What I Wanted To Say (Part 2)
(Please read my previous blog post for the first part of this imagined conversation.)
Archbishop, may I ask you a few questions?
- I really appreciated being part of the Listening Session you hosted back in October. Were you happy with how it went? Did you talk to any of the participants afterwards to see how they felt about the session? What did you learn from the experience?
- Since the Listening Session in October and the USCCB General Assembly in November, what steps have been taken to move our Archdiocese forward? What plans are in the works right now? What progress is being made?
- I know a lot of work has already been done in Milwaukee, over the course of many years. Do you see any changes that we still need to make in our archdiocese? What could we be doing better?
May I share a few of my own observations?
- It feels like many bishops do not understand the seriousness of the situation in the Church today. So many lay people are feeling incredibly hurt, betrayed, angry, and powerless, and they don’t feel like their bishops are with them as pastors and shepherds to support them through this time. People are really upset, and not just those who were already struggling with the Church. These are Catholics who are incredibly committed and faithful, who form the backbone of our local communities, who really, really want to believe in the Church. This is not just a few people on the fringes or people who are looking for an excuse to be angry or to walk away. Think about all the people who were at that Listening Session - Those are the young leaders of the Church today, the very people who could be your best allies in the renewal of the Church. As I’m sure you saw, many of them are hurt and frustrated and disillusioned. Please take this seriously.
- Based on my conversations, I think many lay people are most upset about the cover up and lack of transparency that has happened in the past and is still happening today. Yes, we are horrified at the abuse that has taken place, but many of us have come to terms with that ugly part of our history and feel fairly confident in the safety of our children today. What is stirring so much of the hurt today is the impression that some of our leaders have chosen to hide, cover up, and deceive, rather than be honest and open about the past. We had hoped that time of secrecy was over, but the situation with Cardinal McCarrick, as well as the news from around the country since then, has revealed that there is still a widespread culture of covering up the truth. It’s hard to trust our leaders knowing that at least some of them have lied to us. In his January letter to the American Bishops, Pope Francis wrote about this same issue: “The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them.” Healing the Church is not just about making sure everyone is safe from abuse today. It’s about holding people accountable for their complicity in the abuse and changing the culture that allowed this to happen.
- The more I researched these issues, the more I realized that what is on paper doesn’t always correlate with what is happening in reality. There are clear policies in place since the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, but it’s apparent that those policies have not been universally implemented. Look at what’s happening with Bishop Malone in Buffalo, New York: The diocese was working to publish a list of priests who were credibly accused of abuse. From the outside, that looks like a positive step that would have indicated this diocese were moving in the right direction. It took the Bishop’s own secretary becoming a whistleblower to reveal that church leaders were specifically hiding the names of some abusers and continuing the process of cover up. Knowing that case and others like it, I think we have to recognize that many Catholics are no longer able to just believe the word of their bishop, when he says that everything is being handled appropriately now. That lack of trust is not your fault, and it does not necessarily have anything to do with you personally; however, I believe that is the reality we are living in today, and you as a bishop need to understand that.
This is why the calls for transparency are so urgent - Lay people need to be able to see for ourselves what has happened in the past and what is happening today. We need outside, independent voices to be investigating and monitoring this. I do know that a lot has already been done in this archdiocese; I have been told that independent experts have gone through all of our files so that nothing is left hidden, and I honestly want to believe that this is true. Nonetheless, I hope you will consider inviting and encouraging an independent investigation of all the dioceses in Wisconsin, conducted by the Attorney General. This investigation may take place anyway, regardless of your support, but it would be a strong statement if you spoke up now to affirm our openness to this step. If there is nothing to hide, then any new investigation will reveal that truth, which would be a significant step in rebuilding trust with your people.
- I know that it is a very hard time to be a bishop. I also understand that a lot of work has been done over many years to reform the Church and to keep children and all vulnerable people safe from abuse. From listening to your public statements, I can tell that it’s very important to you, as it is to many church leaders, that people be aware of all the progress we have made. To be frank, this focus often makes you come across as defensive, which I know is not what you want to convey to your people right now. Personally, I do see the progress, and I do know that it’s significant. However, as Pope Francis said in his letter to the bishops, we cannot be concerned with “garnering applause for our actions.” So, while I do think it’s important for lay people to understand all the changes that have been made, I believe the role of a bishop right now needs to involve a lot of humility, transparency, and open listening, with very little focus on defending and explaining.
Yes, we have come a long way, but we must recognize that we still have a long way to go.
Those are some of the thoughts I would like to share with my Archbishop - and really, with any bishop who would be willing to listen.
More to come tomorrow, specifically about the role of the laity in this time of crisis. Thank you for reading.
“Now this is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” - 1 John 1:5
Lord, in this time of darkness, give your people light.