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.


  • “The acceptance of spiritual mediocrity has always been a curse for the Church.”—benedictusoblatus (from Diogenes’ post on CWN).

    We are living through a time when much of the Church has been encouraged to accept spritual mediocrity by its local leaders.  This mediocrity avoids conflict at all costs.  It counts itself moderate and eschews extremes.  The satirical poem, “The Vicar of Bray” comes to mind.  Smiling photo-op sessions trump integrity every time.

    To honestly address the horrors of the abuse of adolescents and children by priests under their auspices, would really mean to address the failure of the Church to live up to its roots in Judeo-Christianity and to openly slam the sybaritic, hedonistic, depraved culture that is manifest in Western society.  It would not play well in many circles—media, academia, liberal politics, and among progressive Catholics.

    It would require that many bishops exhibit fortitude—another virtue rarely heard about in Sunday homilies.  Better to boycott grapes and lettuce.

  • JH, your ‘fix’ would wreak havoc with our modern preoccupation/understanding of tolerance and maybe even ecumenism as understood by some.

  • Colleen, yes I suppose it would wreak havoc, but that seems to be what Christ required when he asserted that only those who enter through the narrow gate would find the way that leads to life. (Matthew 7: 13-14).  Notice how rarely the conclusion of the “Sermon on the Mount” is ever addressed.  Progressives and moderates love the beatitudes and just ignore the rest.  As it was in 30 a.d. so it is today.

  • I don’t like to make this observation, but I have attended Mass in this great country of ours literally from coast to coast.  I have yet to hear a homily concerning the sins of abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, you name it.  Could a concern that the collection plates may dry up be affecting this?

  • Bob B:  you haven’t heard my husband’s sermons.  He’s a deacon, in charge of a parish, and preaches daily.  Apart from him, I, too, have attended Mass all over and the best I ever hope for is coherency and not too much heresy.

    I am reminded of the sermon I heard preached in a parish in Nevada.  We were told that the Ascension took place in “an alternate dimension.”  I’ve heard lots more like that, too, unfortunately. 

    I wouldn’t mind a little havoc.

  • Bishop Loverde of Arlington, when he confirmed candidates recently at St. Michael’s gave a homily calling on the confirmandi to allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen them against sexual immorality and condemning abortion in the strongest terms.

    Just to balance the accounts…

  • John, I agree with you, the faith should be preached and practiced w/o fear of the earthly reactions, regardless of whether it’s pc or not.

    A now retired pastor in our parish once gave a homily on abortion – he is not a ‘fire and brimstone’ priest but a loving father priest… the outrage from the pews was daunting and a few of the women went over to the rectory afterwards and gave him what for, complete with tears and ‘we will never come to Mass again’. He never touched on the subject after that. He was so offended at himself for hurting these women, and he didn’t want to do it again. Also, there is probably that fear of collections dwindling and expenses rising. I imagine that can partially explain the ECUSA’s taking the wrong road… they are totally dependent on the congregation for financial support of their entire family (wife and kids) – make homilies ‘offensive’ to the sensibilities of us sinners in the pews and we aren’t going to put the $ into the basket. How do you feed and clothe and educate your family?

    I make no judgements but that is what the priests are up against. Imagine if they touched on contraception or divorce and remarriage, etc. The problem is too many of us don’t really want to hear the Truth if it’s said aloud.

    BTW, I’ve heard that Fr. Pavone is not welcome in the archdiocese of Boston because he is too ‘divisive’.

  • Sexual abuse is the anti-semitism of our age. It flourishes even while holy Popes and Bishops walk among us. Indeed, much like good Bishops have been so blind to sexual abuse, many good Bishops (and even Saints) were so blind to anti-semitism in the past.

    It took an ecumenical Council for the Church to address anti-semitism in a direct and major way. What will it take for it to address sexual misconduct among the clergy?

  • I don’t think that this is just a modern problem, Colleen.  As I read through the Lives of the Saints, even beginning with the exhortations of Paul, Peter, James and John, it is clear that we have always had to deal with the vast contrast between the sweetly popular versus the hard truth.  So many us of clutch our sins—I certainly do—but that is why we have saints among us who offer us the road that leads to God—narrow, uphill, rocky, and hard.  Some of the greatest obstacles our saints have faced throughout these two milennia are the bishops and priests who choose the wide, comfortable downhill road that leads to that smiling face with two horns and a tail.  Pitchfork included.

  • The widespread rape of girls would have been dealt with swiftly. One does not need to resort to etherial psychologies or philosophies to understand all this.  Everyone knows that raping little boys is evil.

    Homosexuals have come to infest the chanceries, seminaries and parishes. Some of these homosexuals get out of line and revert to little boys as their pathology gets out of control. Most Bishops are cornered, morally. The Lavender Mafia protects their own and they keep the Bishops in check through blackmail.  Many Bishops are already “made” members of this mafia. 

    The power of the Lavender Mafia remains.

  • Thomas,

    I’m with you.  Nothing explains the otherwise baffling behavior of many of our bishops re these homosexual priests and their victims as blackmail of these bishops by the predators and their friends.  I have long been in favor of ordaining relatively young priests as bishops in this country as a means of skipping over a more or less compromised and tainted generation.  Until we have strong and faithful bishops who don’t quake at the thought of what some evil men might say about them to the local press, no real progress will be made in cleaning out the rank mess in the Church in this country.

  • Working for a parish, a part of me really understands them.  I really can get on board with with Colleen said-and I don’t doubt that the fear a pastor feels is much what a Bishop fears.

    It is hard to stand up and preach the truth.  I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying that the Truth hurts and it is a STRONG priest who can take the abuse that invariably follows.  If he does not have support he will likely back down.  Psychologically, it’s a lot to take. I’m only a staff member, but I’ve been in the hot seat on more than one occasion and it’s not fun or pleasant-it makes you want to chuck it all and go raise tomatoes somewhere in Idaho.

    I think there ARE leaders in our church with an agenda that is not of Christ, just as many of us have an agenda that is of Christ and his Bride the Church.  But I also believe that those who lead the Church, yes, even those of us who staff these Churches, are fearful, tired of getting yelled at, tired of getting knocked around, sad that we’ve failed, sometimes just in trying to keep our heads above water.

    Is this to say that it is right-not at all.  I have to check my conscience every day and find ways to get the Truth across even it I can’t do it through the usual paths (in class or in an area that is not mine to make decisions about like, say, the music or who is hired).  I’m afraid I fail a great deal.  I pray every day that I do and say the right thing.  That I’m pastoral to the person who needs it and a thorn in someone who needs it-and that I don’t get the two confused!!

    John Hearn, I’m with you. I can’t wait until the men my age who are priests begin becoming Pastors and Bishops.  And heads of Universities. 

  • Image the fortitude it must take to say, for instance, give a homily against contraception using Castii Canubii and Humanae Vitae.  I can’t even have Catholic couples come over my house without making derisive comments about other couples have 5,6,7 babies and without making affirming, positive comments about birth control.

    Can we blame them (the Bishops) when local Catholics vote 60% – 70% pro-death? Look around our parishes!!!! Where are the large families?????

    We’re an insolent bunch and we’ve gotten the Bishops we deserve.  Some of these Bishops are holy but they go along to get along … many were picked so as to not rock the boat, liturgically, morally, doctrinally or politically. Some are just plain evil.  They reflect us and ain’t it ugly!