The Sex-Abuse Crisis and Culture Change in the Church


National Catholic Register, 12 November 2018

COMMENTARY: Building on the day of prayer and reflection at this year’s fall assembly of the U.S. bishops, might the ‘Crisis of 2018’ prompt salutary shift away from a corporate model of episcopal leadership?

The U.S. bishops began their annual plenary meeting in Baltimore with a day devoted to prayer and reflection, a departure from the customary practice prompted by the 2018 “summer of shame.”

But why should beginning the annual meeting with a period of prayer and recollection be a departure from the norm? Might the “Crisis of 2018” prompt a revisiting of clerical culture, at least as it touches upon how bishops exercise their governance in common?

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the preacher for the bishops’ Mass Nov. 12, will have material ready at hand, given the readings. St. Paul writes to Titus about the qualities required of a bishop, with a specified list of virtues:

For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents (Titus 1:7-9).

The Gospel passage from Luke 17 includes the warning of the Lord Jesus that it would be “better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”

Those are the readings of the day, not particularly chosen for the bishops’ reflection, but would it not be salutary if meetings of bishops were nourished on Scriptures such as these?

A frequent criticism leveled at the bishops in light of the multifarious abuse scandals is that they have (mis)governed more like executives of a business or managers of a club rather than shepherds of a flock, or fathers of a spiritual family, or pastors of a Church.

Pope Francis has identified “clericalism” as a key factor in the crisis. It’s an ambiguous term that means different things in different mouths, but it must certainly include regarding priestly or episcopal service as a club to be joined rather than a sacrificial service to be offered.

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