Editor’s note: The following appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a weekly Catholic publication based in Huntington, Indiana.
The events that have unfolded within the Church over the course of the past several months have led some to dub it as the Church’s “Summer of Shame.” The allegations against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the memo from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano — the combination feels like a perfect storm of despicable crimes, malfeasant leadership and intra-Church intrigue. Unfortunately, it seems as if this storm is not lessening in intensity.
We are bombarded by noise from various groups on social media, where individuals take advantage of the medium to demean those with whom they disagree. We are hearing noise in the form of the statements of various bishops, who are sharing their opinions and even frustrations over the developments of the past several months. And we are hearing noise from Catholics in the pew who are confused, ashamed and frustrated at the Church’s past sins and the continuing open-endedness of the crisis.
To be sure, noise is not all bad. We need to have conversation, and we need to be able to speak up in support of truth. But the danger of increasingly deafening noise is that divisions within the Church seem to be deepening. To help steady the conversation, we are in need of strong, clear leadership — from our Holy Father, our bishops and even the laity — to move the Church out of our “Summer of Shame” into something akin to a “Fall of Transparency, Action and Accountability.”
The first opportunity for strong, clear leadership is for an investigation to get under way as soon as possible regarding the Archbishop McCarrick scandal. In order for the Church to be able to move forward, it is imperative that we find out who knew what and when regarding Archbishop McCarrick’s rise throughout the ranks of the Church.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has already petitioned Pope Francis for an apostolic visitation, and we are certain that, for the sake of clarity, transparency and healing, the pope likely will soon respond. We look forward to such a visitation with great anticipation and hope, confident that only through such an action can meaningful healing begin.
The second opportunity for strong, clear leadership is for the U.S. bishops themselves. As we approach the November general assembly of the USCCB, the Church is in great need of transparency and clear communication. This cannot be conveyed through closed-door meetings. Any significant debates, conversations and decision-making must occur outside of executive sessions, where the laity and, yes, the media can be well-informed. Transparency, action and accountability begin with frank discussion in the public square.
The third opportunity for strong, clear leadership belongs to all of us. During this time of crisis, we should engage in prayer, fasting and penance in reparation for the sins of the Church and to grow steadfast in holiness. In this time of crisis, where trust and credibility have been hurt in the Church, we are the ones who can continue the work of Christ by living out his message of love in the world. We, too, are the ones who are able to hold Church leaders accountable and insist that the Church implement the structures and systems that ensure such scandal will never happen again.
During times of crisis, good leadership is imperative. We pray that leaders within the Church, on all levels, will be able to move the Church past our summer of shame and into a future of transparency, action and accountability.