How much corruption can we tolerate in the church before we leave?

National Catholic Reporter

June 18, 2019

By Donald Cozzens

“In the course of half a century,” the weathered scholar wrote in Tell the Next Generation, “I have seen more Catholic corruption than you have read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself. And yet I joy in this Church — this living, pulsing, sinning people of God.”

Carroll admits to an ocean of grief from the corruption now painfully evident in the church, not the church understood as the people of God, but the hierarchical church. His grief is oceans away from what we might term reasonable, from the mostly petty corruptions of people like Burghardt and the rest of us. The corruption that so saddens Carroll is mortally grave because, as he sees it, the toxic clericalism at its roots has over centuries embedded itself in the very structure, the very bones, of the hierarchical, institutional church. As such, he no longer looks for reform from church leaders found to be at the very center of the corruption.

I met Carroll over 50 years ago when we were both young priests. We are friends who view the dark side of the church and priesthood through the same lens. I’ve been nourished by his poetry and novels, informed by his historical works, challenged by his commentaries as a columnist and essayist, and moved by his memoir, An American Requiem. Carroll has named for me what continues to unsettle my soul — the superior status and lofty identity the church claims for its priests, cultivated and sustained by clerical celibacy and the withholding of meaningful leadership roles from the laity, especially women. But beyond touching into my personal struggle to find some semblance of integrity in a morally and structurally flawed church, Carroll’s analysis of its present dark night of scandal is painfully incisive and compelling.

Immediately after the publication of his Atlantic essay, however, his prescription — or treatment plan — for the reform and renewal of his diseased and corrupted church drew fire, both from conservative and progressive Catholics. Carroll, I suspect, may simply be a step ahead of us.

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