I don't know about anyone else, but I find the whole thing insulting. Prayer and penance aren't canonical punishments for criminal behavior: they are the characteristics of the Christian life.
There's just no escaping it. Every time the fires of the Church's moral crisis burn down, something else stirs the embers into flame. Still, who would have anticipated that the Vatican would pull the rug out from under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? At least that is what it seemed like on Monday morning.
It's hard to avoid drawing a whole lot of unsavory conclusions. That's because there are so very many questions. Don't they "get it"? Don't they understand how destructive any further delay is to the Catholic Church in America? Aren't they going to do something to put an end to sexual abuse? I can't venture an answer to any of these. The truth is that probably no one can. There is, however, another question we all should be asking: Does anyone believe that bishops can really solve our current crisis by casting a few votes?
Certainly, some institutional and administrative policy changes are needed. They aren't, however, anywhere near a full solution. Why? Because there isn't a bishop on the face of the earth who would vote against anything that claims to address the Church child sex abuse scandal. Not one. Not even Archbishop McCarrick.
And that's the problem. Votes don't mean much when you're dealing with a crisis of morality and fidelity. Casting a vote -- yay or nay -- doesn't change the way a person lives, or how accountable he makes himself for his choices.
Let's talk about McCarrick. The story of his depravity and corruption, after all, is the single most infuriating aspect of this mess. I guess what frosts me, and the majority of committed Catholics, is that McCarrick's chickens have not yet come home to roost. The consequences for his betrayal are not visible enough to convince anyone that there are any.
Many Catholics would like to see a large number of bishops admit failure and resign. I know it isn't always easy to keep the line of distinction clear, but we ought to try. McCarrick is not an otherwise decent leader who tragically or neglectfully failed to address allegations of abuse in a timely or sufficient manner. He is, by many accounts, a perpetrator of horrific sexual abuse. There is a difference.
It is clear, however, that few bishops have had the courage to either give or receive "fraternal correction." What they have been willing to give, and to a lesser degree accept, is the directive to "live a life of prayer and penance." That is what retired Archbishop McCarrick is now doing. I don't know about anyone else, but I find the whole thing insulting. Prayer and penance aren't canonical punishments for criminal behavior: they are the characteristics of the Christian life.
And that brings me to where I hope to stay throughout the duration of this crisis, even if it lasts decades. Prayer and penance. That is what I need more of, what we all need more of. Bishops should pray and do penance. Priests and deacons should pray and do penance. Religious should pray and do penance. Laity should pray and do penance. We all need to draw closer to God, close enough to listen to him. And, we all need to do what we can to make reparation, not only for our own sins, but for the sins of others.
Justice cannot be pursued in vengeance. Anger will not make the Church who she is called to be. Prayer does. Penance will. Then our actions will be formed by humility and faith. The solutions to this and every Church crisis are never far from humble and prayerful hearts.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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