Letters | The bishops and sex abuse, Catholics on the margins & more

 

BISHOPS CAN’T HIDE

In “Why the ‘Metropolitan Plan’ Doesn’t Work” (August 9), Rita Ferrone writes, “The now-glaring weakness of the USCCB’s 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was that it made no provision for dealing with bishops who engage in sexual misconduct.” While this is literally true of the text of the charter, it fails to take into account all the bishops’ actions in 2002 and the reasons for them.

As originally drafted, the charter referred to the disciplining of “clerics” who have abused a minor child, as does the Code of Canon Law (canon 1395, paragraph 2). During the amending process, bishops who were canon lawyers suggested that the word “clerics” be amended to “priests and deacons.” National bishops’ conferences have no authority to discipline bishops. “Clerics” might have been taken by Rome to include bishops. In a document already recommending several policies which the Holy See was likely to question, confusion over this point seemed counterproductive. The goal was to pass the charter and essential norms (which dealt with the canonical procedures to be followed) and not complicate the process. Plainly, in light of everything the church has experienced in the intervening years, today other considerations have come into play.

However, the novelty of the charter and norms for the church in 2002 cannot be overemphasized: the Charter was developed primarily to permit bishops to act more expeditiously and permanently with regard to priests who had abused. Several attempts by the U.S. bishops (and others) in the 1990s to allow them to do so had not been successful or only partially so.

Even in 2002, however, the bishops were already confronted publicly with the problem of seeming to excuse themselves from the charter. In November 2002, the charter, with the revisions worked out with the Holy See, received its final approval. At that very same meeting, the bishops of the United States adopted a “Statement of Episcopal Commitment” in which they agreed, among other things, that “in cases of an allegation of sexual abuse of minors by bishops, we will apply the requirements of the Charter also to ourselves, respecting always Church law as it applies to bishops” [emphasis added]. When the Archdiocese of New York received an allegation of abuse of a minor against Theodore McCarrick, even though he was a cardinal and in retirement, it did apply the charter to him; it investigated the allegation and gave the results to its predominantly lay review board which found it credible. The Holy See supported the archdiocese’s actions and acted on the allegation itself. From those actions flowed the revelation of his sexual misconduct against men who were not minors but were nevertheless vulnerable because of his authority over them.

Most important, bishops could not assume that not including themselves in the charter was a form of self-protection for the same reason they were omitted. They are subject to being disciplined by the Holy See alone which had already given evidence that it would act on allegations of abuse of minors by bishops. It did so as far back as 1998 with Bishop J. Keith Symons of Palm Beach and only a few months before the Dallas meeting in the case of Bishop Anthony O’Connell. Bishops in both Kentucky and Massachusetts would also soon have to step down. The charter did not afford bishops guilty of abuse a place to hide. It made them expressly aware of the consequences.

—Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco
Former Secretary of Communications, USCCB
West Hempstead, N.Y.

 

PROPHETS OF PERIPHERY

I think many of us would be surprised by the number of adult Catholics who find themselves in the place Mary M. Doyle Roche describes—lingering on the edges of the church (“Lingering on the Margins,” June 14). Some of these Catholics are still in the pews on Sunday; many are not. They share with her a sense of walking along a newfound boundary, neither “in” or “out,” neither “staying” or “leaving,” as if straddling two realities of church or two relationships with church. For many of these “liminal” Catholics, recent revelations about sexual abuse may be an important issue, but I tend to think the real cause of their disaffection is much deeper. 

My experience in adult faith formation suggests that most of these adults are not losing their faith but outgrowing the faith they learned as children and young adults—what James Fowler described as “synthetic-conventional faith,” largely shaped by definitive boundaries and carefully crafted rational definitions. Many have passed on into a kind of spiritual adolescence which Fowler called “personal faith,” and many more are now emerging into a later stage of faith sometimes called “conjunctive faith” or “mystical faith”—conjunctive because it is usually characterized by the kind of paradox described by Roche, and mystical because it seeks a deeper appreciation of the mysteries of the faith too easily, if necessarily, reduced in earlier stages to literal and rational formulas.

These adults have discovered, as I think Roche is saying, that the precise boundaries and explanations do not always fit our lived experience. In fact, the self-assured answers they learned as children often belie the deeper mysteries that are more easily encountered than described. This is the “shift toward interiority” that Diarmuid Ó Murchú identifies in his latest book Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold; it’s a faith which Ó Murchú says relies on experience or encounter more than dogma, moral directives, or clerical management. It’s a sign, too, that more and more Catholic adults long for the mystagogy that Rita Ferrone prescribes in the same issue of Commonweal (“Learning to Notice”), and a development that confirms Karl Rahner’s premonition that Christians of the future will be mystics or else cease to exist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself affirms, quoting Aquinas, “The believer’s act [of faith] does not terminate in the propositions but in the realities [which they express].”

Sadly, this is a lonely place for Catholics like Roche because by and large our local faith communities do not even recognize, much less nurture, adults who are living on the boundaries, partly in and partly out, left to pray and seek and discover on their own. They are the prophets of our time, no more appreciated than the prophets of old. But they may be, as Roche suggests, closer to the center than we imagine; they occupy the liminal space we might expect the church itself to embrace, somewhere between what has been and what is to come.

—Dave Cushing
Waterloo, Iowa

 

EMPTY POCKETS

God bless you, Danny Kuhn (“Seams of Resentment,” June 1). Since 2016 I’ve been scratching my head over how such a wreck of a man as Donald Trump could have triumphed. Kuhn’s evocative, compelling piece opened my eyes to a troubling dynamic of human nature I hadn’t fully grasped before: as LBJ said, convince the “lowest white man” that he’s superior to all others and he’ll “empty his pockets for you.” In other words, we’ll pay any price to feel superior to another person. That troubling insight, and Kuhn’s wonderful prose, was worth my whole year’s subscription. Thank you.

 

—Philip Taft

Edgartown, Mass.

Published in the September 2019 issue: 
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