Thursday, October 27, 2005

Naming the sin

The Nationcal Catholic Reporter has a frank, blunt, hard-hitting and right-on-the-money editorial on the scandals.

The sin must be named

With all respect for the power of prayer and the centrality of the Eucharist to the community, however, reparation for sins, the church itself teaches, does not occur magically. The sin must be named, and the sinned against, in this case the victims and the community at large, must be asked for forgiveness.
In speaking of the “disclosure of sins” in the sacrament of reconciliation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the church in order to make a new future possible.”
While that refers, of course, to individual confession, doesn’t the same hold true for institutional sins that block the path to a new future? That understanding of sacramental theology -- which none of us limits to just the encounter in the confessional, but which we also experience daily in relationships in every sphere of our lives -- is deep in our bones. We know that when a bishop asks forgiveness it is an empty request unless we know why he asks.

Conservative bloggers, like Michael Liccione at Sacramentum Vitae are chagrined that they actually agree with NCR.

The best, of course, is from Amy Welborn:

Several bloggers have commented on this, being rather chagrined that they are agreeing with NCR(eporter). I have no such chagrin. NCR has been on top of abuse reporting since the 80's in a way that not a single "conservative" or "orthodox" publication has.

... There is no great mystery here. Chancery Culture - I will not even call it clerical culture anymore because although clericalism defines it, there have been too many lay people culpable and enabling to simply limit it to that - is all but impenetrable, and the whole thing has become so awash in legal concerns, there is no climbing out. The bottom line is that these guys cannot admit they did anything wrong in any specific terms because even if they wanted to, the lawyers won't let them. It opens them up to even more lawsuits. And many of them don't want to because loyalty to their brother priests trumps almost everything. I will be brutal about this: those of you not in it just cannot fathom how, tragically, the habits of a career in the religious biz, the culture of a religious institution can deaden faith. It's the exact opposite of what we think it should be, but really...the greatest risk to losing your faith is working in the Church. Not just because of what you see, which is the way people usually think of it, but because the risk is high of matters of faith becoming just a job, becoming an agenda, becoming a corporation to protect and defend, becoming a place where people talk, talk, talk about faith but are spiritually empty.

Oh how true! (Aside: thoughts on these lines have been bubbling around since I saw a CT article on discipleship vs. spiritual character. I feel an essay forming.)

Amy says: "I said at the time, and I say again - I don't care if the bishops are accountable to me. I want them to be accountable to Christ."

I agree to an extent.


What does that mean? What does being "accountable to Christ" look like? Weren't the Bishops already supposed to be accountable to Christ? Given that Christ isn't actually sitting around, in the same way as you and I, and isn't holding people directly accountable (at least not in this life. What happens at the judgment is not transparent to us here), can this not become just another way to avoid accountability? Is it not simply saying, like Cardinal Rigali did, "we need to pray more?" Prayer is not a cop out, no. True, genuine, prayer puts us in touch with the living God, and we, like Peter, fall down on our knees saying, "Lord, stay away from me, for I am a sinful man." But prayer/being more holy/more faithful is not, IMHO, sufficient, insofar as these are not, well, in some way institutionalized. (Ok, that's not the best word. I need to flesh this out more, but I hope you get my drift.)

Now national-commissions and the like may not be the best way of doing it. We had one national commission, and one national study, and they did excellent work. The John-Jay study was groundbreaking and unprecedented. Yet, there's danger of just more bureaucratization here, of this being coopted into the "regular way of doing things." I perceive that's already happening, with, say, the annual audit of Dioceses. A "CYA" mentality in implementing programs for child-abuse awareness and so on (not bad in of themselves, of course). But, there's got to be some concrete way of holding our Bishops accountable. Canonically, of course, that has to come from the Pope. Maybe Pope Benedict will be in a position to listen in a way that Pope John Paul wasn't.

In "All the Pope's Men" John Allen suggests that different cultural assumptions and worldviews are part of the reason why the Church in the US (he sometimes uses the phrase "American Street") and the Vatican view this crisis differently. The Holy See, writes Allen, believes in a reform that is "primarily spiritual, rather than ideological, doctrinal, or managerial." As is the idea that the sacrament of orders ennobles with its spiritual power, rather than corrupts. I will readily admit that I'm quite American here. I distrust this spiritualizing of the problem. When it comes to governance, I am more sympathetic with the Founders' view of human nature, of the corrupting nature of temporal power, and a system of checks and balances. (Even in the church. No, I don't mean democracy, by no means. But in as much as the church is a human institution as well as a divine one, shouldn't we be aware of this human tendency?) Or rather, I wish there were a way to do both. Why does it have to be either/or?

St. Francis and St. Charles Borromeo and others did reform rotten institutions. Maybe we can learn something from history, then. (I don't know the history though -- were these reforms primarily what we'd call "spiritual?" Did they involve strcutural changes?)

Maybe, as one of Amy's commenters noted, there should be an Apostolic Visitation of the Chanceries.

Reading this over I can see that my thinking is a tad confused. I'm no expert. I don't know the answer. But at least we should keep asking these questions. Of our Bishops.

[Now you see why I write under a pseudonymn. :)]

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