What the church can do to regain trust

December 23, 2018

We were at the 10 a.m. Mass for the second Sunday of Advent at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The music, readings, rituals with the incensing of the altar and the scriptures, and the homily by Archbishop John Wester were at the same time both beautiful and painful to experience.

We could not help but think, as Wester led us in worship, of the great crisis that our church faces because of clergy who have raped minors and vulnerable adults and of bishops who concealed these crimes. We grieve for the victims in their pain and suffering; it is church leadership’s cover-up of these crimes that we find most offensive.

And now, through the revelations of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior with seminarians and priests, we have a window into why cover-up has been so pervasive within the Catholic Church.

What was being protected was not simply a few isolated instances of abuse, but an entire subculture of sexually active priests, most who are gay but some not, who live a public life of pious prayer and ministry while privately betraying their vows of celibacy and service. As we all know, the scandal has encompassed the entire church, including in New Mexico. Yet Wester made no mention of the sex abuse crisis in his homily, prayers of the faithful or announcements at the end of Mass.

These omissions came in the very week the diocese declared bankruptcy to protect its assets as it tries to pay abuse claims and the Santa Fe New Mexican editorial condemned the moral failure of the Santa Fe Catholic leadership in response to the crisis (“Catholic Church has work ahead to rebuild trust,” Our View, Dec. 9). (Editor’s note: Wester did preach on the crisis on the Third Sunday of Advent. His comments can be viewed at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi’s Facebook page.)

As we struggled through the Mass, our eyes were drawn to the San Damiano crucifix that hangs above the altar. It was from such a cross that the future St. Francis, a layman, heard Jesus speak to him the words, “Go and rebuild my church for as you see it is in ruins.”

We wished so much that we had heard the archbishop tell those of us gathered for worship, the lay faithful of Christ’s church, to “go and rebuild the church for it is in ruins and we bishops have been the cause of its corruption.”

We wish he had declared to the faithful gathered, “I am opening the files to an independent team of investigators, to not only expose any sexual predators that may still be hidden away, but to tell the awful history of how we got here; how my predecessors and I, and our advisers, lay and clergy, failed to protect our precious children, youth and vulnerable adults; how we lied, stonewalled, distorted the truth, and shamed victims to protect clergy privilege and power; how we failed in the simple task of living the Gospel of Jesus.”

We so wish, too, that Wester had invited the laity to step forward to become involved with rebuilding the Church of Jesus, committing himself to full cooperation with laity input and involvement.

Had the archbishop done so, we think we might have left St. Francis Cathedral with full confidence that he was a bishop that we could trust.

Dan Thibault is a retired nurse practitioner who worked as a Catholic missionary to the Philippines and for many years with the the farm workers’ medical clinic in Washington state. He lives in Rowe. Robert Fontana directs a nonprofit marriage and family educational and clinical practice in Washington state.

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