Pope Francis today released a 2,000-word letter about the abuse scandal, directed . to all Catholics. Read the full text here. If you are new to this story, the letter sounds great. This excerpt, for example, is quite good:
In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.
With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).
If I had not been following this story closely for years, I would be comforted by this epistle. Here’s why you should not be.
It’s very late in the game for this or any Pope to think that words alone are credible. Pope John Paul II said similar things when clerical sexual abuse was exposed … but the status quo remained. Pope Benedict XVI was significantly more active in fighting the culture of abuse, but bad bishops remained in place. (The rumor is that when he was presented with a dossier detailing the extent of homosexuality in the Roman Curia, he resigned when he realized that he was powerless to combat it.) And now we have Francis, who releases a torrent of good words, but whose deeds, to this point, do not match them.
First, about those words. This brave priest has taken accurate measurement of them:
The Pope’s letter to the People of God: 1. Lays most of the emphasis on caring for victims 2. Spreads the blame to “all of us.” 3. Glosses over egregious episcopal crimes 4. Never mentions homosexuality.
— Fr. Dwight Longenecker (@dlongenecker1) August 20, 2018
Of course we must do everything we can for the victims of clerical abuse, but the exclusive focus on the victims is a slick PR stunt to shift attention away from the abusers and their enablers.
— Fr. Dwight Longenecker (@dlongenecker1) August 20, 2018
Exactly right. Exactly.
Now, to the Pope’s deeds.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation has been on Pope Francis’s desk for two years. All Catholic bishops formally resign at age 75, but the pope does not have to accept it. The only thing keeping the disgraced Wuerl in office in Washington is the will of Pope Francis. As long as Donald Wuerl presides over the Archdiocese of Washington, you will know that the pope’s words are empty.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of the pope’s inner circle of advisers, and indeed the one tasked with leading curial reform, presides over a massive gay sex scandal in his own diocese. Cardinal Maradiaga has denied that it’s a problem. A Maradiaga auxiliary bishop, the one running the diocese, had to resign after being plausibly accused of having a string of boyfriends — and Maradiaga reportedly defended the corrupt bishop to the hilt during the Vatican’s investigation. And despite losing the gay Bishop Pineda, Cardinal Maradiaga has strengthened his position in the Curia. More:
In subsequent comments to LifeSiteNews, Pentin quoted one of the sources as saying that he predicted four consequences of this appointment. First, the Vatican will remove the current nuncio, Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, who has been a stalwart in strongly resisting the corruption and scandal in the Tegucigalpa archdiocese. “Rodriguez Maradiaga doesn’t like him, as he’s the only one capable of saying the right thing and implementing it,” said the source.
A second consequence the source predicted is that Rodriguez Maradiaga, 75, will “secure his reign for another five years.” A third outcome is that once everything has calmed down, “he will bring back Pineda, converting him into the next archbishop of Tegucigalpa.” And finally, the source predicted the cardinal will “maintain the privilege of continuing to appoint bishops of his choice who will always be his slaves.”
“Ultimately, the whim of a homosexual (Pineda) determines the choices of an entire church,” the source said. “It makes one vomit. He will do everything that Maradiaga asks him to do.”
Meanwhile, over the past two decades, the Catholic population in Honduras has been halved, with masses either leaving the Church for Evangelicalism or Pentecostalism, or leaving the practice of Christianity entirely.
The cardinal is on the speaker’s line-up for this weekend’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin:
Tenderness my foot. Where is the Pope’s “tenderness” for the 50 or so seminarians in Tegucigalpa who put their futures on the line by writing a letter protesting the gay sex culture in Cardinal Maradiaga’s seminary, and begging the country’s bishops for help?
Cardinal Maradiaga is 75, and has presumably submitted his formal resignation to the Pope. The only thing keeping him in power in Honduras (and in Rome) is the will of Pope Francis. As long as Maradiaga — who once blamed Jews for the 2002 clerical sex scandal in the US — remains in power, you will know that the pope’s words are empty.
And so on. To be fair, Francis has done some good things on this front, like accepting the resignation of three Chilean bishops implicated by the gay sex abuse scandal rocking that country’s church. But he had to be dragged into acting in that case, after long rebuffing victims. [UPDATE: He also agreed to remove McCarrick from ministry, and to take away his cardinal rank. But if he really cared, he would be moving heaven and earth to uncover how McCarrick got away with his corruption and deceit for so long. Taking away his red hat — so what? — RD]
It is nice to have strong words from the Pope, but as Father Longenecker says, pay attention not only to what Francis says, but what he does not say. And, in the end, deeds are the only thing that count at this point. Catholics have heard strong words from popes and bishops for 16 years, and yet, here is the Church in 2018, its moral credibility shattered. Ordinary Catholics — priests and laity alike — surely know that if rescue is going to come, it’s going to have to come from them.