McCarrick and Pennsylvania; Solutions for Accountability
The New York Times. The Washington Post. CBS News. National Catholic Reporter. America Magazine. Catholic News Agency.
These are just a few of the copious news organizations reporting on the Cardinal McCarrick scandal in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the now-retired Archbishop of Washington, was accused of sexually assaulting a young 16-year-old boy while a priest in the Archdiocese of New York. After an investigation, the Diocese of New York’s review board, “a seasoned group of professionals including jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest, and a religious sister” found the allegations “credible and substantiated”. Right as these allegations came out; The Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct of Cardinal McCarrick with adults decades ago; in which two of these allegations resulted in settlements.
Now, new scandals appeared in a new crisis as a grand jury report, out of Pennsylvania, found credible allegations against 300 priests across six diocese in Pennsylvania accused of molesting more than 1000+ children since 1947. The report says "We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands," the grand jury report says. You can find a copy of it here. The words spring off of the page as paragraphs such as these assault our eyes:
"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted."
It goes without saying that this is a widespread and absurd injustice perpetrated against these children to a horrendous degree. It is an embarrassment to those of us who are sincere Catholics lay and clergy genuinely living out our faith. Most of us have read these articles and diocesan press releases with shock and disbelief. We Catholic faithful love the church and it goes without saying that these are heinous crimes and offenses against human dignity that pain us all heavily especially as we mourn the pain and suffering of these victims. As Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen has said in an article by the Catholic News Agency "Our efforts to evangelize and spread the Good News of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities”.
Canon 212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they (the Christian faithful) have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
So we decided to explore the question; "what should we do?". We are clear that we are not the administrators responsible for the church's action but we love the Church. The Church is holy because Christ is holy. As Simon Peter said “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:60-71). We humbly offer some insights in prayer and in coordination with our professional knowledge on organizational theory, ministry, and business administration. We have compiled a list of recommendations to help foster a culture of accountability that is sorely needed today. We do have to clarify that we do not in any way believe the Church is a business. It is above all a moral and religious body of faithful whose mission it is to serve and aid in the salvific work of God by crucifying the self and promulgating life-giving faith in the Gospel of Christ that produces fruits of mercy that are both spiritual and corporal in their nature. That said, we do believe that there is wisdom to be found in other organizations who do accountability well. We do not claim to have all the answers. We only offer these suggestions because we feel compelled and called to contribute. These suggestions are solid high-level ideas whose details can be implemented with additional customization by and for parishes and diocese according to the needs of communities. If implemented correctly they could potentially help in restoring a culture of justice, authenticity, and credibility to the Church.
First; "The Why" from our Perspective
We believe cases like this persist because there are places in the church where reform in culture has not yet occurred. To be fair most of our pastors and shepherds are warm, honest, and true leading the flock with sacrificial love in clear imitation of the cross. They forego or at least make no efforts to seek the trappings of luxury and glorification to answer the call of the Gospel of Humility. They are leaders, friends, and genuine guides in the Gospel Journey that we call our Catholic faith. However, in many other places, there is a brokenness in our Church that is producing and permitting persons to do awful acts. We have seen cultures of silence; of omission; where influence and position has no accountability and some with power are permitted to police themselves without review. They fail to do so, wounding others and behaving without restraint almost politically, coldly calculating moves on a chessboard rather than warmly and patiently shepherding the flock and each other as human persons with dignity. We must remember this is unacceptable as these children are our children. If we truly embrace the meaning in our ecclesial theology then their pain is our pain and an offense against one part of the body is an assault on all of the body of our Lord as the parts are all connected in unity.
To give an alternate perspective, look at the humility of the papacy. Pope Francis made an error. He did not participate in the abuse nor did he ever cover up abuses in any way but he did fail to acknowledge the wrongs of some who did. He did not know that the allegations against them were true. He could have felt incredulous that his brother bishops would do such a thing; after all these are horrible wrongs. However, to his credit, he subsequently admitted his flaw in humility and sought to correct it openly and sincerely. Some people have spoken negatively of the Pope saying that somehow he made the church look bad by doing so. But these persons should know that it is cover-ups and evil acts that make the church look bad not just acknowledgments and truthful responses. This was a just response to an already bad crisis. It was a teaching moment in pastoral practice for the Church. Pope Francis showed the Church how it should treat situations and persons who have been wounded when it makes an error in judgment. The Church should apologize, compassionately hear from victims, and make just restitution to the extent that is possible. We should offer no leniency nor reward to predators found guilty after a just trial and indeed we should make all steps necessary to ensure they can never abuse again. After all, the Church’s holiness is not predicated on the perfect praxis of human persons; there is no need to save face to the detriment of justice. The Church’s holiness is predicated on the perfection of God himself who gives us his grace freely, purchased for us on the cross, despite the fact that we are all sinners. If we embraced this humility publically then we would at least offer a true mea culpa that could begin the turn-around of the Church's image in the eyes of the world.
1. Start at The Root.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children— “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves and chastises every child whom he accepts.” - Hebrews 12: 4-6
The church should work with seminaries to review the practices of seminaries and seminary culture. Lay independent auditors should not merely form one board of review or do an initial evaluation but they should have a small body or council in every diocese that could have psychological professionals appointed in every seminary quietly and discreetly. These impartial professionals should be permitted to spend serious time amidst seminarians in their daily life and formation. They should become an integral part of seminarian formation working with and primarily advising superiors and upper-level review boards as to the psychological state of seminarians periodically. Their discreet work should not interfere with formation but could offer independent and unobtrusive psychological observations and evaluations that can be used not only to curb bad actors but enhance formation over time. Superiors should also submit to these evaluations regularly perhaps on a semi-annual or quarterly basis. This independent body of professionals appointed by a body of bishops in each region should oversee these independent reviewers in each diocese. They should also be given abilities by the Vatican to report and communicate with Rome directly to ensure there is never an obstruction of Justice by a few that could harm the many. They should be given powers to step in and facilitate investigations by the appropriate ordinary per Canon Law 1717. Perhaps they can also serve as witnesses to official tribunals when necessary. They should be brought on as persons without conflict of interest applying evaluations neutrally and fairly in deliberations so as to neither falsely accuse the innocent nor fail to accuse the guilty. These strategies could provide value by more quickly identifying those who exhibit proclivity to disordered sexual behavior and other forms of conduct that put the well-being of others at risk.
Seminarians, if not already encouraged, should absolutely be encouraged to report inappropriate behavior. They should be reminded that reporting is not about betraying a friend but about protecting innocents in the church. Those who exhibit these proclivities or are assessed to have serious risk factors should be pastorally approached and coached to ensure that we do not discourage their faith, but if determined that those proclivities are present and unchanging then they should be removed from Seminary. They should be encouraged towards others forms of holiness. This is not akin to simply moving priests around from community to community as that only spreads the damage. We recommend removing dangerous seminarians to make sure that only those who are truly prepared to uphold the cloth are the only ones who ascend to the vocation. For those who may be concerned that this approach will thin the ranks: To be frank, the vocations crisis is already here, and it will only be exacerbated by the distrust that the faithful have of fallen clergy, which in their minds taints, their image of all clergy despite the vast majority being of good will. It is time to clean house. Words alone are not enough. We need to prepare discerning bodies with more than simply documents. If we do what is right and restore the trust of the faithful, we could restore and increase vocations in the long term by increasing trust in the wider Catholic community.
2. Use Technology to Facilitate Anonymous Reporting
There are indeed software programs that can easily be built or acquired to facilitate reporting anonymously. This may remove additional risks to whistleblowers and allow those in authority to catch wind of abusers or potential abusers early. These programs must emphasize privacy, safety, and security to ensure private records and delicate situations do not suffer from security breaches. That said, these programs can be built to be secure and those who report in them can submit the initial reports electronically to increase accuracy and speed but then later offer more sensitive details through other anonymous means if a hybrid solution is required. Again, the particulars would indeed be customized per diocese. Using software can keep the seminarian experience safe and remove bad actors before they have time to corrupt those around them. As we know the Gospel states there will always be wolves in sheep’s clothing but that is no excuse to not have wolf-traps primed so as to allow for the safety of the flock. It is only by making it clear that such heinous crimes will not be tolerated and implementing the proper systems and processes to enforce this culture that we can ensure the integrity of future incoming clergy and restore trust amidst the public, the faithful, and even amidst fellow clergy working hard in communities around the world. A culture of accountability can be fostered by implementing technology that allows for reporting at any level to a third party that will ensure reports are appropriately investigated.
The best way to avoid scandal is not by covering it up but to rectify a culture that permits sin to hide in the holy of holies - the human heart. If we cleanse our hearts and enforce a new culture of renewal, all of us by reporting when seeing wrong acts, then we give no room for sin to fester and no room for evil to hide. Persons will become accountable and responsible thus eliminating any need for cover-ups as scandal will simply be a rarity. Technology can facilitate these processes by enhancing reporting and better organizing investigations. We should utilize its benefits to the full degree that is logical to ensure the safety of all.
3. Restoring Accountability by Restoring Community
12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12
That said, we should acknowledge those who work hard and do well for the Gospel; the majority. For them we must be aware of the strain put on many good religious and clergy who are overworked and stressed in areas with low vocations. Many could fall prey to horrendous temptations as the Devil spares no one trying to ascend to holiness. We need to support them and we can do so by enhancing community involvement amidst good religious and clergy. The Vespers and daily prayers could be completed in a community rather than isolation even in a diocese. Communications technologies today such as group video conferences can make this possible even where physical distance is a problem. The same with scripture study. Copious Scripture Study needs to become one of the pillars of spiritual life on a more consistent basis in formation. Lectio Divina should be a constant spiritual practice not an occasional one. When persons live in a community of grace and holiness it is less likely that they will fall prey to evil thoughts and temptations that could later make them offenders. For even the Lord showed us the power of community in His word: "Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18). Celibacy is good but isolation is not. Our clergy should be amidst a community of their brethren not merely left alone in empty rectories floating adrift in their ministries without more support. Restoring community can restore authentic relationships more closely resembling the days when the Apostles were brothers and friends, traveling the land with Jesus and with each other in fraternal and pastoral care of souls not merely performing clerical duties in isolation.
Therefore, we should continue to pray for religious and for our clergy. They are beloved by God. The church should also ensure that we are using best practices in workforce management by cycling priests through holiday leave/downtime as numbers permit or at minimum putting more resources into fostering healthy socialization through organizations of priests and clergy, community time, and healthy social events so they can enjoy healthy forms of socialization that foster fraternity. These exercises are essential. They give our clergy rest from ministry, renew and refresh, and provide healthy outlets for socialization or spiritual development. These healthy forms of socialization can aid in preventing negative forms of spiritual or psychological development that could evolve into negative behavior over time. We must remember that our religious and our clergy are human beings. They need human and spiritual support. They should also be shown patient forbearance and pastoral care so that they then are inspired to show and share that pastoral care in their ministries.
Restoring community can also ensure that there are more eyes and ears where there should be and more hands to make sure that we catch people through active friendship before they stumble on a stone of temptation and do wrong. When we do this organically, we not only prevent atrocities but we help save the souls of our fellow brothers and sisters from sin. We can restore accountability before atrocities happen by getting them unbiased professional help from impartial parties when necessary.
4. Destroy “Conflict of Interest” Culture.
7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. - Romans 2:7-11
Sometimes, we see situations where we can forget to give thought to the possibility of conflicting relationships between persons when we assign roles and positions. This is how cover-ups happen. They occur when a person given authority feels more loyalty to a friendship or personal relationship than to justice. They also occur when we mistakenly conflate the relationships we have made with persons in the church with the whole of the church when really the Church is all of the flock. Our duty should be to protect all not merely to protect the few. A person cannot and should not hold a position of influence simply because they have built relationships with other persons of influence. They must have a demonstrable track record of merit that shows skilled proficiency in an area for them to qualify for any particular position of influence or responsibility. Service must be the key indicator. They also must not have relationships that could be considered a conflict of interest and thus predispose them to conduct themselves with partiality in a role. If a particular community is small and people simply know each other intimately because of its size then we recommend announcing expectations of the role in a public fashion before a group. This often has the effect of providing public accountability and this can be done in a variety of ways depending upon the nature of the role. However, it should be done in such a way that is appropriate and yet makes clear that the expectations of non-conflict in roles are public so the responsibility to impartiality is public.
This is simply a part of accountability. We must look into relationships and remove favoritism by asking that service, skill, proficiency, ethics, religious integrity, and merit be primary when placing persons in positions of influence. Otherwise, the church risks making this mistake unknowingly only to produce an unaccountable cover-up culture of cliques enforcing a form of protective favoritism.
That said, we hope this small list of strategies can help the Church in some form or fashion to foster accountability. We love the Church and we will remain faithful to her all of our days. We are clear that Christ is what makes the Church holy not human practice but it is important that they know us by our love for one another. This is a witness to reform in prayerful imitation of St. Catherine of Sienna and many other Saints who brought great renewal and reform to the Church by seeking justice and urging love. Love is what God desires, above all, without partiality.