I wish to affirm and underscore what Archbishop Neinstedt recently wrote for The Catholic Spirit on November 7, in an article entitled, ‘Protecting Young People, Restoring Trust….”http://thecatholicspirit.com/that-they-may-all-be-one/protecting-young-people-restoring-trust-inspire-commitment-concrete-actions/ “Our first goal,” he says, “and of greatest importance, is keeping our focus on creating and maintaining safe environments. In short, the protection of minors must be our top priority, and it must be what animates our every action and decision.” He then says that, “Our second goal is to care for those who have been harmed by members of the Church. Our third goal is to facilitate the beginning of a healing process for our local Church in order to restore trust with the Catholic faithful, who are counting on the clergy and leadership of the Church to make virtuous decisions for the good of the Body of Christ. And, our fourth goal is to restore trust with our clergy, who are dedicated men and are deserving of our confidence and respect.”
As pastors, we both agree that trust is basic to the ministry of Christ’s under-shepherds, and that it has been battered to the point of being lost in so many hearts by so many clergy themselves, and not just Roman Catholic clergy. We also seem to agree that, as desirable and important it may be, being trusted is a secondary, penultimate concern. His order of goals commits him and the church to justice as the first and most important thing: doing right by God and by the people we serve, first by doing our utmost to avoid harming and abusing people, and secondly, should harm be done, doing everything we can to expose the harm, heal it, and make things as right as possible afterward. All that is pointless however if we do not also work to make repeat offenses as unlikely as possible. And that requires making clergy more accountable to the congregation, and not just to other clergy. That also makes the laws regarding protecting the vulnerable, mandatory reporting, cooperation with criminal investigation and, to the best of our ability, confession, repentance and restitution to the offended and injured, only the beginning of our responsibilities, the least we can do, not the last nor the limit. I would hope that the world might some day come to trust us pastors and our churches to do all that.
But being trusted is not within our power, nor our responsibility. Doing the right thing is. If anything, we clergy must learn to live with limited trust, less trust. Perhaps we have been too trusting of ourselves and other clergy. If we take our biblical and traditional teachings about fallen human nature and “the deceitfulness of sin,” seriously, then some sort of realistic wariness should be automatic. Jesus and our Bible tell us to be most wary of human nature when endowed with power, possessions and position, whether they are conferred by wealth or religion. The world should find us the least trusting and naïve about ourselves or anyone else with power over others.
If anything, the church and its shepherds could stand to lose even more trust: the trust that we will always be on hand to act as cheerleaders and chaplains for the world’s business-as-usual, that we will show up obediently and willingly to commission (“christen”) battleships and aircraft carriers, and curse our country’s enemies. The world should be even more suspicious of us because “the foolishness of the cross” has revealed the world’s wisdom (read “hierarchy, power politics and the evaluation of persons by their appearance and utility) for what it is, and has flipped it. Because of our primary allegiance to the kingdom of God, I would hope that the world might trust us to always be in the way of its imperial projects. But if we put the desire for trust ahead of the justice that Archbishop Nienstedt envisions, that means that we are playing to a worldly audience, hoping to hold on to some respect and privilege for our titles. That also tempts us to cut corners, fudge the truth, hide the facts and protect the power, positions and reputations of perpetrators, in order to keep unearned trust.
I will hope and pray that my fellow pastor, Archbishop Nienstedt, keeps his stated priorities in order and achieves them. Though I am not Roman Catholic, as Christians and clergy, we are in this together: in both the ministry of protecting the flock, and in the loss of trust. But one verdict alone should concern us most: that of “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” May God cleanse the church as he cleanses “the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [His] Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love [God, and all those whom God has entrusted us to shepherd], and worthily magnify [God’s] holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen (from the ancient Sarum Rite).”