Monday, September 10, 2018

The Viganò crisis: 'The conservatives are winning'

This must count as one of the most absurd comments on the clerical abuse crisis centred, for now, in the United States. The attempt to carry on as if nothing at all was happening, always the first recourse of the bureaucrat to a crisis, has at this moment not only failed, even according to a supporter, but become utterly ludicrous. Of course people are more interested in Archbishop Viganò's statement than in the latest missive from the Bishops' Conference about the dignity of work. Are we supposed to think that this interest is misplaced?

By that time 'team Francis' had already moved on to a kind of damage-limitation which, instead of trying to distract attention from Archbishop Viganò, focused it on what they hoped would prove to be his weaknesses. This, too, has proved a failure, however. Few people had heard of Viganò before his statement, and no-one has anything invested in his personal reputation or political associations. They just want to know if what he says is true.

The attempted character-assassination of Viganò himself increasingly strikes observers as an example of the whistle-blower suppression strategy which is very much part of the problem Viganò has been trying to expose. What we would expect from an abusive cabal is demands for silence and submission, angry denunciations of those who ask questions, and downplaying of the seriousness of accusations. What do we find? Well, it has been quite a sight on Twitter to see Massimo Faggioli, Austen Ivereigh and others have to insist repeatedly that they weren't really playing down the seriousness of the systematic sexual abuse of seminarians: cases which range from seduction to rape. If you have to keep saying that kind of thing, it's a sign that your public relations strategy isn't working.

And it really isn't working. We can see that in relation to two important constituencies: the American Catholic bishops, and mainstream conservative American Catholic commentators. Both are more or less closely connected to the Church as an institution, and depend for their positions and future prospects upon the favour of their hierarchical superiors, as well, or more, than upon their popularity with ordinary Catholics. This makes their defection from reflexive defence of the Pope, or at least silence, very significant.

LifeSiteNews has a list of bishops calling for an investigation of Vigano's allegations. There are a few non-Americans, but the rest are from the US. To date it includes twenty-nine American bishops, not counting the non-resident Cardinal Burke. The United States Conference is a big one, but twenty-nine bishops is a lot of bishops. They have got to the important point where there is some safety in numbers. I fancy that these bishops are going to find life a bit easier than their colleagues in the coming months when they meet the faithful and ask for money. The process is far from over, and their numbers will grow.

What I mean by 'mainstream' conservative Catholic commentators are those who have been defensive of the Pope, or at least silent, on the major issues of controversy up to the McCarrick/ Pennsylvania Grand Jury/ Viganò tipping-point, and have or have had 'centrist' platforms such as Patheos and Aleteia.

One example is Fr Dwight Longenecker. His approach to the problems raised by Amoris laetitia is a good example of how things used to be. He had clearly decided that direct criticism of Pope Francis' theology was too hot a potato, so instead he criticised it indirectly, by saying that things which people concluded from papal statements were making his life as a priest more difficult. This was, of course, a fair point in itself. (Like me, his first reaction was to attempt a completely orthodox reading of the text.)

Now, however, those old restraints have been thrown off. In his post about why it was a mistake for the Pope to remain silent about the Viganò accusations, Fr Longnecker is moved to say that this silence 'makes his showy advocacy of victims look like a cheap publicity stunt' and is 'revealing him to be a hypocrite'. I beg your pardon, Fr?

We move into different territory with Simcha Fisher. Over the years Fisher has been a ferocious critic of the pro-life movement, alongside her friend Mark Shea, which has put her at odds with many of the people most worried by the direction of Pope Francis' papacy. But in the last week or so she has written a couple of blistering posts about the situation: posts which are also, I must say, extremely interesting. She writes:

I have a number of friends who have escaped abusive marriages. They tell me that Pope Francis is sounding more and more like the men who abused them. He’s sounding like the men who hid that abuse from the world, who taught their victims to blame themselves, who used spiritual pressure to persuade them and their families that it would actually be wrong, sinful, to defend themselves.

I think Fisher is exactly right. We can't tell from his words and actions that Pope Francis has personally carried out sexual abuse--something no-one is suggesting--but they do fit the pattern of behaviour abusers use to maintain their power. He seems to have sunk into an abusive modus operandi.

Other people who come into this same category include the radio host Patrick Madrid (listen to his recording here for example). Raymond Arroyo of EWTN swallowed the 'red pill' a while ago.

Now Mark Shea, still writing on Patheos, is still echoing the attacks on Viganò served up by John Allen and others. Jimmy Akin appears to be maintaining a grave-like silence on the subject. That is what one would expect. But a lot of their erstwhile colleagues are heading for the lifeboats on the good ship Francis.

There is a third constituency, moreover, which Team Francis seems to be losing, which may end up being more significant than any other. This is American Attorneys General. I have already mentioned the Grand Jury report into clerical abuse in Pennsylvania; this and other revelations have prompted the Attorney General in one US state after another to announce some kind of investigation of the dioceses in their states: there are now seven such processes beginning. These investigations may have the right to demand documents and take witness testimony under oath; even if they have lower levels of formal power, they could dig out and put together a great deal of information currently buried or scattered, and they will certainly stimulate new witnesses to come forward. Whereas in the past such investigations might have looked to many Catholics in public life and to Catholic voters as attacks on the Church, now they are being widely welcomed as ways to overcome bishops' lack of accountability. That means that they will probably happen.

If they happen, they are bound to produce more embarrassing material for the hierarchy. Each one will pile up pressure for resignations and a clearing of the Augean stables which many seminaries seem to have become. Each one will give the basic clerical-abuse story a new lease of life.

What is Team Francis going to do about this? It seems their latest idea is to spread the blame.

There is, of course, some truth in this. But blame is not a finite resource. Including earlier Popes in causing the problem does not absolve Pope Francis from making things worse, if that is what he has done, and it makes his refusal to speak about it even more seriously wrong.

It seems now that a lot of resistance over the years, even by good bishops and priests, to dealing in an open and just way to the abuse crisis, has been motivated by the worry that if one scandal came out it would precipitate the exposure of another and another, in a situation where the problem was so pervasive, and so deeply rooted, that the exposure of a great part of it was just too terrifying to contemplate. It would do too much damage to the Church's reputation and institutions. It seems that many good bishops and other sincere Catholics in the know thought, ten or twenty years ago, that by not washing the dirty linen in public they could gradually weed out the problems and put thing right. They must by now realise that they have failed, and that there is no prospect, certainly under Pope Francis in his current mood, that real progress can be made in this way. The only way things are going to improve is by an indescribably painful process of public exposure. It follows that good people should stop trying to prevent that from happening.

If Team Francis agrees, even if only for partisan reasons, and looks forward to the exposure of more and more disedifying information about the corruption of the Church since Vatican II and perhaps earlier, than the game really is up. We can look forward to a decade or more of scandalous revelations, and the predictable short-term negative outcomes of those revelations for the Church's ability to preach the Gospel effectively. In the end, however, it will be better than having these secret sins eating away at the heart of the Church: harming children, corrupting seminarians, distorting the Church's preaching, distorting the choice of bishops, cardinals, and popes, and always threatening to come out anyway.

Yes, let it all come out, even if some of the abusers turn out to be people we like and have trusted. As St Catherine of Siena said:

“We've had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues - I see the world is rotten because of silence.”

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  1. There are "winners" in this situation? What a novel idea. One of my biggest temptations at the moment is to envy the apostates in my family and circle of friends.

  2. It’s an unpleasant notion that the Attorney General’s Office or a standing Grand Jury might be necessary to clean things out in the American Church, but we honestly have come to that point. It’s hardly without precedent, either; a thousand years ago the emperor would have come to Rome at put the pope in his place.

  3. Thank you, Joseph Shaw, for your excellent comments. They are really truthful and encouraging!

  4. Good article. Lots of insights in this assessment of the various characters and entities in play. Thank you.

  5. Anonymous6:13 pm

    CORRECTION to St. Catherine of Siena quotation:
    Though popular, the quotation used in this article seems to be erroneous. According to research on St. Catherine's writings, the real quotations is as follows:
    It’s her letter #16, to an unidentified “great prelate” (perhaps Cardinal Pietro of Ostia.) That letter doesn’t seem to be on the Internet in English, which is why I couldn’t find it. You can see the medieval Italian version here. The relevant passage is as follows, first in the original (medieval Italian), then in English translation:
    Oimè, non più tacere! Gridate con cento migliaia di lingue. Veggo che, per tacere, il mondo è guasto, la Sposa di Cristo è impallidita, toltogli è il colore, perchè gli è succhiato il sangue da dosso, cìoè che il sangue di Cristo, che è dato per grazia e non per debito, egli sel furano con la superbia, tollendo l'onore che debbe essere di Dio, e dannolo a loro; e si ruba per simonia, vendendo i doni e le grazie che ci sono dati per grazia col prezzo del sangue del Figliuolo di Dio.
    Be silent no more! Cry out with one hundred thousand tongues. I see that, because of this silence, the world is in ruins, the Spouse of Christ has grown pale; the color is taken from her face because her blood has been sucked out, that is the blood of Christ, which is given as a free gift and not by right.


  6. "We can look forward to a decade or more of scandalous revelations . . ."

    I think not . . .either the Church will get this right and clean house; or the Lord will come and do it, in His Justice. I pray for the former, and fear the latter, as all should. Of course, both the Lord and Our Lady are working now to clean up the mess, through us! But, our track record, in this regard, is deplorable. Better we respond to God's purifying fire spiritually now by actions befitting discipleship or reap the furnace of conflagration heading our way should we be silent and do nothing [cf. Third "secret" of Fatima]. Francis was elected on March 13th, 2013. Our Lady appeared at Fatima on the 13th of the month. He had the audacity, when he visited Fatima, to mock the prophecy by saying: " I am the "bishop in white"". Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Victory, ora pro nobis!

    1. Someone suggested that in the secret, he was called "the bishop in white" rather than called the pope because he was a false pope. If so, it makes Bergoglio's comment bitterly amusing.

  7. I am not sure we can trust the state for an honest and unbiased investigation. For a different perspective on the Pennsylvania jury report see: ;
    and also the link to and its sequel.

    1. The 'these stone walls' blog is written by a convicted sex abuser.

    2. Not every priest who has been convicted of sex abuse is guilty. Fr McRae refused to plead guilty as part of a plea-bargain, and received a 67-year prison sentence. Offered release if he admitted guilt, he still refused. His accusers have been un-masked as fraudsters. This looks like injustice to me - and there will be more.

  8. Your link to Simcha Fisher's article goes to Fr. Longenecker's again, just FYI.

    Generally agreed on this very solid post. A third line of bad argument (such as it is) has been advanced by Dawn Eden Goldstein and essentially amounts to "I support an investigation in the abstract, but screw all the actual particular people calling for one."

  9. In my opinion this whole clerical sexual abuse crisis is not going to be solved until it is acknowledged what the underlying problem is - homosexuality.
    To date, the emphasis has been on paedophilia - i.e. unnatural sexual interest in pre-pubescent children. In reality, the vast majority of clerical sexual abuse cases have involved homosexual clergy abusing adolescent boys or young men. That is not paedophilia.
    Unfortunately, whilst paedophilia is universally execrated, to offer even the mildest criticism of homosexuality is to invite outrage, accusations of "homophobia", and the visceral hatred of the Twitterati, so the real problem is swept under the carpet.
    Until that real problem is acknowledged no serious attempt can be made to solve it.

  10. Thank God - if we don't win this one there will be major changes in Catholic doctrines. However, the synod on for the Protection of Minors' has been called to try and exonerate the real problem, homosexuality and put the blame on Clericalism. e.g the traditional Catholic celibate priesthood, this pope and his henchmen are as devious as the secular media

    1. It’s a homosexual problem this exist in schools entertainment our government! Homosexuality is a deep seeded disorder, it’s only due to the Homosexual Lobbyists that pressured the medical community into changing what is common knowledge! 98% of Homosexuals molest kids! Homosexuality is not compatible with the Priesthood! You cannot have people who are sexually disturbed degenerates around children!

  11. Great article, intelligent clear and concise.
    It is true that Pope Francis sounds like an abusive husband! I have to add he is from a country where woman are treated very badly. I think his response to abuse is in line with attack the victim. The Catholic Church belongs to Christ the Catholics have to take back the Church, The Homosexual network has its tentacles so deep inside the Church that it is immeritive for Catholics to take back the Church! The faithful lay people must not accept this hideous rape of the Bride Of Christ! Pope Benedict XVI was alone in his fight against this evil! Pray for the Church! Christ will not allow his Church to be abused in such a disgusting manner!