Here is a letter to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops penned by the Roman Catholic Woman Priests organization on the issue of abuse–as your pastor, I added my name to the letter in the name of All Are One Roman Catholic church.
“For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23)
There has been no historical moment more pivotal for the Catholic Church in the United States than today. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report and allegations against Theodore McCarrick among other incidents irrefutably prove widespread, decades-long, systematic efforts to hide sexual abuse by clergy and religious.
In our work as theologians and pastoral ministers, we hear firsthand the anguished cries of God’s suffering people and witness the evils which plague our Church. Compelled by survivors’ accounts of life-destroying violence, we exercise our right and responsibility to speak out “on those things which concern the good of the Church” such that “the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world” (Lumen Gentium 37).
The establishment of justice in the Church requires more than apologies, investigations, and bureaucratic reforms now being proposed by the very episcopal institution responsible for this crisis. True justice and authentic reconciliation demands a sweeping and deep renewal among the People of God that arises from the prophetic teachings of Vatican II and proceeds through the pastoral vision of Pope Francis. Let us offer three points towards that end.
First, we disagree with the view held by some Catholics that sexual abuse and its cover up result from a failure to adhere to existing magisterial teachings on sexuality. Bishops must honestly confront the reality that many, if not most, of the current teachings on sexuality and gender are too often barriers to holiness. Damning words about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people, for example, perpetuate dated and disproven narratives that contribute to and reinforce prejudiced attitudes and unjust structures. Likewise, gay and bisexual clergy are not the cause of these problems. It is rather the inability to speak in honest and healthy ways about sexuality, coupled with homophobia, that fosters a culture of secrecy and silence where abuse goes unchecked.
Second, misguided teachings on sexuality and gender are only some of the rotten fruits exuding from a profoundly sick institution. Sanctioned patriarchy denies women’s dignity, rejects their gifts, and undergirds misguided approaches to sexuality and gender. Clericalism fortifies a corrupted hierarchy that affords clerics unbridled power while suppressing lay co-responsibility. Racism, ableism, colonialism, and other unjust power dynamics infect every crevice of this Church we love. Each of these rotten fruits is grounded in the failure to implement more boldly Vatican II’s teachings on Church structures, authority, and contemporary mission.
Third, it is past time to throw open the windows of the U.S. Church. To end cycles of sexual abuse and cover ups, and to restore faith in the Church, we, as loving critics and critical lovers of the People of God, offer the following suggestions to our bishops:
- Submit a letter of resignation to Pope Francis immediately;
- Demand the Vatican make available to U.S. civil authorities all relevant documents on sexual abuse by clergy and religious;
- Establish truth and reconciliation commissions to address abuses and cover ups honestly and openly, and include survivors in leadership positions;
- Publish a collective statement which both supports gay/bisexual priests and clearly articulates that homosexuality is not a cause of abuse and sexual violence;
- Support civil government efforts to extend statutes of limitation;
- Make public in each diocese the financial amount which has been paid out in settlements and legal costs related to sexual abuse;
- Provide liturgies for healing which are developed and celebrated by lay ministers and leaders in collaboration with survivors;
- Host listening sessions on topics including survivor justice, structural reform, and sexuality at the diocesan and parish levels which include the bishop and key pastoral leaders;
- Engage Catholic voices and organizations which have a longstanding commitment to and specialization in church reform, accountability, and survivor support;
- Convene theologians and canon lawyers to develop the theological tools necessary for a more thorough response to sexual abuse and for the Church’s renewal in the United States, which may include consideration of alternative parish and diocesan leadership models where women are in leadership positions;
- Create policies to remove immediately all titles, honors, and memorials from bishops, clergy, and religious who have been credibly accused of being involved in abuse, sexual violence, and/or its cover up;
- Invite consultative lay participation in the selection of bishops;
- Ensure robust lay involvement and especially leadership throughout processes of creating justice, accountability, and reconciliation.
The challenges before the Catholic Church in the United States are not insurmountable, but overcoming them is not inevitable. Learning from history, we know that too many times the faithful have been silent about, indifferent to, and even complicit in humanity’s worst crimes. We must not repeat these failings today.
The time of necessary action is now and the task is urgent. We implore you, as siblings in Christ and as co-workers in the vineyard, to be accountable to and transparent with the entire People of God, to seek true renewal inspired by Vatican II that goes beyond cosmetic institutional reforms, and to follow Pope Francis in practicing a radical discipleship.