Nationally, the news media hasn’t picked up on the latest in Catholic scandals much, so the local outlets may be missing some context for Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin’s exit from Twitter. In brief, a prominent archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (a title he no longer holds as of today) was exposed for sexual predation, with boys and adult seminarians, and behavior suggestive of a gay subculture in the ranks of priests.
Many lay Catholics, coming across the news, can’t help but wish the Church had done a thorough cleansing when the abuse scandal took fire some fifteen years ago. Rather than penance and reconciliation, we’ll have a slow bleed of stories (most decades old). One way or another, this process will continue, with the questions being how much damage it does to the Church and to souls across the world, whom the scandal may wedge away from God.
In some cases, though, I have to confess that reactions — and reactions to reactions — make hope more difficult to maintain. A post from Orthodox Catholic writer Rod Dreher brings Bishop Tobin into the story along these lines.
Presumably apropos of the McCarrick story, Bishop Tobin tweeted:
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.
To this, Catholic National Review writer Michael Brendan Dougherty responds:
Tobin’s reaction would be appropriate if it had just come to light that an archbishop had been a scofflaw on his parking tickets. It is utterly perverse when applied to the revelation that his nation’s leading Catholic official — the public face of the Church’s response to the abuse crisis — turns out to have been a pederast well-known within the Church as a serial sexual harasser and groomer of seminarians. Bishops should not be fearing and tamping down the feeling of scandal and anger among the laity; they should be promising to boldly and angrily confront the injustice, immorality, and crime in their own ranks. Tobin’s tweets read as the shrug of a man who long since gave up on the idea of actually protecting the flock from the wolves, and has taken to telling the surviving sheep not to be too disheartened that their friends and children continue to be devoured by his colleagues.
Dreher presents a few other similar reactions, the accumulation of which has the feel of an outrage mob that isn’t really thinking about how reforms will play out. Let’s stipulate that there is a serious problem that cries out for internal reform. That can mean that some prophet will strike through the Church like a bolt of lighting — which is certainly possible — or that the solution will be more like thunder rolling through the natural processes of the institution — which would be much more common.
Prophets whom contemporaries heed are rare, though, so our hope should be in priests and bishops who are currently trying to figure out how to respond in a strong, Christian way, who are gathering their strength and gathering together the like-minded so they have more collective authority. In those terms, browbeating Bishop Tobin makes no sense. Here, we have a conservative bishop stating that some of his brothers have engaged in “egregious offenses” and proclaiming a unifying vote of confidence to his others.
It seems to me that this is a sentiment that should not be written off, but affirmed… with pushes to move toward stronger action. Pundits popping off will tend to produce the opposite effect from what the Church needs.
This observation brings us to an existentially important principle. The bishops have a responsibility to address this scourge, but so do we all. To be sure, the responsibility of men in the institutional hierarchy is more acute, but the rest of us don’t get to sit back and tell them to do something.
We also don’t get to pretend that it is adequate to act like consumers and vote with our wallets. Religion is supposed to operate according to different principles. It’s not about what people can do for us, but about our taking responsibility, even for things that aren’t our fault, because it move the world toward God.
Catholics have to help the Church to root out corruption, and snapping at bishops who are more likely than not to move in our favor than against is not a solution.