Church needs action, not ‘lawyerly blabber’

STRAY THOUGHTS

BY RANDY EVANS

At most services, Father P.J. McManus moves quickly through the announcements — typically covering such things as the coming Christ the King Church sweet corn festival, the signup for the fall retreat, or a new book study group that soon will begin.

This past weekend, however, the announcements took a very different theme and tone.

Father P.J. began by mentioning he was at a Des Moines Hy-Vee on Wednesday, shopping for a dinner he was hosting that evening for leaders of the youth group. He was not wearing his Roman collar at the store, and a parishioner he encountered asked about that unusual occurrence.

McManus told the audience he did not wear his collar because of the news out of Pennsylvania the day before — news about another sickening scandal within the Catholic church.

Clearly agitated and with his voice rising, Father P.J. conveyed his personal sense of betrayal by the shocking events that had been documented by the grand jury in Pennsylvania. There was evidence that 300 priests had sexually abused 1,000 children over seven decades while church leaders looked the other way.

Father P.J.’s message was clear: It is up to the leaders of the Catholic church to hold the priests and bishops accountable for violating the trust of church members like those in front of him. And it is up to members to ensure that their priests and bishops do this, he told them.

The scandal is not a result of Catholic church’s demands for celibacy by its priests, McManus said. The scandal is a direct result of priests and bishops abusing their authority over the children, he said.

When Father P.J. concluded, scattered applause began in the back of Christ the King and grew louder as it moved toward the altar.

My friend Chuck Offenburger said his parish priest in Perry was similarly blunt on Sunday. Father Chris Reising told parishioners at St. Patrick’s Church, “God forbid that anything like that would happen here. But if it did, don’t call the bishop. Call the police.”

It doesn’t do any good to focus on the vast number of “good priests” when the church hierarchy in parts of the United States either directly or indirectly allows abusers to continue their horrible deeds.

The New York Post called the church’s response to the Pennsylvania grand jury “heavily lawyered blabber” that sounded more like a corporation worrying about its profits and reputation rather than the successors of Jesus and the apostles worrying about their flocks.

The ultimate responsibility for cleaning up this mess rests with the Vatican. Pope Francis’ legacy will be determined, in large part, by how he deals with this scandal.

We don’t need more expressions of sorrow from the bishops. Church leaders need to see this from the perspective of families and believers and recognize it for what it is — a massive crime wave that has been deliberately covered up and that is tearing away at the fabric of the church.

There need to be resignations and removal of lawbreaking priests and bishops who have averted their eyes from what was occurring or who were content to move lawbreakers to other parishes where unsuspecting families provided a fresh supply of children for abusers.

The grand jury’s findings are lurid, and horrific.

A Pennsylvania priest raped a girl and impregnated her, then arranged for an abortion. The bishop of Scranton wrote, “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.”

But the letter went to the priest, not to the girl.

The bishop of Erie wrote to a priest who admitted assaulting a dozen boys. The bishop thanked the priest for “all you have done for God’s people. The Lord, who sees in private, will reward.”

A group of priests in Pittsburgh created their own child pornography ring and shared nude photographs of altar boys they had violated.

Another priest finally resigned after years of abuse complaints. He was given a letter of reference for his next job — at Walt Disney World.

Chad Pecknold, a professor at Catholic University of America, explained to reporters what is different about this church scandal: “Previously, everyone understood that abuse was rampant and that the church worked hard to try to resolve the problem. What was not clear before, and is clear now, is how many bishops worked just as hard to cover things up.”

Most of the crimes occurred beyond the statute of limitations, making criminal charges impossible now. Many of the priests are now deceased.

But some of those involved are still active in the church, including Archbishop Donald Wuerl, a member of the College of Cardinals, who heads the Washington, D.C., archdiocese. He was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, a time period covered by the grand jury report.

The grand jury said: “We can say that despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all.

“For decades, monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, have mostly been protected. Many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic church sex scandal.”

Father P.J. is correct. We all must hold priests and bishops accountable for this nightmare.