August 29, 2018
By Mary Hunt
What’s needed is a massive overhaul so that Catholic communities can be run by trained lay people rather than be ruled by incompetent and sometimes criminal bishops.
Catholics have a term for our current situation: in extremis. It means far out, near the end. For example, if an unbaptized baby is in danger of death and there is no priest to baptize, anyone can perform a valid and licit baptism. For all of the well-catalogued reasons of priest pedophilia, abuse of vulnerable adults, bishops covering up crimes, and now the ex-nuncio’s screed depicting dueling factions of higher-ups, the institutional church is in extremis. Extraordinary means are necessary not to save the institution but to give people their pastoral due. This is a Catholic Pastoral Emergency.
None of the however-well-meaning statements from church authorities has provided concrete, useful, outside-the-box solutions for Catholics who are grappling with the depth and breadth of clergy criminal behavior, its cover-up, and the morally tawdry crowd that’s airing their dirty vestments in public. While it will take years to absorb the depravity and deception, people have concrete pastoral needs today.
The primary concern ought to be for the victim/survivors and their families. It’s disconcerting to hear bishops continue to tell people to report crimes to church officials. If a child is abused, it’s a crime: report it to the police just as you would report any rape or robbery. Eventually, the institutional church may be involved, but it has proved itself incapable of handling such cases; the chances of being re-victimized are high and there’s no reason to put people at further risk.
Similar concern is for people in parishes whose priests and bishops were offenders. These folks have had their sense of church community shattered, their faith shaken. They’re questioning their deepest commitments and trying to figure their way forward. Again, Catholic priests are the last ones to consult. Catholic clergy have lost credibility. Insider arguments and jockeying for position have left even the most pious of Catholics disgusted. The priests’ training for and habits of handling sexual abuse are simply not up to the needs of their people. The pastoral problems are here and now. It will take resources from outside the Catholic Church to deal with them.
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