The sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is not going away any time soon. Both Catholics and non-Catholics alike are shocked and repulsed at what was revealed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report: Decades of sexual abuse of over a thousand victims by hundreds of priests, routinely covered up by church authorities.
Then there was the letter from Archbishop (and former papal nuncio) Carlo Maria Vigano. Vigano states that Pope Francis knew about the sexual misconduct of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., and that Francis nevertheless lifted the sanctions his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVII, had imposed upon McCarrick. Vigano argues that the pope should resign — and there is growing agreement in some segments of the church. (According to a recent poll, 25 percent of Americans think Francis should step down.)
When confronted about Vigano’s letter by press on the papal plane returning from a trip to Dublin, Pope Francis refused to comment, saying, “I won’t say a word about it.”
In an interview with NBC’s Chicago affiliate, Channel 5, Cardinal Blase Cupich was inscrutably dismissive. “The pope has a bigger agenda,” Cupich said. “He’s got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”
So, climate change and immigration debates are more important to the head of the Catholic Church than routing out sexual predators? How about the primary mission of the church — the salvation of souls? Where does that rank in all this?
The backlash was predictable. As was the backpedaling. Cupich now claims that his interview was poorly edited and that Pope Francis’ detractors are anti-Latino. (Pope Francis was raised in Argentina, but he is Italian, not Hispanic.) Cupich then sent a letter to all priests in the Chicago archdiocese, ordering them to read a statement of clarification from him at all Masses last weekend.
Vigano said. Francis said. Cupich said. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world. What about Jesus Christ? Did He say anything that might shed light on all this?
Quite a lot, actually.
Christ was not popular with the religious leaders of His time, the Pharisees and scribes. The New Testament is peppered with His remarks about them — and they are unflattering, to say the least. They are also — unsurprisingly — prescient.
In Matthew 7:15-16, Christ says: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” And there is this: “(I)f anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6)
The Pharisees berated Jesus because (among other things) he ate meals with sinners, because he ate without ceremonial washing and because he fed people and healed the sick on the Sabbath. Christ made his disdain for their false piety evident: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)
The scribes and Pharisees despised Christ because he exposed their vanity and hypocrisy to the common people in the strongest possible terms: “The teachers of the law ... do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels on their garments; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue. They love to be greeted in the marketplace and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:2-5)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness! ... You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?” (Matthew 23:27-28, 33)
Sexual predators. Wolves in sheep’s clothing who preach salvation but engage in debauchery that destroys the innocence of children and the faith of the trusting. A hierarchical structure that is built upon dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of rules but covers up for those who commit the most egregious offenses. Bishops and cardinals who live like royalty with fine clothes, expensive homes and rarified titles like “Your Eminence.” (In fact, the cardinals of the Catholic Church are often referred to as “the princes of the church.” To his credit, Pope Frances apparently opposes this terminology.)
Christ offered comfort and solace to those inclined to despair when all seems bleakest. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Matthew 10:26).
Victims who suffered in silence — or who endured the disbelief of those from whom they sought help — are surely comforted by the exposure of the truth. But that is just the beginning. Now it is time to clean house.