Catholics, keep your wallets closed until the Church reforms from the Vatican on down

September 13, 2018

A gust of wind catches Pope Francis' cassock as he visits the holy shrine on Aug. 26, 2018 in Knock, Ireland. Pope Francis is the 266th Catholic Pope and current sovereign of the Vatican. The Roman Catholic pilgrimage site is famous for it's shrine where the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to appear to villagers in an apparition along with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist in 1879. His visit, the first by a Pope since John Paul II's in 1979, is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of Catholics to a series of events in Dublin and Knock. During his visit he will also have private meetings with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
Photo by Charles McQuillan

I'm a life-long Catholic furious about the corruption, crimes, and cover-ups of the church's leaders. It's past time to purge their ranks.

It is hard to be a Catholic today. It is clear from this summer's Pennsylvania grand jury report, the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal and, most recently, the dodge by Pope Francis to a Vatican diplomat's testimony that the pontiff rehabilitated McCarrick, that the Catholic Church has been betrayed by her leaders. 

For decades, our bishops, cardinals and the Vatican have engaged in an unforgivable cover-up of sins and alleged crimes against children. While in some cases, the cover-up may have been done with the purpose of aiding and abetting sinful and criminal conduct, it is also apparent that the cover-up was engineered with the goal of protecting the church's "brand."

I want to make a crucial distinction. Protecting the brand is not synonymous with defending the faith. While defending the Catholic faith requires the courage to stand against sin, follow the teachings of Christ and withstand the scorn of non-believers — even to martyrdom — protecting the brand is solely about reputation preservation and asset protection. Protecting the brand — the function of risk managers, lawyers and public relation operatives — is antithetical to the faith. 

Lay Catholics need to force reforms

This is one reason why the homily Pope Francis delivered on Tuesday was so disappointing. “In these times," Francis said, "it seems like the 'Great Accuser' has been unchained and is attacking bishops. ... He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people." Francis should be urging that bishops bring these crimes to light and advocating reform, not suggesting that uncovering them is a source of scandal. 

Any Catholic who has suffered through a Bishop's Appeal video at Mass knows what I mean by protecting the brand. It is the self-congratulating church that Catholic leaders promote to collect money and power while they commit ecclesiastical and spiritual malpractice. I was taught that the purpose of the church is to assist us with knowing, loving and serving God on earth so we can be with Him in Heaven. It is not to accumulate wealth, power or "a brand."

The tepid response by most church leaders to this scandal leads me to the conclusion that the church and its members will continue to suffer if we, the lay members, wait for these feckless (and in some cases corrupt) bishops, cardinals and Vatican bureaucrats to reform the very institution that gives them power.

Cardinal Blase Cupich's comments that we shouldn't go down the "rabbit hole" of holding Pope Francis accountable because he has "a bigger agenda" including protecting the environment and migrants is more of the same.

Pope Francis has called the presidents of Catholic bishops conferences to the Vatican in February to discuss how to stop clergy from sexually abusing children, but that is only part of the problem. Adult seminarians who suffered abuse at the hands of their bishops cannot be abandoned either. 

The only appropriate response to this cover-up is transparency and a complete house cleaning from the Vatican on down. The presumption should be that every person in a leadership position within the Church needs to go but those few who stood up for the protection of children over protecting the brand should stay and become part of the solution. The rest should be fired and no longer financially supported by the church.

In addition, there needs to be a complete change in the financial operations of the church. The news of bishops buying or living in multi-million dollar homes is part of the problem. Why would these bishops take any action which could upset their standard of living? Why would they make any changes in a hierarchy in which they have risen to power and luxury? They wouldn't. 

Demand resignations and wholesale change

Change will only happen if the lay members of the Catholic Church take action. 

First, as advised by my parish priest: Pray. This crisis requires that we draw closer to God and work from within. If we leave Christ's church, the devil wins.

Second, I enthusiastically support the steps taken by several state attorneys general to follow Pennsylvania's lead and investigate possible criminal abuse in the church. We need the power of the subpoena to expose the truth and root out the corruption. We must demand that those who committed, aided, or abetted crimes be brought to justice and that the victims of these crimes receive support and compensation, irrespective of the statute of limitations.  

Finally, as a lay person asked to financially support the Church, I cannot accept the status quo. I can no longer be complicit with the actions and inactions of the bishops and the church hierarchy. For too long, I have given money to my parish knowing that some portion of that is collected by the bishops. I have regularly given to the annual Bishop's Appeal and the myriad of special collections mandated by the bishops. But no more. 

No Catholic in good conscience can support the bishops or the church hierarchy until resignations are in hand and a wholesale change has been completed. I will support my local parish only on the condition that my funds stay with that parish. Otherwise, I will find a worthy charity or school to support the church's mission. 

In the meantime, the bishops, cardinals and the Vatican can sell off some of their worldly possessions, starting with Cardinal McCarrick's beach house, that have been the foundation of so much of their brand — and sin.

Charles Rice is a lawyer from Mishawaka, Indiana. A life-long Catholic, he is a graduate of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School.


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