A Den of Thieves

Thorns have grown up among the garden of the Catholic Church. If they are not weeded out, they will continue to choke her.

A Pennsylvania grand jury report was released this month enumerating over 300 incidents of sexual abuse spanning seven decades and across five dioceses. Mathematically speaking, that’s roughly one incident per diocese per year for seventy years.

That is sacrilege, defilement, heresy. The priesthood should know better. There is no curse in all the tongues of men for this treachery.

It is time now for cleansing among the ordained. It is not enough to say that the incidence of sexual abuse among the clergy has significantly decreased since the reforms of 2002 (which is true). The findings in Pennsylvania, coupled with the current scandal surrounding Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, indicate something more serious than predatory homosexual behavior. They indicate an abdication of the grave and solemn duty of the priesthood.

Catholic priests are ordained in the line of Apostolic Succession; they are consecrated as successors to Christ’s own followers. To answer so great a call elicits an equally great responsibility. They are responsible not only for being God’s mouthpiece to the faithful, but also the faithful’s mouthpiece to God. They are the protectors of sacred tradition and the administers of Sacraments—the vessels of God’s grace. Corruption and evil among them pollutes the message of the Gospel and threatens the body of the faithful.

What the Church needs now is an inquisition. For those unfamiliar with the term, an inquisition is a tribunal within the government of the Catholic Church meant to identify and combat heresy among the faithful. But we cannot trust the clergy to investigate themselves; we must turn over the inquisition to the laity, putting the full cooperation of the Church at their disposal.

It does not matter who is brought down; to the guilty, justice must be administered—even if it includes the Holy See himself. There is no one man (or group of men) greater than the Church. It is time to flip tables, to cleanse the temple of moneychangers and wild beasts. And once it has been emptied of the unfaithful, further reforms must be put in place to prevent their return.

Beyond that, we also need a public display of repentance from the order of bishops that reflects the severity of their office—from both the guilty and the negligent. They should demand nothing less than prayer and fasting, than sackcloth and ashes for themselves.

We the laity, too, must change. As Catholics we have let ourselves become lukewarm. For more than a generation we have let society and politics infiltrate sacred and holy tradition. In a misguided spirit of democracy, we have sought to bring the Church down to the sinful rather than lift the sinful up to the Church. This has made the faithful a lazy and unmoved bunch.

It is time to stop believing we are okay. If our faith does not radically affect our lives, then it is hardly faith at all. This doesn’t mean vows of poverty, obedience, and celibacy from everyone, for not all share the same vocation. It does, however, mean that we must lift our eyes to Heaven; we must stop believing that the best way to live life is “doing what is best for me.”

We have a duty to each other that we have stopped addressing. It is why, for one example, large Catholic communities have failing Catholic schools. We are unwilling to make the sacrifices to send our children there, to teach there, to volunteer there. Is it any surprise, then, that our young Catholic men have stopped knowing how to sacrifice their own carnal desires for the sake of their faith when they become priests?

At all levels of the Church we need a return to reverence and tradition, to restore our commitment to protecting the innocent and raising up the sinful. We must seek out the fruits of the Spirit in the Sacraments, and we must pray fervently—for good and holy priests, for selfless love of God, and even for the souls of the guilty, for we are called to love even them. May God save us from the fires of Hell.