Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Are things simply going to get gradually better? Or should we hang some bishops?

I was a little startled to read over the last 24 hours two calls for bishops to be hanged. One was from Matthew Walther, writing for the non-Catholic, mainstream magazine The Week. Walther is no anti-clerical fanatic, but a faithful Catholic. He is writing with a touch of hyperbole, perhaps, but he is making a serious point.

McCarrick obviously should not have been elevated to the cardinalate in 2001. He should not have been made archbishop of Washington. He should not have been simply "removed from public ministry" a month ago, but defrocked. In the time of St. Pius V, a cleric found guilty by an ecclesiastical tribunal of McCarrick's crimes would have been publicly executed by the secular authorities.

That would have been fitting. Indeed, I cannot really aspire to some kind of quasi-journalistic neutrality here. I believe that anyone who abuses a child should be put to death, priest or layman, man or woman. I hate child abusers with a perfect hatred, one that rests uneasily in my heart with the imperative of forgiveness enjoined by Our Lord.

This is unfortunately no longer even a remote possibility in the United States, thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana. At the very least, however, McCarrick should be prosecuted aggressively to the furthest extent possible by the laws of the various states in which his alleged crimes were committed.

The other call for the hanging of bishops was in relation to Anglican bishops. You know, those harmless, bumbling, decorative appendages of Britain's delightfully antiquated constitution. The writer, the Anglican cleric Jules Gomes, is a provocateur, but what he's saying is not simply a joke. 

Lord Acton argues that those seated on thrones of power should not escape justice. ‘You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason,’ he tells Bishop Creighton. ‘I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.’

So far, the IICSA is exposing the corruption of absolute power in the Church of England. Lamentably, we can’t hang corrupt bishops. Neither can we strangle the last bishop with the entrails of the last politician. We can do far more and pray Mary’s Magnificat that God will ‘pull down the mighty from their thrones and exalt those of humble estate’.

Those of my readers who are momentarily forgetful can refresh their memory of the edifying end of Haman in the Book of Esther here. The point is that he was hanged on a very high scaffold indeed: one he had intended for the righteous Mordecai.

The news about Cardinal McCarrick has sent the Catholic commentariate into a kind of furious despair, and as Gomes reminds us, similar things are unfolding in the Anglican world. This parallels the feelings of many in the secular sphere over the 'MeToo' scandals. It is because it so long, now, since the abuse scandal broke, and since those in charge agreed to strict new principles, and told us all that things would be different from now on. It comes as no surprise to those watching things carefully that things have not, really, changed very much, but it is still indescribably frustrating.

What is clear now is that the earlier media circus about clerical sex-abuse, which focused on people like Cardinal Groër of Vienna, Cardinal Law in Boston, and Cardinal O'Brien in Edinburgh, was highly selective. As Philip Lawler pointed out long ago, Law was convicted of covering up clerical abuse, a crime undoubtedly committed by many other American bishops. Yet no other US bishop was charged with this. (A few were charged with being abusers themselves.) O'Brien and Groër were brought down for relationships with seminarians. Yet it turned out that Bishop Conry's adulterous affairs were an open secret for decades, and Cardinal McCarrick and Archbishop Weakland had been semi-publicly paying off former lovers/ victims using Church funds.

Why were those three, and a few others, targeted? Media people sometimes say that they don't like to expose 'consensual' sexual relationships. But there is no substantial differences, as far as consent is concerned, between O'Brien and Groër, on the one hand, and McCarrick and Weakland, on the other. No: the difference is that the people brought down were regarded as theologically conservative. O'Brien had a mixed theological record but the occasion for his downfall was his opposition to same-sex marriage.

The media's preference for exposing conservative politicians and other public figures is equally easy to illustrate. (Compare the treatment of Trump's bragging and Bill Clinton's interns.)

I wonder if this pattern reassured some of the remaining abusers that they were safe if they played up their liberal credentials. But things have taken on a momentum of their own, one which is harder for the 'legacy' media to control. The abuse crisis has been unimaginably painful for the Catholic laity, who are far more even-handed in their condemnations than the mainstream media, and the weight of testimony and other evidence was bound to catch up with other prolific abusers in the end. To be reassured that everything is going to be different now, and then see a series of scandals coming out all over again, is breaking the laity's patience. It is particularly galling to recall that McCarrick was personally involved in the response to the abuse crisis. And that the other bishops saying the warm words were surely perfectly well aware of the irony of the situation.

What it means, alas, is that it is not just the abusers themselves who cannot be trusted. It is the great majority of the US bishops, bishops who did nothing, said nothing, went along with and supported the official response and the business as usual charade. (A notable exception was Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, who refused to comply with the 'Dallas Charter', the absurdly misconceived, and as we now know, deeply hypocritical, official response to the crisis.)

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, regarded as a conservative, learnt this the hard way on Twitter. He tweeted a few days ago:

Despite the egregious offenses of a few, and despite the faults and sins we all have, I’m very proud of my brother bishops and I admire and applaud the great work they do everyday for Christ and His Church.

I can't screen-shot it because he has now deleted his entire account. He said that Twitter was distracting him from his spiritual life and was an occasion of sin for others. What actually happened, as you can still see by searching for his old handle @bishoptjt and from this article, is that his sentiment was greeted by an overwhelming number of very polite but outraged responses from Catholics. I myself pointed out that is it not the offences of the few which are the problem, now, but the silence and complicity of the many.

I feel a little sorry for Bishop Tobin, because this kind of establishment boiler-plate has gone done perfectly well for decades. It is a little curtsey from a bishop with a conservative reputation to the dominant liberals of his conference. I says 'It's ok, I'm not going to rock the boat'. And it suggests, without quite saying it, that not rocking the boat is what Jesus would have wanted, and that lay conservative Catholics shouldn't rock the boat either.

This is not the moment for such sentiments, however, and it says a lot about the force of his ingrained habits of mind that Tobin thought it would work.

One should be wary of attributing to 'the bishops' the sins of their predecessors, but it remains true that no Catholic bishop in the United States has broken ranks to condemn the system of mutual back-scratching and cover-up which has allowed prolific abusers not only to exist but to flourish. Not all the bishops of the United States are themselves engaged in the back-scratching and covering up, but they all know about it. I'm sorry, but yes they all know about it. How stupid and ill-informed would they like us to think they are? They have seen it with their own eyes. And yet they say nothing.

Is the same true in Britain? I do not know. The fact that two of our biggest scandals have involved heterosexual adultery - Bishop Conry of Arundel and Brighton and Bishop Roddy Wright of Argyle and the Isles - may suggest that there is a slightly different pattern here. On the other hand, the Cardinal O'Brien scandal suggests a systematic problem: he was Archbishop of Edinburgh 28 years, and since he was helping himself to seminarians over that time the damage he must have done is incalculable. It is possible that something like that will revealed about an English bishop; we will have to see. I don't want to condemn anyone in advance of the evidence.

The loss of trust, however, cannot be contained: if it is lost in America, it will have its effect all over the world. The attitude of conservatives in the hierarchy, and many conservative laity, has been that if they quietly do their work they can do good, and that because of (delete as appropriate) the good policies of Pope John Paul II / Pope Benedict XVI / the new generation of Bishops / young priests, things will gradually improve. That was always an optimistic assessment, and it is now clear that it is false. As I have written before, the evangelisation of our society is impossible without the restoration of the moral authority of the bishops. And that is not going to happen now without some kind of cathartic crisis. There must be a clear-out, and there must be a clear stand taken by the remaining, or new, bishops.

It is quite simple, actually. As Cardinal O'Brien demonstrated, it is impossible for bishops who are personally morally compromised to take a clear stand on the crucial issues of the day, because they will be destroyed by the people with dirt on them, with the help of a gleeful secular media. All that needs to happen, therefore, is for bishops to take such a stand. Those who cannot? Never mind talk of hanging: I'll settle for a quiet resignation.

Update: see Michael Brenden Dougherty on the 'biological solution'.

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  1. There is now only one solution to this crisis: the countries where this crisis has occurred must be declared mission territories and put under the care of vicar apostolics

  2. Deviant Bishops must be promptly defrocked & made personally responsible for compensation both to their victims & to the Church in cases of inappropriate use of church funds relating to the bestowal of personal gifts.

  3. By whom? Bergoglio?

  4. Lock them up somewhere remote and isolated with strict supervision. Meanwhile they can pray and reflect.

  5. My ideal solution would be to beat perverted bishops to death with copies of the Liber Gomorrhianus; but since that probably wouldn't be possible nowadays, I'd instead suggest defrocking them, and (in the case of those whose activities were criminal) turning all the evidence over to the police for a prosecution.

  6. "That was always an optimistic assessment, and it is now clear that it is false."

    Michael Brendan Dougherty (also a traditional Catholic, perhaps not coincidentally) is saying the same thing this week.


    And I think you are both right. There is not going to be a "biological solution" adequate to fix this crisis.

    1. Even if the biological solution does work, I'm still unconvinced. Even if things will get better eventually, what about all the souls who'll be imperilled in the meantime?

  7. Moral, financial and sexual corruption has been a nagging problem for the Church hierarchy throughout the centuries. The structural deeper cause, however, is that the Church knows no separation of powers and no independent judiciary. Government without separation of powers — executive, legislative, and judiciary — is a receipt for disaster and endless corruption.

    1. Government without separation of powers — executive, legislative, and judiciary — is a receipt for disaster and endless corruption.

      I don't know about that -- 19th-century Britain (to take but one example) had no clear separation of powers, but the country seemed to do alright for itself during that period.

    2. Yea, the whole concept of the separation of powers is just another Enlightenment canard to disparage the Ancient Regime constitution of France and the pre-1832 British Constitution. Accountability and transparency do not depend upon it. What we need is a mechanism of removal of bishops at the provincial/metropolitan level, with Metropolitan or even national consistory courts. And no matter what, National conferences should be abolished.

    3. You are correct, Franciscus. At the root of modern social and ecclesial disintegration (to the glee of our enemies in the leftist and Islamic camps) is a naive bow to the anti-Catholic ideas of the so-called Enlightenment. What we do need is manly holiness in the clergy, a truly Catholic understanding of the virtue of obedience (always a qualified virtue and not the pagan perversion which is blind obedience and behind which evil clerics hide and get promoted), and a muscular exercise of the virtue of charity (as opposed to the effeminite, modern perversion which is sentimentality). Clericalism depends on both of these perversions, hides behind them, and uses them for abuse. Catholics need to grow up and reclaim their dignity of miles Christi, worthy of the graces they received at baptism and confirmation.

  8. 'It is possible that something like that will be revealed about an English bishop ... I don't want to condemn anyone in advance of the evidence.' That's a teasing comment if ever there was one, unusually suggestive for this generally sober blog. It's a handy thing for that bishop (but not for us or the Church) that most journalist-types don't visit this site or they'd be giving you a call asking for more info!

  9. Chesterton's old saw springs to mind, that it is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.

    1. Richly and with ridiculous display
      The politician's corpse was laid away.
      While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged,
      I wept. For I had longed to see him hanged.

  10. Would it be morally wrong to encourage Americans to write to their representatives and demand a congressional investigation into the bishops' actions?

    It's reached that point. This affair is vomit inducing, and none of the bishops (as you point out) seem to think it's a big deal. O'Malley called the actions 'morally wrong' (see NCRegister), as though McCarrick was accused of getting a little drunk at the diocesan fundraiser.

    1. You think congress has the moral integrity to do such an investigation? I very much doubt it.

  11. "O'Malley called the actions 'morally wrong'. Umm....no, the actions are CRIMINAL. These high ranking Cardinals that have been involved in such evil actions have not only destroyed the faith but they have destroyed LIVES of a good number of young men. One that I have read, that was abused by McCarrick himself was a man who was abused by him as a boy, that eventually committed suicide. These men are criminals and the LEAST that should happen is that they should be stripped of the vestments PUBLICLY and either sent packing or better yet imprisoned. And....there are more where McCarrick came from. The SWAMP needs to be drained and we need to start all over again. To give one red cent to any of the Bishops' campaigns is what I would consider being morally wrong.

  12. No it won't get better. Yes guilty bishops should be hung.

  13. Don’t give money to the Novus Ordo set up and diocesan clap trap initiatives, its a sinking ship. They have relied on parishioners hard earned money to fund their nonsense which has been slowly destroying our Church since VII. Give money only to Traditional parishes and initiatives. Come on folks wake up and smell the coffee!!!

  14. Exactly, Elisabeth. Every penny a faithful Catholic contributes to the rotten enterprise which is the Novus Ordo is aiding and abetting the destroyers of Holy Mother the Church. I, for one, put one dollar in the collection at the diocesan Latin Mass I attend and try to fulfill my ecclesial duty to support the clergy by sending every week an envelope with a proper contribution to the nuns of Mother Teresa, a traditional convent or monastery, or some other worthy traditional Catholic cause. Let the Modernist miscreants go begging, as far as I am concerned---they deserve no less.