Why the bishops were indifferent

Why the bishops were indifferent

Diogenes in one fell swoop dissects the pathology of the bishops who, inexplicably to us, took the side of perverts and turned a deaf ear to the victims of abuse and their families. How, we asked, could these men of God do this? We told ourselves that we had seen them pray great prayers, had experienced firsthand their compassion, had heard them preach the Gospel with sincerity. How could the same men have allowed sick perverts to be moved time and again from one place to the next to continue their predations?

Some of us reject the premise, blaming the media for making a mountain out of a molehill. These men of God could not have done such a thing, we say, and so we reject the claim. Others of us smell hypocrisy on the wind and denounce the whole lot of them as craven quislings, liars and deceivers, mouthing the Gospel with a false zeal. And still others don’t know what to think, swinging like a pendulum from one position to the next.

But perhaps there is another way to understand it.

Yet good intentions and altruistic energy can co-exist with colossal moral blind spots. In fact, the higher one’s moral self-image, the more difficult (it would seem) to come to terms with misdeeds that violate that image. ... How is it that the same person who spends hundreds of hours a year lobbying, say, for family health care, can receive a letter from a poor divorcee claiming that a priest is molesting her child, and then ignore the problem, or hand it off to a flunky, or send a growling letter demanding proof, or silently relocate the priest among other divorcees with other vulnerable children?

Diogenes finds the reason in a lack of courage. To truly tackle the problem would have meant one bishop putting all his brother bishops on the spot and exposing to a hostile world that the Church has sinners among the ranks of her priests and then the attendant criticisms from all sides. The easier road had fewer worldly consequences, even though the spiritual ones were greater.

Forced to account for their injustice against the weak, most bishops excuse themselves saying “If what is known now was known then, we would have acted differently.” This is partly sincere and partly dishonest. What has changed is the level of public scrutiny—not the bishops’ knowledge but ours. Yet it’s true that it’s hard to see as injustice what is common practice in one’s profession, tacitly accepted by nearly all members. And again, most bishops have a congratulatory self-image as vindicators of the oppressed.

Again and again, victims and their advocates beseeched their bishops for relief and for justice, like the widow beseeching the unjust judge of the parable. But the bishops turned away from the injustice in their midst, even while trumpeting relief for those suffering injustice in the world. Why? Because they could not accept that they themselves are the ones depriving others of justice.

An aphorism of Nietzsche applies here: “‘I have done that,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done that,’ says my pride, and remains adamant. At last—memory yields.”

It is a paradox that pride and piety can co-exist in the same man and it often does. I do not hold myself exempt from that accusation. Yet in the case of too many bishops it was that pride that allowed them to enter the embrace of Lethe, sleeping the peaceful slumber of the forgetful. And so they slept through the cry of the poor and entreaties of the widows and orphans.

Every one loves a bribe and runs after gifts.
They do not hear the case of the orphan,
and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
Therefore says the Lord, the Mighty One of Israel:
I shall vent my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes.


Written by
Domenico Bettinelli