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.