inquisitions are not the answer


Blanket accusations and indiscriminate purges are part of the dark history of the Catholic church. From the killing and pillaging associated with the “holy” Crusades, to the mass executions of “heretics” during the Spanish Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation, the church showed no mercy in its self-righteous mission to defend the one and only true faith. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Pope John Paul II made a public act of repentance for these sins of the church.

Inquisitorial times, whether in churches or governments, feed authoritarian power in those who hold power and those who seek power. In the desire to purge the named evil, false accusations are inevitable. Whispered rumours morph into fact from sheer repetition. Personal vendettas and ideological battles lead the unscrupulous to name perpetrators with little or no evidence. Officials snitch on other officials. Neighbours snitch on neighbours.

Today it is easier than ever to spread calumny, rumour or innuendo. Social media gives everyone a voice and a platform. It also gives everyone the opportunity to hear all voices, whether true or false. We demand instant reporting and instant responses. Out-of -context headlines are retweeted before sources are investigated or proven, often by well meaning persons.

The recent news on the ongoing sexual abuse crisis has ignited understandable anger. We want it ended. We’re tired of the shock and the disgust. We want heads to roll. And, let me be clear, guilty heads should and must roll.

But, due process must be put in place and followed.

Some are calling for a mass resignation of American bishops. Is this the answer? I don’t think so.  Many of us know, and perhaps are friends with, priests or bishops of integrity. Blanket accusations and assumptions of guilt are unfair, and dangerous. Even if proven innocent, the initial assumption of guilt is seldom forgotten.

Cover-ups or canonical slaps on the wrist for serious crimes of abuse must end. The answer is a due process of law, with punishment suited to the severity of the crime.

Another inquisition is not the answer.


9 thoughts on “inquisitions are not the answer

  1. Offering resignations en mass is not necessarily inquisitorial. It is – or can be – a statement of openness to review and accountability individually and collectively. For example, if a formerly autocratic state transitions into a democracy, or vice versa, should it be surprising that the “cabinet” or ruling officials who constituted the former regime would resign or be expected to? It is, to my mind, quite distinct from the rule of law and in now way precludes it (legitimate trials can follow the evidence). The system of Church governance is exclusionary and, de facto, misogynistic, not representative nor accountable to those whom it (theoretically) serves. It is an abuse of authority in itself and a breeding ground for all sorts of further abuses. Can “it”/they heal itself? Not as it is constituted. “Democracy” as you rightly point out (re Trump) is not necessarily the solution, but neither is the illusory notion of despotism that we share. The Catholic Church has contributed immensely to civilization as well as “sinned” greatly. It is time for the Church to reconstitute itself radically and initiate a new era of contribution to creation and redemption rather than self-immolate. My ire is fueled by the conviction that the world not only needs Jesus and His message but it needs a medium which leads, heals, heeds, teaches, binds, preserves, reflects, taunts and cajoles.

    1. As “a statement of openness to review and accountability individually and collectively”, then yes. This is what was done with the bishops in Chile. What I don’t agree with is assuming guilt of all or assuming individual guilt without irrefutable evidence or due process.

  2. I agree with you that an Inquisition is not the answer. However, I would like all of the clergy in the Catholic Church to perform a very thorough examination of conscience about this matter. Then, I would like them to acknowledge their sins, in m ost cases, of standing by and letting evil continue.
    The fact is that many, many, had suspicions and knowledge of the sexual abuse that was going on — not only of children, but of seminarians and priests, and they were silent when the matter was raised. There was a piece by Thomas Daly, I believe, (and I can’t find it right now) in which he said that he raised the matter of child abuse in a meeting with the bishop in the early 2000s, where there were over 200 preists. Only one of these men supported him. The rest sat in silence.
    Many of those men of integrity that we all know have stood by in silence when they heard rumors or more, fearing for their jobs. Until those man acknowledge the wrong that they did, it will be difficult to trust any of therm. .

    1. You raise a great point Alexandra. Given that they are such a “closed” caste and so bent upon self-protection they had two clear choices: 1) clean their house completely and quietly, 2) dissemble, hide, deny, “tighten-up”, and where seen -blame (whether it were the victims, secularism, etc.). It is unthinkable that many did not/do not know or suspect; heard stories that should have been followed-up. Whether they did or didn’t is irrelevant because they chose the latter alternative. Though there are so many good ones, the leadership, the ambitious, they knew where the skeletons were.

  3. I have my doubts that justice will prevail when the accuser run off and disappeared Carlo Maria Viganò, This whole event reminds me of Jesus being crucified. Hope you would find peace in this madness.

  4. It is astounding that the Pope’s trip to Ireland seems to be “the” tipping point for so many dimensions of intransigence on one hand and call for reformation on the other. Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Saved Civilization” describes how the Irish, celtic monks, as religious, intellectual and good with the pen, contributed to the survival of civilization by preserving the essential texts and learning as the continent “went dark”, a crisis of (western) civilization. Interesting, for me, that the attribution to these religious is not limited to religion but the broad strokes of humanity. I believe that Catholicism, the risen Incarnate Christ, in its essence is Redemption to and of humanity at its “getting better”. Thus, to me the profundity of this crisis is proportional to the need for the best of Christianity in the real world. It is almost prophetic that the abominable, overriding sin of abusive authority is cracking us wide open, not only in politics, but in church. It is doubly ironic that hierarchic sexual abuse within the bosom of clergy is “our” cracking point. It cracks open as never before its inevitable Pandora’s box of sins: the sexual abuse of children and its hypocritical response, the diminution and exclusion of women (the Magdelenes), pious platitudes of regret, calls for “forgiveness”, promises of reform that have enveloped even Pope Francis. It cracks open the abuse of doctrine, dogma, rite and rituals as means of control rather than of worshipful awe and community. Essentially, they ask – i.e., demand – that we go along with them, with the way it was, is, and…..We’ll fix it…our way. Sure.
    The Irish seem to be our voice for “enough, finally”. They are not saying that they’ll do it; they are the turning point. They are the Gabriel trumpet call of “crisis”, i.e., the “or else opportunity”. Good on the Irish.

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