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The revolt of the sheep

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It is too easy to blame this scandal on the laity, the sheep who turned their heads away and passively worshipped while the bishops and the rest of the clergy were responsible for moving abusive priests to other parishes.

Kevin and Marilyn

Yet another dark moment in our Church history. The findings of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury of a 70-year-old pattern of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups has rocked faithful Catholics. It will surely loosen the connection to the Church of many of our friends and family. It has justified in their minds the departure of millions of Catholics, who have used these scandals to renounce their faith and slip away into a totally secular life.

This scandal demands soul searching and provokes many questions. Have we been getting the kind of Church we want? A non-confrontational church: A go-along-and-get-along church which makes it easy for Catholics to fit smoothly in the American landscape, where we are not a thorn in the side of our culture. Where we don't embarrass our non-Catholic neighbors...and perhaps members of our own family...with long established religious views that to support same-sex marriage is to promote sodomy, or that living-together before marriage is living-in-sin. Where we accept the "tolerant" secular world.

Have we allowed the secular society to bleed into our Church?

Many regular Mass-going Catholics discourage our priests from addressing issues of abortion, birth control, divorce and the gay life-style because it makes some parishioners "uncomfortable."

It is not good enough for faithful Catholics to simply ride out this storm, to wait for the press to burn itself out in virtue-signaling and move on to another sensational topic. It is not enough for the laity to angrily demand that the befouled clerical stables be rid of corrupt bishops and priests.

It is too easy to blame this scandal on the laity, the sheep who turned their heads away and passively worshipped while the bishops and the rest of the clergy were responsible for moving abusive priests to other parishes.

Our Church cries out for a serious reform. But not just the easy reform of removing a few cardinals and bishops. We need across the board reform in the way we are living our faith in private and in public, in social and business lives, a recognition that we have "gone along to get along." Few of us have taken our faith into the marketplace... into our work, careers, our voting booths.

We can start by celebrating faithful priests and bishops, defending them in private and public. Too many have had to suffer under the control of corrupt superiors. We need to applaud their lives for preaching the Gospel in a post-Christian world amid hostility and suspicious glances.

It is too easy to pronounce that "the Church is just too hierarchical" and too dominated by clerics, and therefore, we need to sweepingly dismiss the miters, robes and vertical authority structures that go with it. Behind that thinking is the common error that "the Church" is really the shepherds and that sheep are just passive, on-lookers.

This latest scandal has provoked a torrent of reform ideas and heated demands. Among them are two that offer real hope for change. Bishop Robert Barron recently wrote:

"I would suggest that the bishops of the United States -- all of us -- petition the Holy Father to form a team made up mostly of faithful lay Catholics skilled in forensic investigations, and to empower them to have access to all the relevant documentations and financial records. Their task should be to determine how Archbishop McCarrick managed, despite his widespread reputation for iniquity, to rise through the ranks of the hierarchy and to continue, in his retirement years, to function as a roving ambassador for the Church and have a disproportionate influence on the appointment of bishops."

Bishop Barron urges a vital role for the laity in this investigation. Without that, he suggests the inquiry would not be seen as credible, but rather one group, the bishops, would simply be examining themselves.

While such a mixed commission of experienced and skilled investigators could be immensely helpful at getting to the roots of this epidemic of sexual abuse, what specifically can the rest of the laity do? In our judgment, none have been as on-target as theologian Janet Smith, the anti-abortion warrior who has recently addressed the abuse scandal. Among her suggestions are:

One, that the laity demand of our local bishop a clean-up of whatever homosexual network exists in the diocese. That if we have evidence of abuse we carefully give evidence prefaced by "I have heard; I don't know if it is true, but I have heard it enough to think queries, if not an investigation, should be made."

Two, tell the bishop that if cleaning up the homosexual network means there will be such a priest shortage that parishes will close, and services will be curtailed, say that we will stand by him and support his actions.

Three, send the bishop copies of the best articles published expressing lay outrage.

Four, send copies of your letter to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, and the papal nuncio in Washington. Ask for a reply. Be polite but firm. And write again every month until something is done. If we don't get a satisfactory reply, we need to consider writing to the secular newspaper.

A wise friend of ours summarized the issue: "We need to take it on and get our own house in order. Stop defending. Stop rationalizing. Stop virtue signaling. Discover, expose, charge, exile all those who did bad things or hid bad things in the name of Christ. Get back to first principles. Leave the worldly worries of the secular progressives to their failed politics and support our fellow Christians on the pilgrimage to heaven."

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.

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