Even in a divided Church, one can find a high degree of unified support for the idea that 2019 shouldn’t be a year of “business as usual” for the Catholic Church. In fact, most would probably say that this isn’t even an option. The revelations related to clergy sexual abuse that resurged in 2018 — and that are very likely to continue for the foreseeable future — point to the need for deep cultural renewal in the Church.
And so, as our editorial in last week’s issue of Our Sunday Visitor looked at qualities individual Catholics could invest in to make the most of 2019, this week we hold up the values necessary to ensure that the Church finds renewal in the New Year and beyond. Such a Church must be:
Responsive: For the progress made in 2018 to continue and deepen, the Church must be ever more responsive as it faces allegations from survivors and calls from people — both laypeople in the pews and society at large — to be better. This responsiveness should replace a culture of treating the needs and rights of non-ordained people as second-tier concerns or afterthoughts.
Transparent: Transparency needs to replace a culture of secrecy in the life of the Church. The value of “avoiding scandal” as it traditionally has been understood and applied in abuse cases has outlived its once-perceived value. As the Church reckons with all of the historical cases of abuse and administrative malfeasance that have come and will come to light, it must find a way to make processes more transparent so that individuals at least have the assurance that a complaint has been registered, heard and is making its way through a juridical process.
Accountable: A more responsive and transparent Church will be one on its way to being more accountable to all of God’s people. Beneath much of people’s pain and outrage amidst the horrors we have seen this year has been the reality that the players involved were seemingly accountable to no one.
The beauty of these transitions is that they will bear fruit also in areas of the Church’s life that have nothing to do with clergy sexual abuse of minors. Even in 2018, we have seen flashes of a Church that is responsive to people’s cries when its leaders fall short in other ways. We have seen laypeople no longer willing to accept a “stony” response as a default reaction from authorities regarding lapses in pastoral care.
In a 2017 interview with OSV, Teresa Kettelkamp, former head of the U.S. bishops’ Child and Youth Protection office and now a full member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, spoke rather prophetically — months before the #MeToo movement and almost a year before the McCarrick scandal — about why the Church’s abuse safeguards must extend beyond just children, and beyond sexual misconduct.
“I want the Church to be safe for me. I want the Church to be safe for the elderly and the vulnerable,” Kettelkamp said. “Treating people with respect, treating people with love and compassion, treating people as Jesus would want you to treat them — that’s all part of the package.”
A Church that vests itself in responsiveness, transparency and accountability will be able to meet the needs not only of the Body of Christ as a whole but of a world that desperately needs the Gospel.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young