I apologize for the super-long post, but it’s been simmering in my head for a while. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard in the news about (former) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned from his high post in the Catholic hierarchy because he allegedly abused seminarians. When the sordid news came to light (again), it didn’t surprise me, but I was once again disappointed and disgusted by the abuse of power.
Obviously, something is wrong in the hierarchy if this kind of thing keeps happening over and over. I guess it is difficult for those in power to hold others in power accountable because they all have power, and as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’ve read several articles saying that we, the lay Catholics, need to be the ones to hold our leaders accountable, which is difficult when there isn’t much transparency. It’s even more difficult when most lay Catholics are Catholic in name only or go to church only on Christmas and Easter, so they don’t seem to have much of an opinion on what goes on in the Church as a whole. In the end, if the laypeople do succeed in overturning this corruption, it will be a victory by the few, the proud, and the extremely devout.
This whole business makes me distrust church authorities. My diocese recently got a new bishop, so I know very little about him beyond what was said in the press releases when he was installed. I don’t know if he is a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in this. The author of another article I read stated that he would no longer be contributing to the annual bishop’s appeal in his diocese, but I’m not sure I agree with that because a lot of that money supposedly goes to charities, Catholic schools, and practical causes, not to line the pockets of the bishop himself. But again, there is little transparency, and for all we know, the money could go somewhere else entirely. I know for a fact that my particular parish does not contribute anywhere near the “suggested” amount for the annual appeal anyway because we’re not particularly “wealthy.” It is ridiculously hard to get people to donate money to a church/religious organization nowadays, and most of the time, appeals to donate more money only lead to a withdrawal of even the small amount the people had already been donating.
At this rate, the only authorities I really follow in terms of the Church are God, Mary, the saints, and my parish priest, whom I know fairly well and who is not a diocesan priest but a missionary from the Philippines.* To be honest, I don’t follow what Pope Francis does unless he makes an ex cathedra statement. Sometimes I feel like he crafts his words to be applicable and relevant to the majority of people everywhere and to keep up with the times, whether it is in agreement with Church teaching or not, and Jesus surely didn’t do that. I don’t pay that much attention to what the bishop does unless it’s going to affect me directly. Sure, that probably makes me a “bad Catholic” to some degree.
But I didn’t join or stay in the Church for the pope, the bishops, or a particular priest. The pope, bishops, or priests won’t make me leave the Church either. I don’t join their cults of personality. We typically get a new priest in our parish every 10 years or so, and I have never wanted to stop going to church because my favorite priest is now being transferred to Arlington or wherever. I don’t even stay for typical sentimental reasons like “this is the Church I grew up in” or “my entire family was Catholic.” I stay in the Church because of the truths it stands for and still seeks to uphold, even in the midst of all this earthly drama and corruption.
The role of the Church hierarchy has never changed in all the 2,000 years the Church has been around. It is ultimately to enforce and share the teachings of the Church as laid out in Scripture and the catechism. That is a hard task in today’s world, especially when it seems like hardly anyone goes to church anymore. Many of them sit back in glee and rub their hands together. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Those rules were so ludicrously difficult to follow that not even the bishops and archbishops can be chaste! Why should lay people bother?”
Nevertheless, the Church has had a great deal of influence in the world over the years (and still does), and it is a grave error to underestimate that influence. When the last objective standard of truth goes, we’ll all be cast into confusion with no real authority to look to. How can God possibly be an authority to guide people as a whole when anyone can interpret “God” however they like? Maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because we are all so “diverse” that what applies to you has no relevance at all to me. Or maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because scandalous stuff happens when great power is abused. But overall, we are social animals, “no man is an island” and all that, so we do need some kind of binding force, and what better force than the natural law as laid out by God himself? No human being is exempt from natural law, although we often try to convince ourselves otherwise.
These are truths that are being diluted in the eyes of the faithful (and even those who don’t trust the Church but hold the same kind of beliefs nonetheless) because of the sins of a comparative few. So the real question is… how do we excise these poisonous roots from the hierarchy once and for all? Honestly, I believe at this rate, the answer lies with the faithful laity.
As for the punishment of these crooked cardinals, bishops, and so on, I don’t agree with the typical approach: reassign them to other unsuspecting parishes and/or send them to retreat facilities to be “rehabilitated.” They did criminal deeds and should be treated as criminals, so if that means time in prison, then so be it. If you choose to abuse your power and act like a lowlife, then a punishment fitting a lowlife is your lot.
*I’m sure that doesn’t mean anything, as the scandal is not restricted to just diocesan officials. And sadly, I don’t believe I would allow my child to spend time alone with any priest beyond, of course, the confessional.