Should Catholics Be Angry?

Barbara Underwood, Attorney General of New York, is initiating an investigation of child abuse by Catholic priests of all of the dioceses of the state. Other states, including New Jersey, Missouri, Nebraska, and New Mexico are also planning to initiate investigations. The Catholic bishops of New York have stated their intention to cooperate with the investigations.

In spite of evidence that the abuse of children is far more widespread among employees of the state public schools and among the ministers of other faith traditions, so far only the Catholic Church will be targeted by these investigations.

I do not believe Catholics are angry about these investigations taking place. I’ve had a number of conversations with other Catholics and have read innumerable articles about this matter, and have not heard or read of one instance of a Catholic expressing anger over the fact that these crimes are being exposed. I am convinced that most Catholics see such investigations as ultimately having a healing effect on the Church and on abuse victims. The voice of the victims needs to be heard. The rot must be cleared out. The pus must be drained. This is a good thing.

Will people leave the Church over this? Likely. But, if someone is going to separate from the company of the Apostles because Judas betrayed Jesus, then there is serious question about in whom that someone’s faith was placed, anyway. Saying, “I’m going to leave the Body of Christ because I’m so faithful to Christ!” just doesn’t make sense. One doesn’t abandon one’s faith in Christ because of the sins of Judas, or the sins of Peter, or Andrew, or James, or John … or Ted. Since I was never saved by the gospel of Theodore McCarrick, I have no intention of allowing his sins to lead me to perdition. My own sins are sufficient for that! As such, my trust remains in the redemptive mission of Christ and His Church.

But, Catholics are angry. We are angry at the priests who committed these horror and at the bishops and other administrators who helped cover them up. We are angry at those who knew of the abuse committed by someone like McCarrick and remained silent, even as he rose in rank and influence in the Church. We are angry that lifestyles of sin and debauchery among our priests were and continue to be tolerated, and that sound moral teaching was and continues to be cast aside out of deference to a false notion of “pastoral care and concern.” We are angry that so many of our leaders in the Church continue to lend a deaf ear to the demands for justice, that those who allowed these horrors to happen be removed from office. We are angry that the focus of too many of our bishops continues to be on making excuses for those who have tolerated false teaching and immoral living, and in safe-guarding their positions.

But, I also believe that there is cause for anger over the selective outrage targeting the Catholic Church by secular officials, and over the motives behind this selective outrage. I am convinced, for instance, that the grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania was initiated partly to deflect attention away from the fact that Pennsylvania has one of the nation’s highest rates of abuse by public school employees, and partly by the political ambitions of Josh Shapiro. I certainly give no credence to the notion that a man who so whole-heartedly supports the killing of children in the womb, and who has been silent on the abuse of children by employees of the state government for whom he works, is motivated by genuine concern for the victims of priestly abuse. I am also convinced that the Catholic Church is singled out for these investigations in an effort to discredit and, thus, silence the Catholic voice on political and social matters. I am also concerned that the focus on the Catholic Church will deflect from those areas of public and private life where abuse is far more widespread, as it has already led to a two-tiered system of justice in some states for victims of abuse by priests and victims of abuse by others. I am concerned that the creation in the minds of the public of a stereotype of the Church as corrupt to the core will be exploited to limit the liberty of the Church in the public square and even to practice the faith, as some have already called for suspending due process for accused priests and attempts have already been made by at least one state legislature to control the Church’s organization and pastoral activity.

Barbara Underwood became acting-Attorney General of New York when her predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, was forced out of office because of accusations of sexual and physical abuse by four women. So far, there are no plans to launch an investigation into sexual abuse committed by employees of the Attorney General’s office.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


7 thoughts on “Should Catholics Be Angry?

  1. Great post. Thank you.
    There are a couple of potential pitfalls of expressing anger at being singled out. First, it potentially distracts from the guilt of what the Church has done regarding predatory behavior. There should be no potential for deflection here; truth needs to be told, chips need to fall.
    Second, while the “numbers” may show a greater amount of abuse in other secular industries, I’m unclear if the level of dishonesty and cover-up are the same. The Church had credible (even proven) abusers in their midst and they either moved them out of one parish and into another or completely ignored the reports. They then used their status as a religious institution to not report, to refuse to be questioned, and to allow this to continue. If a particular school district did the same, moving one predator to another school over and over again and refuse to cooperate with an investigation either by conducting an “internal investigation” or not reporting the problem, they would certainly be exposed. The Church’s hierarchy and, to some extent, the rules surrounding privacy, were used to aid the abusers at the expense of those abused.
    It is heart-breaking that children and young seminarians were targeted for grooming and sexual perversion. While the Church is not alone in this, their behavior in considering how they have reacted to the information they had in their hands is the real shame of the Church. We can’t pass that off as “bad priests” alone. This has been a cover-up of epic proportion.
    We need truth if we profess our faith to contain Christ’s Truth. All other anger is misdirected until the truth is found.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tim, for your thoughts on this. I would say, however, that there are pitfalls to not expressing anger at being singled out. In particular, the threats to the civil liberties of priests, to the Church’s liberty to exercise her rights, and to the development of a different standard of justice for victims abused by priests and victims abused by others. All of these threats are real. In 2009, for instance, the Connecticut legislature considered and then dropped a bill that would have given the state the authority to reorganize the financial and pastoral structure of the Catholic Church in that state. In 2003, California passed a law suspending the statute of limitations for child abuse, allowing victims to sue for justice. But, this law only applied to victims abused by employees of private institutions. Victims abused by employees of public institutions were not given the same consideration. I believe Minnesota passed a similar law, and New York is still considering one, and legislators in Pennsylvania are pushing for it. Prosecutors all over the country have been attempting for years to be allowed threaten priests with incarceration if they refuse to violate the seal of the confessional and the abuse scandal may just give them the wedge they need to do so. All of this is not simply a result of the abuse scandal, but of the particular singling out of the Catholic Church as the institution most identified with child abuse and the covering up of abuse.

      As well, if you looked into the question of abuse committed by employees of the public schools across the country, you would quickly learn of the continued covering up of abuse, the continued employment and even hiring of known abusers, and the continued practice of moving of teachers from one school to another because of abusive activity without warning the new school of the record of abuse (administrators call it “passing the trash”). I’m afraid your confidence in the school districts being exposed for these practices is unwarranted. Yes, occasionally it comes to the fore. We’ve all seen the stories of teachers having sex with their students. During my middle daughter’s senior year in high school, one of the teachers at her school was discharged for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a student. It was soon learned that he had abused students at two other schools before he came to my daughter’s highs school, but his record was covered up. This happens all too often. But, these stories are only occasional, rarely are administrators charged with their complicity in covering up the crimes, and the opportunity for victims to receive financial compensation limited by law. A study conducted in 2004 by the U. S. Dept of Education estimated that as many as 29,000 students a year suffer sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or rape by public school employees. That was the last year any study of this sort was done. Little progress has been made, or even attempted, to reform the pattern of abuse and cover up in our schools. It is a shame that the abuse these kids have endured has, in the eyes of many, been denigrated to the status of deflection from the abuse committed by priests, but that’s what’s happening. For any Catholic to merely mention the abuse these kids have endured is to risk being accused of attempting to deflect attention from the Church. Yet, in my mind, and as I said in my post, public officials are using the abuse crisis in the Church to deflect from the abuse crisis in the schools. Are these not our children, too? Are these not our schools? We cannot allow the neglect of this epidemic out of fear that our motives will be regarded as suspect. And, this is to say nothing of the place where the great majority of abuse takes place, dwarfing even abuse in the schools, and that is abuse in the family.

      You’ll forgive me if I take the matter personally. I was the target of sexual assault as a teenager. A sister of mine was sexually abused for years as a child and teen. Two of my nieces were sexually abused as children. None of this abuse was by the hands of priests. 29,000 kids every year are abused, not by priests, but by employees of our schools, which my older daughters attended and which are supported by our tax dollars, supported by us not because we are Catholics but because we are citizens of our respective states. The dereliction of duty by our public officials is overwhelming. But, none of this can be mentioned because of the risk of deflection or anger misdirected? The shame that belongs to the Church belongs to the entire society. We have allowed an environment where our children are at risk at church, at synagogue, at temple, at camp, at swimming practice, in the entertainment industry, in the military, by medical professionals, in our schools, etc… . It is a comfort to me as a Catholic that the desire to eradicate this shame and horror from the Church inspires such zeal. But, is that where our responsibility ends, as citizens or even as Catholics? I don’t think so. The desire to eradicate this shame and horror from every corner of our society needs to be just as zealous.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your honesty, your sharing and your passion. Yours is not a zeal that is misplaced; your anger is righteous. Peace to you and thank you for crusading against this horrible stain.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. We might hope, Tim, that the revelation of abuse by priests and cover up by bishops might inspire a concern for other victims of abuse. That hasn’t happened, yet. So far, the abuse by priests has been used to deflect from the abuse committed by others. Sadly, it seems our society is less concerned over who is being abused than over who is doing the abusing. But, if enough people say “Enough!” to abuse, regardless of who is being abused or who is doing the abusing, we might just light a fire.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jesus calls us to believe in him as little children do. In the same passages in Matthew 18, he warns of leading a child to sin. It is devastating that adults prey on children. It is devastating that it goes unnoticed and ignored, sometimes with a shrug of “yeah, we know, but oh well.” Horrible. Yes, Bob, “Enough!”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Child abuse is always reprehensible regardless of who the perpetrator is or what position they might hold. However, a man or woman of God is called to be a reflection of the most High God, Christ in the mist of the lost and broken, a vessel of healing to those in need of salvation and His life. So the transgressions of those chosen to such a high calling against His innocent ones are especially egregious. Those of us who are His church have a higher bar and cannot be compared to secular institutions whose foundations are not in Christ. While both are held to the same legal standard both are not held to the same spiritual standard. Everything that is not of God will be shaken and fall … this shaking begins with the bride of Christ, His church. The purpose of course is to bring forth His bride without spot or wrinkle, a bride who will dwell in Him and rule with Him for eternity. The Lord uses whatever method He chooses to bring forth this purity because His goal is not political nor a fairness that meets the standards of the minds of men. His goal is eternal not temporal. Thank God He is shaking His church despite what secular or seemingly unfair method He might use. For in this shaking He brings about His bride pure and spotless to dwell eternally with the living God. Thank God He loves His church so much that He is willing to purge from her the sins of this world so she might be conformed to His imagine and be a vessel for bringing His Kingdom to a lost world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say about God purging His Church of the corruption therein. There is nothing that I wrote in this post or any other I’ve written on the subject that would suggest otherwise, and much that would concur. I would ask you to re-read the middle three paragraphs of this post.

      But, embracing God’s refining fire and protecting the rights of believers in the city of man are not mutually exclusive. You write that “While both [those in the Church and those in secular institutions] are held to the same legal standard both are not held to the same spiritual standard.” But, the whole point of the last two paragraphs of this post is precisely that the two are not being held to the same legal standard. As citizens in a republic dedicated to equal justice under law, as well as believers, this ought to be concerning. In point of fact, some states have already created a two-tiered justice system which, of course, not only impacts the perpetrators of sexual abuse, but the victims. In those states that have suspended the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse for private institutions (and none that have passed such laws have included public institutions), if a person was abused as a child by a priest in 1950, he or she can sue for justice. But, in those same states, if a child was abused by a public school teacher in September of last year, it’s already too late. Now, as people of faith, we can rejoice that these crimes are being exposed and justice rendered and the Church purged. But, as citizens and people of faith, are we to sit idly by while thousands of children are being abused, their abuse ignored by the authorities and society, and no opportunity for justice accorded them?

      You write, “Child abuse is always reprehensible regardless of who the perpetrator is or what position they might hold.” That may be true in theory but, In truth, that’s no where close to being a practical reality in our society. Estimates from the first few years of this century (there have been no studies since – wonder why?) are that 29,000 children are sexually assaulted, abused or raped by employees of our public schools annually. Little to nothing is being done to address it. We know that child sexual abuse is rampant in the entertainment industry, but this fact is ignored or suppressed. Research on the question supports the conclusion that Protestant ministers abuse kids at rates significantly higher than Catholic priests, but few are working to purge the Church of these “vessels of healing.”

      The refining fire of God brings great comfort and healing to those who have suffered so at the hands of Judas priests who set aside the grace given them and wallowed in their demonic desires. Would that it would burn all the hotter! But, a society and political system that metes out justice to some victims while ignoring others is a comfort to none but those who continue to benefit from our shared myopia, hoping that the attention given to the scandal in the Church will keep us all preoccupied enough to never be bothered by the horrors they commit.


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