Scandal and cover-up
This is No. 26 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.
The contrast between the piety and integrity of lay Catholics like my parents, which I highlighted yesterday, and the dishonesty and deception which has been found in the highest ranks of the Church clergy is quite startling. Whereas examples of humble lives lived in accordance with their faith can easily be found among the flock, it is nearly as easy to find examples of public and private behavior in opposition to the faith in the lives of her shepherds. The evidence is and should be disturbing.
So just as the moral incongruities seen in the history of the papacy left me disillusioned, I was and am equally disturbed by the stories of hypocrisy at all levels of the hierarchy, in centuries past as well as today.
Pick up just about any secular history book on the Christian church and you will find multiple examples throughout the pages and years of cardinals, bishops, priests, as well as popes, acting in ways totally incongruous with what they profess to believe and teach their flocks to obey. Greed, ostentation, lust, murder, torture, lies, fornication. Enough grave sin in high places to cast serious doubt on the Church’s claim to be Christ’s singular “holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity…a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.”1
As important as the lessons of history are, what counts even more is the current state of affairs. How well do those in authority in the Catholic Church lead by example in the Body of Christ today? How authentic is her witness as the one true church when considered in light of story after story of bishops behaving badly?
The horrible tales of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests have rocked the Church for the last decade or more, with accounts of rape and molestation coming from all parts of the globe. As disgusting as even one case is, the sheer scope of the scandal testifies to the immensity of the blot that it is on the Church. Because not only have thousands of clergy and other religious been accused, and probably ten times as many children and teens been abused, but bishops with the power and moral authority of having “the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd, and priest, and act as his representative”2 have failed miserably to protect their flock from the wolves.
Instead of immediately quarantining the sexual predator from any contact with young people, making the charges known so that other victims could more easily come forward and get help, and cooperating with legal authorities in prosecuting the rapist they had on their hands, too many times the priests were shielded, protected, and transferred to other parishes where they continued their criminal behavior. Along with the revelations of gross sexual misconduct on the part of priests have come revelations of unforgivable cover-up on the part of their higher-ups.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in July of this year on charges of a cover-up made by a high-level official in the Catholic Church. This canon lawyer worked closely with the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and claims that the cover-up is currently being perpetrated there. The article goes on to say that, “Since the clergy abuse scandal began in 1984, then erupted into a national crisis in 2002, the American church has been flooded with revelations — from civil lawsuits, grand jury inquiries and the bishops’ own research — about how dioceses consistently put the interests of the church above victims.”
A report out of Los Angeles in the Huffington Post last year detailed a cover-up in that city. Stories out of the UK chronicle lies and cover-up in the Church hierarchy there, where the Catholic Church is described as, “an institution that chooses cover-up as its default position to conceal moral, sexual and financial scandal.“
This is a familiar refrain to anyone reading the news for the last decade. The Church is now seen as taking proper action and coming clean only at the point where they can’t do otherwise. As being consistently more concerned with protecting their image and reputation than for healing the damage done to the innocent and preventing further. As hiding behind the cloak of spiritual and moral authority while engaging in deception and distortion.
It’s certainly true that the Catholic Church is not the only religious institution with pedophiles in its ranks, and poor handling of it by its leadership. But she deserves the brighter spotlight by virtue of the magnitude of the scandal and her exclusive claims to authority and guidance by the Holy Spirit.
It should go without being said, but I’ll say it again anyway…there are many humble, godly priests and other religious in the Catholic Church, who must certainly grieve over the revelations of sexual abuse and cover-up. And the Church doesn’t claim that her leaders are without sin. So as a body of ordinary human beings struggling to “walk by the Spirit, and…not gratify the desires of the flesh,”3 she could be forgiven for her failures, because we’re all in that body.
But as she claims to be a unique, privileged body led by men who are said to “act in the person of Christ” himself4, and his very instrument of salvation in the world5, we could be forgiven for not believing that.
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 771 2 Catechism, 1558 3 Galatians 5:16 4 Catechism, 1563 5 Catechism, 776