The major disgrace of America’s Catholic bishops was to foster a culture in which priests sexually assaulted children and were then sent on to new duties as their ungodly behavior was covered up.
There is also a second failure. Thanks to the bishops, who are supposed to strengthen the faith, Catholics are now regularly asked: “How can you be a Catholic?” And, even more pointedly, “How can you stay?”
This summer, these questions became much harder to answer.
This is about the institution, not about whether to be a Christian. Christianity heroically preaches a devotion to the poor and the marginalized, and the abusive priests often preyed on the most vulnerable and least advantaged children. As a dear friend who no longer thinks of herself as part of the church noted, these reprehensible acts turned Christianity on its head.
It’s fair to ask why church-going Catholics, myself included, were so shaken by the scathing report from a Pennsylvania grand jury and the revelation of the abuses by former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. After all, since the 1980s and 1990s, we have known a great deal about the church’s malfeasance and yet we held on.
The sickening catalogue of pure evil in Pennsylvania is certainly part of the answer. And McCarrick’s admirers were at first shocked and then horrified over his betrayal.
Defenders of the church note that the bishops’ 2002 reforms dealing with abusive priests, though imperfect, made a difference. It appears that all but two of the cases described in the Pennsylvania report predate the policy changes, although we may learn of more as victims feel newly empowered to report past transgressions.