by bishops, and the inescapable conclusion that they could not be trusted to reform the Church. I knew back then that a lot of them were gay and personally compromised — McCarrick first among them — and that the “good bishops” — those who actually believed what the Catholic Church taught, and who lived chastely and celibately — were ultimately never going to criticize their brother bishops or take any risks to talk openly and frankly about the crisis. I was faced with the unavoidable conclusion that nothing serious was going to change in the Church, and that I had to accept that as a Catholic.
The laity, by and large, did not care. They were satisfied to believe the bishops’ reassurances that they (the bishops) were on top of things, and were leading the Church to a better place. If I was going to stay Catholic, I had to get to a place inside myself where I could live with that. I tried for a year after coming to the conclusion that the bishops were a hopeless case. Mind you, there was a lot going on inside me theologically then, and I was wrestling with all this in a context in which parish life was nothing but a Sacrament Factory. In the end, I reached the point where I simply could not accept that my eternal salvation meant being in communion with those bishops — and, in fact, given how my own anger at the lies and the injustice was eating me away inside, my salvation might depend on breaking that communion.
I’m not interested in arguing with anybody today on the theological errors I may have made there (so don’t even try posting on that; I won’t approve those comments). I’m speaking here to how emotionally overwhelming it is to realize that the bishops of one’s church are so out of touch with what it ought to mean to be a decent Christian, and to come to believe that there is no lie that they will not tell — either by commission or omission — to protect their status.
I remember walking through Manhattan with a priest friend in 2002, as the scandal was raging nationwide. I asked him how the Catholic bishops could have done the things they did, and how is it that they don’t react like ordinary Christians, when confronted with the horrors of priest sex abuse and clerical sexual corruption. He said ruefully, “They don’t believe in God.” What he meant was that they believe in the Church — the Catholic institution — as an end in itself.
Along those lines, I have thought many times since then of something an old monsignor told a different priest friend as they observed a group of seminarians from their archdiocese headed off to Rome to study at the elite North American College: “Those poor boys. They leave here in love with Jesus, and they come home in love with the Church.”
Why do I bring this up here? Because if J.D. Flynn is right, the Catholic Church in the US may be sitting on a bubble that’s about to pop. I was a fervent Catholic who understood something of theology. My theological convictions, and my reason, was like a shark cage that allowed me to observe the evil within the Church from a safe remove. Eventually, though, the beast tore through the bars, and devoured me. If that can happen to me, it could happen to a lot of people. Their theology, their family traditions, those might give them the strength to hold on despite the revelations to come. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Look at Stan Schulte, the Nebraska man from a solid Catholic family who says he was molested by his uncle, a Catholic priest — and who alleges that the Diocese of Lincoln is trying to keep it quiet in a way that endangers other children. From the interview I did with him:
Believe it or not, as a former Catholic, that grieves me. It honestly does. I had to get to a place where I quit feeling responsible for fixing what was wrong in the Catholic Church before I could regain my love for what is good and holy and beautiful in it. It took cutting myself off from its bishops to do so. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, my fear is that Catholics who walk away from their Church will not go into Orthodoxy, as I have done (with gratitude to God for the gift), or into some form of Protestantism, but will be lost to Christianity forever. I was on an Evangelical radio show yesterday in Pittsburgh, and the hosts took pains to say that none of us Christians should be gloating or feeling triumphalist about the agonies of our Catholic brothers and sisters. No decent Christian is taking pleasure in any of this. The stakes are eternal.
The Catholic laity seems to be stirring in the face of the McCarrick scandal, waking up to the inability of their bishops to comprehend the magnitude of this crisis, much less act to solve it. These two interviews this week with top cardinals — Daniel DiNardo, head of the USCCB, and Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington — are two real “let them eat cake” moments that reveal the incapacity of the Church’s aristocratic class to comprehend the reality of their own positions:
Watch those clips, and you’ll see two princes of the Church who are utterly clueless.
I’m seeing more and more Catholic bishops issuing statements about McCarrick, and more and more Catholic laity saying, “Sorry, not good enough.” For example, Bishop William Wack of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee issued this public statement about McCarrick. John Schwenkler, an academic theologian who lives and teaches in that diocese, responded with a letter to the bishop, which he also posted publicly. Excerpt:
Something big is coming. J.D. Flynn sees it. If the media — the mainstream media, or the alternative media — start digging into the gay networks within the Church, which is unavoidable if you want to understand how Theodore McCarrick gained power and maintained it for so long, the bishops are going to be badly exposed. What happens after that, God only knows. The only thing protecting the US bishops now is the fact that the mainstream media is (so far) avoiding that story, and most Catholic laity aren’t fully aware of Cardinal McCarrick and what his disgrace means.
Maybe they’ll get away with it again. Maybe.