A MODERN EPISTLE
Minneapolis, June 2013
Minneapolis, June 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –
I send greetings from Minneapolis, my home, where spring has been late to arrive and summer seems far off. It is a time of great anticipation and yet a time of frustration and angst. So, too, is the time and place we find ourselves as the Body of Christ.
Friends, I do not need to outline for you the significant concerns that face us as the Church in the United States. Each of us in some way has experienced the scandal, the division, the controversies and the ideological movements—all of which have moved us further and further away from living and preaching the Good News of the Risen One. There have been days when we have hesitated to open the newspaper, afraid that we might find yet another story telling of another sex scandal or cover-up by those we’ve entrusted with our spiritual lives and the health and safety of our children. We have watched as our brothers and sisters, our friends and grandchildren, our aunts and uncles, our nephews and nieces have been turned away from our common table because of their sexual orientation and have painfully remained silent, believing that clergy and bishops know best, while our hearts tell us otherwise. And we have witnessed a creeping backwards led by some of those same bishops and clergy—a neoconservative movement—that has sought to divide our Church and turn back years of progress. In doing so, these leaders have foolishly squandered resources entrusted to their care, resources meant to take care of the least among us and the betterment of all. They have turned chanceries into campaign war rooms and pulpits into beacons of division and distrust all while ridiculously claiming that “religious liberty” is at stake.
My brothers and sisters, I write today to the entire Church throughout our great land. However, most importantly, I seek to reach those of us in the pews, the laity who make up the Body of Christ. In the end, it is our Church and we have a shared responsibility—the responsibility found in our baptism—to be a part of the work necessary to move it in the right direction once again. We can no longer sit idly by while more and more Catholics leave to seek church homes that are more inclusive and closer to the mission set forth by Christ himself. We do not have the luxury of waiting for the hierarchy to bring about the reform necessary to save our beloved faith tradition. They have had more than enough opportunity to do so. Real reform is only possible through us.
What is at Stake?
If we do not act at this pivotal moment, we are very likely to lose an entire generation of Catholics and quite possibly render our Church completely irrelevant in the spiritual life of our society. To be frank, these three main concerns outlined above: the clergy sex abuse scandal; the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics by the Church; and the neoconservative politicization of the Church have us on a path to destruction. Young Americans becoming adults today have a very low tolerance for any sort of discrimination and highly value equality, especially for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They expect no less from the institutions in their lives, including their Church. Further, while many of these young people are engaged politically, they do not believe that the Church should be a political organization itself. Finally, they are more skeptical of the men who lead the Church, after knowing about (or directly experiencing) the unresolved clergy sex abuse scandal most of their lives.
Thus, it should be no surprise to any of us that these young men and women would leave us. Years of trying to sway this decision with pizza parties, rock concerts and pool tables will not keep them in our midst. Only true reform will.
Treatment of Gays and Lesbians by Clergy and the Hierarchy
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ”Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, ” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).
Much of the rhetoric coming from the Church as of late regarding gay and lesbian Americans has centered around the fight for marriage equality in the United States. This is partly the result of those within the gay rights movement—including Catholics engaged in the movement—focusing on marriage. While a majority of American Catholics support marriage equality, none of the American bishops have as of yet and this has led to a great polarization of the dialogue regarding the treatment of gays and lesbians within the Church. We must change the narrative, noting that at least for now, marriage within the Roman Catholic Church is a no-go.
The focus on marriage has allowed the hierarchy to remain focused on what is believed to be the untouchable Church teaching that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman in order to foster procreation. Yet, as Jesus commanded in the passage from Matthew above, we should be focused on love, not laws.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, either all of God’s creation is good or it is not. How many gays and lesbians does God need to create in order for us to uphold without distinction their humanity? If we are to respond faithfully to our baptismal call to preach the Gospel without ceasing, how can we stand by and allow the continued persecution of our neighbors, friends and family? All of us have come to know gays and lesbians in the living of our lives—these relationships have nourished us in many ways. Our love for these men and women must be known and must be shared, especially with the leadership of our Church. For centuries upon centuries, gay men have served faithfully in our Church as priests, bishops, lay leaders and likely even popes. They have done so in silence and fear. Yet, through their service, countless Christians have come to know Christ through our Church. We must stop denying that this is true. We must demand a conversation about these issues and we cannot stop asking until it happens.
The Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal: A Deepening Wound
It has been more than 10 years since the allegations in Boston and other parts of our country rocked our Church and tested our faith. Since that time, the clergy sex abuse crisis has broadened in scope and geography. While many clergy who were found to have engaged in criminal misconduct have been separated from the Church, we continue to learn of others that have been protected and have become aware of bishops who have contributed directly to the cover-up. The grave reality is that there is no more assurance today that children will be protected as there was in 2001.
Brothers and sisters, these are our children and we have a responsibility to protect them. For too long, we have sought to protect instead clergy and bishops, believing that they are somehow more trustworthy, good or even more holy than the non-ordained. This false belief and our actions resulting from that belief has literally ruined the lives of countless men and women who have suffered abuse at the hands of these men. The cover-up of their crimes by bishops and the Vatican has allowed heinous criminal activity to continue.
The only way that our Church can move on from these realities is for the laity to stand up and demand a complete overhaul of the policies and procedures regarding these matters. Those that have committed crimes must face criminal prosecution by civil authorities; and independent authorities completely outside of the governance of the Church must conduct investigations of these matters. Finally, we must call for an open and honest dialogue between victims, their families and ordained leadership. In that dialogue, we must all conclude that we are all victims.
Children held a special place in the heart of our Lord. He loved children so much that he noted repeatedly that they shall be the inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot cease holding the leadership of our Church accountable until we know for certain that the safety of our children is assured. Further, we must realize that we are the leadership of the Church and stop skirting our shared responsibility. Each day that this crisis continues, we should be increasingly ashamed of ourselves. Healing will only be possible when we stop the bleeding.
Returning to the Common Good
The third concern that must be addressed is a growing desire — and implementation of that desire — to return our Church to an idealized time and place before the Second Vatican Council. This neoconservative movement not only seeks to bring back the Latin rite, which on its face seems harmless, but also seeks to further stifle the role of the laity in the daily life of the Church. We stand here 50 years after that historic council having not seen its full implementation. Indeed, many among us are not even aware of the basic tenets agreed upon by those gathered. We must work towards educating our brothers and sisters of the reforms outlined, especially concerning the role of the laity and the care and concern for the least among us.
My brothers and sisters, we can certainly argue about the details and have rigorous disagreements about the governance and care of our Church. Indeed, I believe such a discussion would be good for us all. However, at the end of the day, we must work toward a common understanding of the role of our Church in a world that is hurting. Issues of economic, racial and social justice have long been viewed as the best work of our Church and we have been as Christ to many. If we do nothing else outlined in this letter, let us return our Church to one that proclaims the social gospel without ceasing. After all, there is no “regular” gospel and “social” gospel. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ radically calls us to care for the poor, elderly, sick and outcast among us. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not call us to pious ashen-faced devotion in the comfort of an empty pew. Christ Jesus requires much more of us. Our Christian life demands that we cease awaiting an invitation, for the invitation has already been sent and received. That invitation—received at our baptism and confirmed on our own in adulthood—is an invitation to work to return our Church to a body of believers seeking the common good always.
Please know, my friends, that I believe that great hope awaits us in the future. There is no doubt, we have seen some dark days and there are likely more ahead. Nevertheless, we are a hardy lot and we have been tested before. The most important reality for us is that the Church will not change without our insistence that it do so. We must lead from the pews, speaking up and taking action to secure that the reforms outlined above become reality. Unless we do so, we sincerely risk the loss of an entire generation of sowers for the field. If we do what is right, good things will come and our Lord Jesus Christ will walk with us as we seek healing, reform and justice.
May you be strengthened in the work that we are about to do together and may you find companions along the way. May the Lord bless you and your loved ones and grant you peace.