Dear friends, I want to tell you that on this coming Thurs., Jan. 31, all the Dioceses and Archdioceses of Texas are releasing the names of all the priests who have been credibly accused of clergy sexual misconduct. Expect to see several headlines in the paper and stories on the evening news about this.
Here in the Diocese of Austin, we are expecting 20-25 names. Many of these will be of crimes that occurred several decades ago. You may recognize some of the names, and you may recognize none of the names. In any case, it is a very sad and sobering statement.
I want to reiterate to you that I, and Pope Francis, as well, believe that the root cause of this terrible scourge is not priesthood, is not celibacy, is not gay men in the priesthood, is not the infantilizing effects of religion. The underlying root cause is clericalism, the assumption of special privileges and status for priests and bishops. In a letter to all the faithful this past Aug. 20, Pope Francis wrote, “Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”
All of us need to be spiritually mature enough to recognize the special and important service that women religious, priests, bishops, and deacons give to the Body of Christ but also to recognize that they are all sinners, just like all lay people. They are no worse, nor any better, by virtue of ordination. Religious and the ordained have a different role in the Body of Christ from the laity, but they are not, thereby, somehow holier, more special, or closer to God.
We all have to, in a certain sense, grow up and let go of any magical thinking we have about religious life and ordination. We cannot escape our obligation to be the Church and to be holy, especially not by putting someone else on a pedestal and expecting them to be above the struggles and travails of our weak human flesh. For better or worse, we are all in this together. Let us pray for each other.
The revelation of the names of credibly accused priests in the Diocese of Austin and across Texas is also a call for all of us to recognize that we are all responsible for the mission of the Church. Our Baptismal call cannot be transferred to someone else. And the same rules of accountability and reasonable safeguards have to apply to all parts of the church that are human. Again, in the words Pope Francis, “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”
P.S. I recommend to you Pope Francis’ Letter to the People of God on this topic. You can find it at www.vatican.va. In the upper right-hand corner click on English, then under the Pope’s picture click on Letters. Then click on 2018, and finally Letter of His Holiness to the People of God (Aug. 20, 2018).