The Church Still in Crisis

Can we tell the truth?


We have had good reason this year, which has produced the greatest crisis in the history of the U.S. Catholic Church, to remember a man who faced the clerical sexual-abuse crisis over a decade ago, both institutionally in Chicago and personally in enduring a false accusation. The great lesson from Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s ordeal, in his life and in his dying, is clear: Tell the truth. As we reflect on the sexual-abuse crisis, the biggest challenge we face is exactly that: Telling the truth. Though it may seem that we have had all too much "truth," we do not yet have the whole truth. We must take the time to understand not only the what of sexual abuse, but also how this tragedy happened and why it happened. Only then can we move forward with integrity and with the hope of a remedy. We must pursue a form of what Vaclav Havel, now president of the Czech Republic, called "living in truth" in his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless." "Living within the truth," he wrote, " attempt to gain control over one’s own sense of responsibility." Although he was writing of Soviet domination in the 1970s and 1980s, his words call us to a sense of our own responsibility as members of the Catholic Church (Living in Truth, Faber and Faber, 1986). Uncovering the truth of the matter requires searching for how and why this crisis happened. Instead of anxiously dismissing this crisis, instead of simply moving on, we need...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.