Last week the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, of whom I am an ordained minister, released 6,000 pages of documents relating to the sex abuse of minors by priests and an apparent cover up of such crimes. I have not read the documents and probably never will.
As a priest, I am not only appalled but feel a real sense of betrayal, not only from the perpetrators of these heinous acts, but also from our leaders who participated in these crimes, maybe unwittingly, by not exercising their power to remove these men from active ministry.
Added to the crimes and cover up, we had a church that defended itself from the very victims that they were meant to serve and protect. It is my sense that church leadership turned over its moral authority to the lawyers, thus the litigations began. It is very difficult, on the one hand, to see the victim as an adversary and at the same time to want to minister to them in their pain and suffering. I am in no way attempting to say that church leadership was not doing what they thought was right at the time – but it was wrong.
In addition, we have the “culture of clericalism” and it is precisely that “culture” which attempted to protect the institution at all costs. Loyalty is the virtue most respected. None of us wants the institution, to which we have dedicated our lives, to be scorned in the public arena.
Let’s face it – money is the root of all evil. The real possibility that the archdiocese would become a permanent pauper as lawsuits were flying around certainly had to influence some of the decisions our leaders made. As one priest commented: “Financially, the archdiocese should be blown back to the stone age” for covering up these crimes. That was his opinion.
I, too, feel that these lawsuits provoked damage to the mission and ministry of our church. We have already paid billions of dollars nationwide, and these cases will not go away. I think this is the price we need to pay for our actions. If we are honest and contrite and truly sensitive to the grave harm done by priests we, the people of God, will come out of this a more deeply committed and faith-filled church. Personally, I will not let the acts of criminals who happen to be priests, distract me from what I have been ordained for: to serve God’s People with love and respect.
I continue to pray for church leadership, that having learned a very hard lesson, we move forward in humility. Accompanied by grace, then, will we continue to develop more than a peripheral vision as we face so many challenges in our precious church and in our world?
Hopefully, we all preach the Good News even more authentically in word and deed.