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By Jayd Henricks, First Things, 11 . 9 . 18
Dear Eminences and Excellencies,
I write to you as a former senior staffer at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), where I was entrusted with a range of some of the most sensitive work for the United States bishops. I hope I served you well over my eleven years at the USCCB, the last six (ending December 31, 2017) as the executive director of government relations. Our work together was often not as immediately as effective as we wished, but we did faithfully represent the Church’s policy positions during difficult times in our nation’s history. I was and remain committed to the success of your leadership in the Church, and I am grateful to have been able to serve the Church through my service to each of you.
I also address you as the father of three young children, whose lives stand to be shaped by the decisions you will make in the coming days. It is this last point that, more than anything, drives me to share a few unsolicited thoughts about the critical moment we face in the Church.
The revelations of Archbishop McCarrick’s horrid behavior, its long-term cover-up, and the failure to hold accountable those who empowered him could cause the faithful to distrust all bishops. This is a tragedy. I know firsthand that you are faithful men who give your lives to the Church out of your love for Jesus. Though the administrative nature of your work may lead many to look upon you as mere managers, I can attest that those of you whom I know personally are men of deep faith with fatherly hearts. I consider it my greatest professional privilege to have worked for the Church on your behalf and to have developed genuine friendships with many of you.
There is, however, something wrong with how the body of bishops functions as an assembly and how bishops relate to and interact with one another. Far too often, fear appears to govern what is done or not done by you as a body. There is the fear of disunity, fear of conflict, fear of disrupting a superficial collegiality, and today, more than ever, fear of Rome. Though the pressure you face—each in your dioceses and together as an assembly—is intense, the bottom line is that it sometimes appears that many of you are governed by fear of each other and of the institutional order more than by the fear of God.
It has also been my observation that your work as an association of bishops leads many of you to value the appearance of unity over adherence to principle. This habit, in turn, leads to patterns of conflict avoidance. In some instances, this is the path of charity. Conflict and division are not good things. Far too often, however, I watched good men back away from conflict when what was needed was confrontation and forthright debate. This culture of fear enabled the likes of Theodore McCarrick to attain power and to scheme and maneuver at the highest ecclesial and political levels.
All serious observers of the Church see that the current ecclesiastical situation stands on the edge of a cliff. It seems to me that there are two dominant camps among the bishops in the United States, and perhaps worldwide. One regards the Church as a platform for political interests. My professional experience taught me that this group includes key authorities in Rome. The other regards the Church as a pastoral reality. This second group, while genuinely desiring to serve, is reluctant to address critical issues if doing so would entail conflict with Rome.
The curial advisors of the Holy Father have failed to understand the nature of the present crisis. They have chosen a path that only exacerbates it. They have failed to undertake a swift and full investigation of the McCarrick case. The Vatican’s failure to act is now aggravating the real harm done to the Church. In the end, however, the faithful in the United States will hold you—and not the curial officials—responsible for what does or does not happen in the wake of the most recent scandals.
I urge you to petition forcefully for an open investigation led by the laity. Do not allow a false notion of unity to prevail, a false unity in which your integrity as bishops is sacrificed to expediency.
As a former Church bureaucrat, I understand the instinct to do whatever Rome asks. I implore you, nonetheless, to state publicly what most of you know needs to be done so that the corruption within the Church is brought into the light and eradicated. Only if the evil is exposed can the Church be healed. If you do not pursue this course, the faithful will blame you for the next scandal, which is sure to come, and their distrust will surpass that of the present moment. The result will be that more parishes and schools will close, and less charitable work will be available to the poor and the marginalized. Most damaging of all, fewer people will avail themselves of the grace of the sacraments. The losses will be eternal.
In a few days, you will gather in Baltimore for another General Assembly. If you, as a body of bishops, forthrightly speak to the crisis and demand an open investigation—as Cardinal DiNardo did immediately following the news of McCarrick’s crimes—then you will begin to regain the trust of the faithful.
Allow me also to say as a father that my children need strong ecclesial leadership as they face the strengthening winds of secularism. My wife and I are ardently attempting to hand on to them the faith of the Church. We must and will do more to secure their faith, but without your witness of standing up to misguided ecclesiastical powers, without your fatherly care for the Church and the faithful, I cannot point to Church leadership as a model for their faith. The present moment may not be unique in the life of the Church, but it is unique in my lifetime. I am concerned that the Church’s credibility is being undermined and that those I should most trust to proclaim the Gospel, witness to the faith, and rid the Church of evil may fail to act.
I beg you not to allow fear to rule the day. Please govern as fathers, stay true to Jesus Christ, and proclaim the truth, in season and out of season, regardless of the cost. Be assured of my prayers and the prayers of so many of the faithful as you execute your solemn responsibilities.
With deep respect for your office,
Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships
The Augustine Institute, Denver, Colorado
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