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.


in defence of pope francis


My last blog post was an angry rant. I believe that anger is the correct response to the seriousness of the abuse crisis. Anger is the wake up call. Anger is the emotion that will fuel the desire to face the problem, search for solutions, and begin the difficult task of reforming and rebuilding.

But, we also need to put anger aside to gain clarity and perspective amid a deafening cacophony of opposing voices. In the next few posts, I hope to share some more thoughts with the hope that you will share yours. Dialogue is needed more than ever before.

In reality, the problem is greater than one grand jury report. Greater than one diocese. Greater than one cardinal or one bishop or one priest. Greater than one pope. The sheer magnitude, world-wide, of the abuse crisis defies any “one size fits all” solution.

Heavy the head that wears the crown. But, I have more faith in Pope Francis wearing that crown than any other head in our church today. Here’s why…

From day one, Francis has railed against the evil rot of clericalism. He preached about it to the cardinals as they prepared for the last papal election. After he became pope, Francis never tired of criticizing men who enter the priesthood for power and prestige. He pointed his finger at cliques within Vatican circles that spend their energy in political posturing, infighting and gossiping.  He consistently preached to bishops and cardinals, old and new, to be true servant leaders not princes.

As a bishop and cardinal, Francis lived a simple, humble life in the poor neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. When he counsels families on daily life and love, he speaks with an intimacy and knowledge that defies his celibate life. His words reflect the many hours he has spent with families, sharing their joys, their sorrows and their struggles.

Francis’s deep love for children is without question. We know he will do all within his power to protect these little ones and their families.

Francis is a Jesuit. At the core of Jesuit spirituality is the discipline of discernment. Discernment requires deep prayer and hard work. And, it takes time. This is hard to accept when we yearn for quick and easy solutions.

No words of penance or sorrow can take away the damage, both personal and institutional, that this crisis has caused. But, I do believe that when Francis speaks he speaks from his heart. His words are genuine, honest and transparent.

This crisis is greater than the wisdom of any one person, no matter how kind, wise, loving or holy they are. Francis is not perfect. He has and will continue to make mistakes. For some, his words and actions will be too much. For others, not enough.

The church is in a mess beyond the power of any one person, committee, inquiry or program. If any pope is capable of beginning the clean up, it’s Francis.


thoughts on an imploding church

Much has been written and continues to be written about the most recent sexual abuse bombshells in the Catholic Church. I keep putting off writing a blog post about it, hoping that I can calm down and write something thoughtful, not simply rant from a place of deep anger.

WARNING. I am not even attempting a balanced commentary.  Is there a dialogue to be had? Can you defend the indefensible?

The first bombshell was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s long history of sexual misconduct and abuse of diocesan seminarians. A shock to most, but apparently not to many seminarians, priests and bishops who knew McCarrick.

The second was the grand jury report from Pennyslvania, based on internal documents from six dioceses,  which concluded that over 300 predator priests had abused more than 1,000 child victims.

This past weekend, the abuse crisis took centre stage at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, as it should have. The church cannot and should not preach about the beauty and gift of family life without acknowledging the horrific violence perpetrated on her children by ministers of the church.

Without acknowledging the damage it has done to each and every life affected by clerical/church abuse.

Without acknowledging the loss of moral and spiritual credibility of its leadership. A leadership who has self-righteously instilled fear and guilt into women and men for centuries for not living up to its sexual teachings – teachings that tried to control our right to freedom over our fertility, freedom to choose whom we love, how we love them, and whom we marry.

YES, we the People of God are angry and disgusted. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!

YES, something has to be done. NOW.

NO, that “something” isn’t for us to join priests and bishops in prayerful fasting and penance. WE ARE NOT THE PERPERTRATORS.

NO, this is not the time to finally open leadership in the church to the laity. We have been denied a voice and active role in all other decision making. Victims and their supporters have been speaking truth to power for decades about clerical sexual abuse, only to be ignored or silenced. THIS IS YOUR MESS. OWN IT. FIX IT.

NO, this is not a gay problem. It is AN ABUSE OF POWER PROBLEM.

YES, the root of all this evil is clericalism with it’s elitist, self-promoting and self-protecting culture of princely titles and princely garb; YOUR HOLINESS, YOUR EMMINENCE, YOUR EXCELLENCY, YOUR VERY REVEREND FATHER.

YES, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Pennsylvania is only one state in America. America is only one country. THIS IS A GLOBAL PROBLEM FOR THE CHURCH.

YES, sexual abuse is a crime. YES, those who help to cover up sexual abuse are guilty of aiding and abetting a crime. THE ABUSE AND THE COVER-UP ARE BOTH CRIMES.

These crimes must be punished. NOT with canonical slaps on the wrists. NOT by whisking away the perpetrators to safe houses or monasteries  to hide them from public scrutiny.    THESE CRIMES MUST BE PROSECUTED IN SECULAR COURTS OF LAW.

For those of us yearning for a new church, we have often talked about the need for the current structures to implode in order for real change to happen. The gospels are filled with images of pruning, dying and rising to new life. The coming months, years, decades will be a time of pruning and dying. We will not see new life overnight, but it will come. It must come.

For some, the current crisis will be the final straw that pushes them out of the church doors forever, if they haven’t left already. Others will stay and fight the good battle for the church they love. And, fight they must. Silence and turning a blind eye enables evil to continue.

The mighty are falling from their thrones. And, fall they must.