The hypocrisy of some American bishops and their chancery factotums is truly astounding. In the wake of the explosion of needless scandals, which have been exacerbated by the shameless dissimulation and cover-ups engaged in by these bishops and factotums, some in the official structure of the Church in this country have the nerve to say that Catholics who criticize their bishops are sinning. This is from the very same people who have hired very expensive lawyers to try to intimidate simple Catholics who acted as they should in attempting to bring to the attention of chancery officials the very problems which have escalated so drastically in the last few weeks.
Case in point: Father Michael Gutgsell, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, was quoted in the Omaha World Herald on Saturday, March 23, 2002, as saying that Catholics who criticized Archbishop Elden Curtiss for reassigning a priest who had been caught viewing child pornography on a parish computer in his previous assignment might be engaging in acts of calumny, detraction and rash judgment, all of which are serious offenses against the Eighth Commandment (the nature of which I described in some depth in "Wagging Tongues Take No Prisoners," which ran originally in the September 1997 issue of Christ or Chaos - and was reprised several months ago). Father Gutgsell implied that Catholics who criticized Curtiss for his decision to reassign the priest-pervert (and Curtiss's defense of that decision) were judging the matter without having all of the facts. They were engaging in rash judgment, presuming to discuss publicly what they should be discussing privately with Church officials. This is just rank hypocrisy.
What Father Gutgsell did not outline for the reporter who interviewed him was that there are circumstances when it is necessary to reveal publicly the fault of another after all other efforts have failed to correct a situation. True, detraction (the revelation of the true fault of another) is something we should avoid. The private lives of other people are none of our business. Everything about the lives of each one of us will be revealed at the General Judgment on the Last Day. Our sins are left in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance in what is called "internal forum" and it is there that they should stay. However, public scandal is a separate case. Saint Thomas Aquinas noted that the laity have a duty to expose publicly clerics who have demonstrated that they are a moral menace and a threat to the salvation of souls. And insofar as criticism of bishops is concerned, none other than Saint Athanasius said that "The floor of Hell is littered with the skulls of bishops and priests."
A priest is charged with the spiritual welfare of the flock entrusted to his care. A priest who views child pornography is either seriously mentally ill and/or spiritually disordered. Such a man can never be reassigned to regular parish life. Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc. has been attempting to bring to the attention of Church officials for the last six years. At every turn they have been met with stonewalling tactics and denunciations for even presuming to bring such things to their attention. If the bishops have learned nothing from the explosion of scandals is that men who suffer from an attraction to men are unfit for priestly service. Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope's spokesman, said this himself recently, and he does not sneeze unless the Pope gives him permission. Thus, the laity in the Archdiocese of Omaha are not sinning when they comment publicly about a public scandal that involves the integrity of the Faith and the moral, spiritual and physical well-being of the faithful, especially the young. The Pope himself, who, as I pointed out in my column yesterday, is not blameless in this matter as a result of his failure to supervise the appointment of bishops and his refusal to remove those who have proved to be detrimental to the Faith, has expressed grave sorrow over these scandals and the way in which they have been handled. If the Vicar of Christ can express his displeasure, why can't simple Catholics do so, men and women whose donations to their parishes are being siphoned off so needlessly to buy the silence of individuals who have been abused by bishops and priests?
However, there is more hypocrisy and irony in the remarks of Father Gutgsell. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story on the same day that he was quoted in the Omaha World Herald. The Inquirer detailed the fact that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia let attorneys, who worked for its insurance company, harass, intimidate, and actually file lawsuits against people who simply informed officials in the archdiocesan chancery office of instances of misbehavior by priests. An archdiocesan spokesman defended this policy, saying that the archdiocese had entered into an agreement with the insurance company to let its attorneys handle such cases as they saw fit. In other words, simple people who wanted to bring serious matters to the attention of their shepherds without threatening lawsuits were themselves subjected to investigation and the threat of lawsuits (as well as actual lawsuits in some instances) for acting in full accord with the Gospel precepts spoken of by Father Gutsgell. This sort of behavior on the part of an archdiocese or a diocese is absolutely reprehensible. It shakes the faith of good people, leading them to believe that the very people who should be trusted to deal with matters that pertain to the salvation of souls and the physical protection of the flock are the most untrustworthy, crafty, devious, self-serving people imaginable, concerned only about legal and financial liability, not about the objective truth.
Moreover, such a legalistic approach flies in the face of the simple truth that there is no hiding the truth from God. Do chancery officials who want to intimidate lay Catholics really think they can fool God Himself? Do they not understand that everything we do and say has an eternal dimension to it? Would the Divine Redeemer yield His judgment to attorneys associated with an insurance company to seek to indemnify individuals from their own responsibility for their actions? Would He subject members of His Mystical Body to harassment simply because they were concerned about the integrity of the Faith and the salvation of the souls of their children? Where is the understanding of the supernatural? Where is the understanding of First and Last Things? Where is a bishop's pastoral heart when he seeks to retreat from the truth as a corporate executive rather than to confront the truth with manly courage and priestly zeal for souls?
If anything has been proven by the recent explosion of press stories about these avoidable scandals, it is that public exposure is the only thing that Church officials seem to understand. Some church officials are still stonewalling in the face of truths that are now coming to light. One bishop has resigned, accusations made (and settled) years ago against others are now coming to the public's attention, and more are on the way. As a priest told my wife and I recently, "I'm just going to sit back and root for both sides," meaning that some of the good that might come from these scandals involves the resignation or removal of bishops who have either looked the other way or been active participants in the process of the destruction of the Holy Faith. The bishops have only themselves and their factotums to blame for seeking to minimize perverse behavior and for acting in a legalistic and un-Christian manner when individuals and organizations have gone through proper channels to bring serious matters to their attention.
A serious Catholic knows that his Church is indefectible. She is the true Church. She will last until the end of time. The jaws of Hell will never prevail against her. A serious Catholic's faith is never shaken in the midst of scandals for he recognizes that he himself bears responsibility for the state of the Church and the world, that his sins wounded the God-Man's physical Body on the wood of the Holy Cross and wounds His Mystical Body, the Church today. He understands that he has the solemn obligation to root out sin (and any and all attachment to sin) from his life, cooperating fervently with the graces won for us on the wood of the Holy Cross by the Divine Redeemer, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and by relying upon the maternal intercession of the Blessed Mother to scale the heights of personal sanctity. But he does not turn a blind eye in the face of public scandals. Yes, he prays fervently before the Blessed Sacrament and to the Mother of God. But he also has the positive moral responsibility to call to correction ecclesiastical officials who are derelict in their duty to safeguard the transmission of the Faith and who react defensively when questioned about their failure to take moral perversion among the clergy seriously.
It is well past time for bishops and their chancery factotums to stop acting like spin doctors. It is time for them to admit that they have made grave errors of judgment. And it is time for many of them to resign in shame and to spend the rest of their years in monasteries to repent of the damage they have done so needlessly to the Church. Their hypocrisy is remarkable. Rather than criticizing those who are stating simple truths about the way in which these scandals have been handled, bishops and their chancery factotums ought to be admitting that Stephen Brady and Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc., have been right all along and that it is now time to cooperate with lay Catholics who have knowledge of serious wrongdoing rather than insulting their intelligence and misrepresenting their courage as sinful.
Our Lady, Mother of Perpetual Help, Pray for us.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
COMING TOMORROW: Oh, the Humanity!
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives