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The Cost Of Real Church Leadership

What do bishops and senior pastors do when nobody believes them anymore? At Willow Creek, they resign. And with the US Catholic bishops?
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This is big stuff:

The lead pastor and the entire board of elders resigned on Wednesday night from Willow Creek Community Church, one of the nation’s most influential evangelical congregations, saying that they had made a mistake by failing to believe the women who accused the Rev. Bill Hybels, the church’s founding pastor, of sexual harassment.

“To all the women who have come forward,” said Missy Rasmussen, one of nine elders, speaking to the hushed congregants, “we are sorry that we added to your pain.”

“We have no reason to not believe any of you. We are sorry that our initial statements were so insensitive, defensive and reflexively protective of Bill,” she said, while some in the church’s cavernous auditorium, in South Barrington, Ill., wept openly. “We exhort Bill to acknowledge his sin and publicly apologize.”

It was a shocking blow for a church that has cast itself as a model of effective leadership for churches worldwide, and it comes at a particularly fraught moment for Willow Creek’s international network of supporters. The Willow Creek Association’s annual Global Leadership Summit, watched by nearly 700 churches and half a million people worldwide, is set to open on Thursday morning in the same auditorium where the resignations were announced. Until this year, Mr. Hybels had hosted the event.

This makes sense to me, the move. When senior leadership has lost the trust of the faithful, it has to go. I commend the sense of stewardship the Willow Creek leadership team has.

I had been told by several sources on Tuesday that Bishop James Conley of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln was going to fire his chancery leadership team, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Today, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory put out a statement saying how sorry he is about McCarrick, yadda yadda. I don’t mean to be sarcastic about it, but we have heard bishops say how sorry they are for sexual abuse and misconduct over and over for 16 years, and yet, here we are. Archbishop Gregory said in his statement:

I am hurt because my respect and fraternal esteem for Theodore McCarrick were clearly misplaced. I never personally worked with him in any pastoral context, having only encountered him as a fellow member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but his public devotion to the Church’s social justice agenda was highly regarded. I never knew or suspected the hidden side of a man whose admired public persona concealed that of a violator of foundational Christian morality and of young people who trusted him. Like any individual who discovers far too late that a friend has a history of moral misconduct, I now stand dumbfounded that I was so unaware and naïve. I know that many other bishops feel the same.

First of all, who cares how much Archbishop Gregory is hurt? Seriously, bishops as victims?

And, Archbishop Gregory may be telling the complete truth here, but I find it hard to believe that a bishop who was so high up in the leadership of the American bishops — he was head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops — never once heard a rumor about McCarrick, or was given reason to suspect that something dirty might be going on with him. The problem is that bishops have for so long asked for the benefit of the doubt in these cases that many may feel that they do not deserve it.

Gregory continues:

People are angry, as well they should be, that our Church is once again viewed as a haven for criminal deviant behavior. I know our priests are hurt that they are again being judged with a jaundiced eye, as perhaps too dangerous to be trusted with the Church’s children. Our people are disappointed with bishops in general who seemingly cannot or will not act decisively to heal this festering wound. They are perplexed and sickened that the Holy See may well have dismissed multiple warning signs that should have halted Theodore McCarrick and others earlier in their careers. They are disheartened that situations both here in the United States and in other countries continue to dominate social media and call into question everything the Church has done to safeguard children and adults from manipulation and violation.

This is true, but whose fault is it now? It is the fault of the bishops. Back in 2002, a Catholic bishop tried to convince me to stop writing articles critical of the Church amid the scandal. I told him that I felt that I had to do this because I was a faithful Catholic and a new father, and because I did not trust the Catholic bishops to clean up the mess. He replied, “If you don’t trust the bishops, then why are you still a Catholic?”

I told him that I was a Catholic because I believed that the faith was true, and that the truth claims of the Church did not depend on my accepting the integrity or the competence of individual bishops.

Four years later, I was no longer a Catholic. That bishop remains in office. I left because I no longer believed that everything the Catholic Church taught was true. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t know how I was going to raise kids in a church where we didn’t trust the leadership. It remains the case that the truth claims of the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church, etc.) are not obviated when the leadership loses its moral credibility. But after a while, you can get to the point where you lose the ability to care.

I love this statement by my Catholic friend Patty Heaton:


Exactly. They failed. They were given chance after chance after chance. A couple of nights ago, Cardinal DiNardo appeared on EWTN to talk about the McCarrick mess. Watch this truly pathetic statement by a church bureaucrat who comes across as out of touch with the moral and spiritual magnitude of the bishops’ failures. He wants to “move forward”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouN01RKwbcw]

I’d take Archbishop Gregory, and all of these newly angry bishops, more seriously if he named names. Which bishops knew but said nothing? Why is he not calling directly on Cardinal Joseph Tobin (who knew of the settlements with McCarrick) to explain why he kept that a secret? Why is he not calling on retired Archbishop John Myers, who lolls in his 7,500-square foot retirement mansion, by name to explain why he did not tell the faithful of the McCarrick victim settlement he approved as Newark ordinary? Why is he not calling out retired Metuchen bishop Paul Bootkoski, who also approved a McCarrick settlement?

Why is Gregory not demanding that McCarrick’s successor in DC, Cardinal Wuerl, answer these questions? And Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who served under McCarrick in DC? And Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who was warned about McCarrick in writing by Father Boniface Ramsey

Name names. Without that, it’s just PR. Cardinal DiNardo says that bishops need “repentance,” and surely that is the case. But repentance isn’t pulling a long face on TV. Repentance isn’t bouncing out of the archdiocese you and your predecessors left in ruins, and finding a cushy perch ministering to rich conservative Catholics in California wine country. Repentance is retiring to a monastery to pray and work. Repentance is moving to an inner-city mission and scrubbing pots in the soup kitchen. Repentance is taking what Alan Jacobs calls “the Profumo Option,” after John Profumo, the leading British politician brought low by an early 1960s sex scandal. Writes Jacobs:

Profumo — a very well-connected man with many friends and supporters who would gladly have eased him back into some significant political or business role — simply left public life and never fully returned. He began to work as a volunteer for Toynbee Hall [a charity serving the poor] in the East End of London, doing menial work at first and gradually, over the course of decades, becoming a primary fundraiser. He never sought office again. For the rest of his life he worked out of the public eye to serve the poor.

Will a Profumo arise from our current situation? Will even one, single, solitary Christian leader who has been caught doing or enabling or covering for nasty things decide that the proper response is to perform extensive penance? And by performing extensive penance I don’t mean just taking a few months off to plan a comeback tour. I mean, rather, embracing humble service as medicine for the soul.

Will there be even one?

What do you think?

I’ll give Archbishop Gregory this: he grasps that the bishops’ credibility may be totally shot:

When we first established a national lay review board in 2002, conference leadership faced pushback because some felt that we were improperly ceding control of the ministry of bishops. Given the situation we face today, oversight by laity may well provide the only credible assurance that real and decisive actions are being taken. Our trustworthiness as bishops has been so seriously compromised that acting alone—even with the best of intentions and the highest principles, policies and plans—may not move the hearts of the faithful to believe.

Having been burned so many times by believing you, why should they now? Why should Catholic parents sending their sons off to seminary believe that this time, it’ll be different? No more archbishops forcing their sons to spoon with their ordinary in the episcopal bed. No more bishops — even the “good conservative” ones — taking pervy pastors out of parishes, misleading the congregation as to why, then returning them with no explanation?

When I was a little boy, my father taught me the value of a good reputation — including one for honesty. “If you lose your good name,” he said, “you might never get it back.”

The Willow Creek leadership team concluded that it had lost its good name, and could no longer lead effectively. What does having lost their good name — that is, moral credibility — do to the US Catholic bishops? How can they recover? Can they recover? I’m asking seriously.

UPDATE: Phil Lawler, sticking in the knife on Cardinals Blase Cupich and Donald Wuerl, who suggest that corporate “best practices” can solve the credibility problems of the Catholic bishops. Lawler:

We’ve been down this road before, too. Once again I refer you to an old commentary by Diogenes, in this case from 2006, when a group of corporate leaders met with American prelates to educate them regarding “the best tools of modern management—detailed budgeting, comprehensive financial disclosure, human resource policies that reward high performers…” So you see our bishops already were acquainted with those “best practices.” Which makes their current plight all the more mysterious—unless you have read Diogenes’ analysis.

I hope I won’t be giving it all away if I merely report the names of the bishops who attended that session:

Those attending that session included then-Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick; Wilton Gregory, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; conference vice president (now president) William Skylstad; and Bishops Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., and William Friend of Shreveport, La.

Notice anything there?

Indeed. Meanwhile, this news in from Ireland, about Pope John Paul II’s Secretary of State:

Former president Mary McAleese says she refused to discuss an attempt by the Vatican in 2003 to secure an agreement with Ireland that it would not access church documents.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms McAleese has revealed what she described as “one of the most devastating moments in my presidency”.

It occurred during a State visit to Italy when she had a private meeting with then Vatican secretary of state Angelo Sodano.

“He indicated that he would like, and the Vatican would like, an agreement with Ireland, a concordat with Ireland. I asked him why and it was very clear it was because he wanted to protect Vatican and diocesan archives. I have to say that I immediately said the conversation had to stop,” Ms McAleese said.

Cardinal Sodano was the great protector of degenerate cult leader Father Marcial Maciel and his Legion of Christ, as well as Austrian Cardinal Hermann Groer, a pervert who molested schoolboys and monks.

UPDATE.2: Bishop Robert Barron pens a good piece about this. Excerpt:

So what should be done? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has no juridical or canonical authority to discipline bishops. And even if it tried to launch an investigation, it has, at the moment, very little credibility. Only the Pope has juridical and disciplinary powers in regard to bishops. Hence, I would suggest (as a lowly back-bencher auxiliary) that the bishops of the United States—all of us—petition the Holy Father to form a team, made up mostly of faithful lay Catholics skilled in forensic investigation, and to empower them to have access to all of the relevant documentation and financial records. Their task should be to determine how Archbishop McCarrick managed, despite his widespread reputation for iniquity, to rise through the ranks of the hierarchy and to continue, in his retirement years, to function as a roving ambassador for the Church and to have a disproportionate influence on the appointment of bishops. They should ask the ecclesial version of Sen. Howard Baker’s famous questions: “What did the responsible parties know and when did they know it?” Only after these matters are settled will we know what the next steps ought to be.

Very good point. Reading this from Bishop Barron, who is probably the best evangelist American Catholicism has, made me think about how difficult his brother bishops have made his mission.