Phil Lawler: There Are Only 2 Things an American Bishop Can Say Now

Msgr. Charles Pope: There is More to a Home, Than Just the Home
August 25, 2018
Founder’s Quote
August 27, 2018

Photo:  U.S. Catholic bishops on June 14, 2017 at a Mass in reparation for clerical sex abuseClaire Chretien / LifeSiteNews

By Phil Lawler, Catholic Culture, August 24, 2018

The Pennsylvania grand-jury report was released on the very day that I had chosen (long beforehand) to begin a week-long vacation. I had vowed that it would be a real vacation—that I wouldn’t hop back to post news items on this site—and I held to that vow. Still I could not escape the news; everyone I met wanted to hear my take on the scandal.

So I told people what I have been telling people since 2002: that the Dallas Charter addressed only one part of a three-part scandal; that our bishops have still not recognized the depth of the problem; that the crisis will continue until Church leaders demand true reform.

This new outcropping of the scandal has roused much, much more anger than the earlier revelations of the “Long Lent” in 2002. And whereas sixteen years ago the public was shocked primarily by the loathsome activities of predatory priests, this year the focus is—quite rightly—on the bishops. Our shepherds failed us. They misled us. They told us that they had fixed the problem, and they hadn’t. They told us that there would be no more cover-ups, but there were. They told us that they now understood the problem, but they didn’t. And I’m afraid that, as a group, they still don’t. If the American bishops understood the depth and breadth of the rage that is mounting among the Catholic laity—and is most evident among the most loyal, the most active, the most prayerful Catholics—they would follow the example of their Chilean counterparts and resign en masse.

Against this background it was refreshing, on my first full day back on the job, to go to morning Mass and hear the reading from Ezekiel (34: 1-11):

The word of the LORD came to me:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.
The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.
So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep;
therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.

Dozens of bishops have released public statements about the scandal in the past few weeks. Some of these statements have been hard to credit: prelates claiming that they did not know what so many people around them knew, that they did not hear what they had been told. Others have been lawyerly and bureaucratic: mistakes were made, committees will be formed, procedures will be instituted. Most, to be fair, have been solid statements, full of apologies, recognizing a need for corrective action, promising reform.

Unfortunately we have heard the apologies and the promises before. The time for strongly worded statements has passed. It is time for action. Urgent action.

Last week a young Catholic woman asked me what our bishops are likely to do. “They’ll meet in November,” I began—and she interrupted with a shout: “In November??!!” She could not believe that, in the midst of this crisis, Church leaders would be content to wait several weeks before doing… anything. I share her frustration. I think Ezekiel shares it, too.

I said above that the time for statements has passed, but that was a slight exaggeration. There are two sorts of statements that a bishop could issue to catch my attention and earn my respect:

  1. “I recognize that I have betrayed my people and irreparably damaged my credibility as a pastor of souls and a teacher of the faith. I resign.”

  2. “I have done my best, despite my failings, to fulfill my episcopal duties. But my colleagues, [here supply names], have betrayed their people and irreparably damaged their credibility as pastors of souls and teachers of the faith. I call upon them to resign.

New statements, new policies, new committees, new procedures cannot resolve this problem. If our bishops cannot institute serious reform, then we need new bishops.

Reprinted with permission from