Where is the outrage?
That’s what people of goodwill are asking Catholic Church leaders who presided over decades of rampant, violent rape and abuse of children, cataloged in the Pennsylvania grand jury report released this week. In the eye of this storm sits Donald Wuerl, then Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese, now Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
In an interview with Fox TV DC reporter, Tom Fitzgerald, Wuerl contends that he feels anger over the allegations — allegations that, while just made public, he has known about for more than 20 years. His words speak for themselves:
In my efforts, from the time that I reached Pittsburgh on through today, I have tried to do my very best to deal with this whole question of allegations against a priest. Now remember, we’re talking about a long spectrum of time, so how we dealt with things in the late 80s or early 90s is different than the way we would today….
What evolved was how to deal with it, and how do you deal with an allegation? Remember now, when an allegation comes forward, that allegation often ends up being one word against another, and part of the evolution I think, has been to recognize — then, we said, “Alright, let’s ask this priest to undergo an evaluation,” and we used the best science that was available to us then to say, “Okay, what is the situation?”
And many times what we would get back is, ‘This person doesn’t demonstrate any of those tendencies.” So then the question was, “What do we do to preserve both the, um, well-being of the person who is making the allegation, and that always has to be the primary focus…”
“Why not call law enforcement?” Fitzgerald responds. Indeed.
Even at this late hour, Cardinal Wuerl continues to hang his zucchetto on the side of alleged predators’ interests while saying the victim “always has to be the primary focus.”
Later in the interview he challenges the accuracy of the report itself, perhaps prophetically asking, “Is every word Gospel truth?”
Hearing self-protection shielded in bureaucratic references to mechanisms and processes that needed to be put in place to properly protect children, and deflections to canon law requirements of sustenance compensation for known pedophile priests lead to the most basic and fundamental question of all:
WWJD: What would Jesus do?
The gospels of John and Matthew say that Jesus’ mechanism for combatting evil in his church was a whip he made out of cords to drive money-changers from the temple for turning his church into “a den of thieves.”
What happened next is prescient:
But when the chief priests and scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”
Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
These money-changers were exploiting the vulnerable, while church leaders sought to protect their power and the status quo. Yet in this den of iniquity it was the children who could see God in Jesus’ righteous anger, in the whip and the overturned tables, and in the unfathomable, but necessary mess needed to rout such cancer from the church.
So it is today. Deeply depraved and sick men have mercilessly exploited the most vulnerable among us for generations, perversely twisting the words, symbols and most sacred elements of Christianity into weapons of destruction, until the very word “God” has become a trigger to victims like Carolyn:
And whenever she hears the word “God,” Carolyn said, flashbacks of abuse keep coming back.
“The word ‘God’ makes me think of him [her abuser],” she said. “I just feel like my whole life has been a lie.”
The pain of abandonment resulting from these vicious attacks was compounded by blaming and silencing by the church patriarchy who were charged with protecting them in God’s name.
Yet, as you stand witness to the evil being laid bare, it resembles an overturning of tables — the grand jury report, a searingly powerful whip. And in this mess, we again see God, separate and apart from — and burning with righteous anger toward — this abomination.
Jesus’ anger toward the money-changers was provoked by his love for his church; today those flames are further fanned with outrage on behalf of its most innocent — the children.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6
What Righteous Anger Looks Like
Father Seamus Griesbach of Portland, Maine, in a widely publicized Facebook post, models the heartfelt, honest words people long to hear from church leadership:
“I don’t want to read one more statement from a bishop saying that he is ‘deeply saddened’ by the latest reports of clergy sexual abuse and cover up. Really? Who is advising them on this wording? It is only making matters worse.They need to make a complete and utter break from this despicable and horrendous behavior. How about a statement like:”
The sexual abuse of a child is an abomination. It is a complete betrayal of everything that Jesus is and everything that he taught. It is an act that even the most immoral of people recognize as detestable and depraved.
The fact that Catholic bishops and staff were too cowardly or institutionally entrenched to eliminate this kind of behavior and abuse at the first inkling is a grave and reprehensible moral failure for which there must be real consequences.
We will root out this detestable rot that has struck at the heart of our family of faith. We pledge to not rest until we have brought to light every misdeed and coverup.
We call on the Holy Father to demand the resignation of any bishop in our midst who tolerated or overlooked immorality within his presbyterate or sought to cover it up.
We pledge to react resolutely and transparently to any accusation of immoral activity that comes to our attention today or in the future.
Finally, as an outward sign of our repentance, bishops will wear only purple vestments and remove their pectoral crosses for the coming year as a sign of our misery and shame over this grotesque and diabolical scandal that has so deeply injured and betrayed the faith of those entrusted to our care.
We ask that all men and women of good will join us in this time of prayer and penance, asking God to have mercy on his sinful Catholic Church and to grant her shepherds the grace of true conversion and renewal in holiness of life.
Want more? Read “Monsters in the Closet” about what it looks like to speak out about your abuse and abuser.