Pope Francis collectivizes the guilt
I am sure the holy father means well, and I am sure he is doing the best he can with his limited socialist background. But his letter to the faithful on the massive Church scandal out of Pennsylvania alone leaves a lot to be desired.
The pope rightly condemned the abuses by priests of minors and seminarians, criticized the bishops who covered it up, and condemned the culture of "clericalism" – that weird belief among some clerics that they can do anything they like and get away with it, simply because they are clerics entrusted with powers from God. He made it clear enough that that was what he meant by the academic-sounding term in the letter: a license to be bad, with God a guy who can be fooled. I was pleased that he invoked the Song of Mary about the lowly crushing enemies and uplifting the weak, because this has the right sound to it.
But then his socialist orientation got the better of him. He made it a matter not of individual guilt, but of collective guilt, societal guilt, something we all are part of and must atone for. This is a big tenet of liberation theology and similar lines of lefty thought. Society is guilty. This has sometimes been correct – we can look at racism in the South or Naziism. I don't see how it applies to the clerical scandal. Yet the pope issued an "invitation" for the entire Church to turn to prayer and fasting, since this was obviously something we all did.
It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.
Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people's sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.
Actually, not "us." We never liked this stuff; just some bad priests did. What happened was something a bunch of bad priests did, people who've separated themselves from both their mission and from their flock, all in the name of power and what they perversely consider pleasure. It was the doing of particular individual people, not the collective flock, that caused this problem. The rest of us are just suffering. We suffer as Margaret Carlson described here (surprisingly worthwhile coming from her) – a realistic account of how kids deal with pervert priests in their midst and how powerless they are to stop it – and we suffer as fewer people want to come to the Church, and we suffer as we get to listen to all the catcalls about the Church from the left, making us unjustly feel bad about being members of the Church, and we suffer as our church collection donations get drained in legal payouts to victims, leaving less for church upkeep, missionary work, pensions, and service to the poor. Thanxalot.
No, actually, we're not the guilty ones in a collective guilt. We are the victims. The problem was They. And while the left yells about people who say "them," "them" in this case is the best way to put it.
So calling on us to pray and fast to atone comes off as a little rich, a little spread-the-blame-y. After all, when everyone is guilty, no one is guilty. Speaking as one member, I'll be glad to help out with the prayer and fasting since the pope asked. I'll do it out of the goodness of my heart. But cripes, to mush the whole monstrous thing over as collective guilt, when the time calls for bony fingers to be pointed at individual miscreants, is where the pope's message comes off as falling short.
Unfortunately, he's a collectivist, not an individualist, so that seems to affect even a problem like this one.
That connects to how the pope is being criticized by victims and others for not paying that much attention to getting these bad guys punished. In the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, he had the guy come on over to the Vatican to engage in a life of prayer and penitence. This is baloney. This is a guy who belongs in jail, atoning alongside the other convicts – mug shots, prison stripes, breaking rocks in the hot sun, body cavity searches, top bunk, prison yard, mackerel currency, the hole, and all – here in the states. That's what the other perverts get here, and McCarrick should be not at all different.
The pope made a big deal earlier about his respect for secular power, back when he opted not to give up his Argentine passport and advised us he remained a simple citizen subject to his home country's laws. Well, what happened? Is it too much to ask of him to go back to that and hand a guy like McCarrick over to U.S. lawmen to get what other citizens of the U.S. get when they go abusing children? Or what? The other option is to set up a good prison in the Vatican system for guys like McCarrick if going into the jail-keeping business is what he wants.
While we always have to account for the pope's Argentine background (which, after all, seems to have taught him economics), as Americans, we do see some better responses among the U.S. bishops. Believe it or not, lefty archbishop of Los Angeles José Gómez came up with a far better response that resonates better with Americans in this letter here. He pointed to the problem of it being the job of priests to represent Christ and points out that the bad ones didn't. That works. He also outlined the work the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been doing to ensure that no child is ever harmed in connection with his experience with the Church. Since I worked on those committees when I lived in Los Angeles, I can tell you they were thorough, and they were well policed by the diocese to make sure stuff was getting done. Protection of safe spaces for little ones, research from the best practices of lawmen who catch miscreants, forcing even unwilling people who have minimal contact with kids to take certified child protection training and learn how to be on the lookout for perverts – all very effective, and that is what has been going on in Los Angeles for several years. Concrete action and harsh words for the bad guys is what resonates.
The big weakness in the pope's statement is a failure to point a finger and call for righteous punishment for bad guys. Instead, we get pablumy stuff about all of us being guilty and needing to atone. No, throwing bad guys in jail and holding them up to shame works better. I know he tries, but his approach so far leaves me a little cold.