Archbishop McCarrick’s predatory career would not have been possible without the culpable silence or active complicity of men at the highest levels of the Church. Revelations of his abuse have therefore gravely damaged the credibility of the whole Catholic hierarchy. Here a group of young Catholics speaks with one voice about the need for a cleansing fire. Their statement is non-partisan, assuming nothing but the eternal validity of the Church’s teaching.
They call for an independent investigation of who knew what and when, a new intolerance of clerical abuse and sexual sin, and public acts of penance by Catholic bishops. They promise to work and suffer for the Church, and to strive for holiness in their own lives. As children of the Church, they ask for fathers who honor the Father above. They are confident that their pleas are heard by God. They hope that they will likewise be heard by the priests and bishops who fear him.
Dear Fathers in Christ,
In preparation for the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Vatican asked for reports from young Catholics around the world concerning their faith and the role the Church plays in their lives. Some of us are younger than others, but we were all children in the decades leading up to the sexual abuse crisis of 2002. In light of that experience and the recent revelations about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, we answer the Church’s invitation to speak. Our experiences have given us cause for gratitude, but also for anger.
We are grateful for the way good priests and bishops lay down their lives for us day after day. They say the Mass, absolve us from sin, celebrate our weddings, and baptize our children. Through their preaching, teaching, and writing, they remind us that Jesus Christ has conquered evil once and for all. Their daily sacrifices give us blessings of infinite worth. For all of this, we are profoundly thankful.
We are also angry. We are angry over the “credible and substantiated” report of Archbishop McCarrick’s abuse of a minor. We are angry over the numerous allegations of his abuse of seminarians and young priests. We are angry that “everybody knew” about these crimes, that so few people did anything about them, and that those who spoke out were ignored.
In addition, we have heard reports of networks of sexually active priests who promote each other and threaten those who do not join in their activities; of young priests and seminarians having their vocations endangered because they refused to have sex with their superiors or spoke out about sexual impropriety; and of drug-fueled orgies in Vatican apartments.
As Catholics, we believe that the Church’s teaching on human nature and sexuality is life-giving and leads to holiness. We believe that just as there is no room for adultery in marriages, so there is no room for adultery against the Bride of Christ. We need bishops to make clear that any act of sexual abuse or clerical unchastity degrades the priesthood and gravely harms the Church.
I’m writing to share with you a few thoughts as a follow up to Ralph Martin’s excellent and courageous letter Dear Troubled Catholics, regarding the current crisis in the Church.
Ralph wrote that this current crisis, precipitated by the revelation of Cardinal McCarrick’s moral failures and the failure of leadership in the Church to prevent his rise to prominence, could be a “tipping point” for the Church. He sees in it a possibility for genuine repentance and change for the Church.
I perceive in this crisis—both here in the United States and around the world—an opportunity, given us by our Lord. I believe we are experiencing the discipline of the Lord; it is a severe mercy, a judgment upon the Church that is meant to lead to deep, thorough repentance, healing, and reformation. It’s an opportunity that demands a response from all of us, beginning with the leadership of the Church. If we cooperate with Jesus, with obedient and repentant hearts and total honesty and transparency in the fear of the Lord, Jesus will lead us out of this terrible crisis. If we fail to respond to this time of purification, I believe the Church in America will be severely weakened, the decline we’re witnessing in the Church will escalate, and the flock will scatter.
While on mission in Uganda in 2016, the Lord spoke to me about what we are now living through. Our team from Renewal Ministries was leading a week-long retreat for about 350 priests and bishops from five east-African countries. One morning during daily Mass, right after Communion, I sensed the Lord telling me to get out my journal and to write down the following: “The days ahead will be marked by growing chaos and confusion. I am coming to purify my Church. I am about to bring down the idols that hold my people in bondage; I will expose the hypocrisy of the mighty and the strong, both in the Church and in the world.”
Watching the mighty fall in the past few years—Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, and now former Cardinal McCarrick (now Archbishop McCarrick) and other cardinals and bishops—has been sobering. These revelations are meant to lead all of us to repentance and to instill in us a healthy fear of the Lord. The Captain of the Armies of Heaven, Jesus, the Lord, is purifying His Church and exposing the emptiness and hypocrisy of the world. Scripture tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves.
It’s important for us to understand Jesus’ intent. He doesn’t come to humiliate or destroy; He comes to save. St. Peter tells us that judgment begins with the house of God. Jesus is purifying His Church for the sake of the salvation of the world. The Church is the hope of the world, the sacrament of salvation, the light of the world. When the Church is trapped in sin, her light goes dim and her salt goes flat.
Today, the Church is infected with deep strongholds of sin that are crippling her life and witness. In the period leading up to the Dallas Charter in 2002, Jesus began to expose the horrific corruption of homosexual sins of pedophilia and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to pubescent boys) among the clergy, and the cover up by some of the hierarchy of these crimes. Eighty-one percent of the victims were adolescent males.
Steps were taken at the time to respond to the crisis with the Dallas Charter and the “zero tolerance” policy instituted throughout the Church in the United States. The Charter was a start, but lacked complete honesty and transparency. The efforts by the bishops left the dishonest impression that the primary problem the Church was facing in this crisis was pedophilia and not ephebophilia. This allowed them to deflect attention from the fact that active homosexuality among the clergy was the primary source of the problem.
What’s clear from the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick is that the repentance in 2002 did not go deep enough. There was a cover up, a strategic decision to hide the bigger problem of active homosexuality among the clergy, including some of the hierarchy.
What we are seeing is the means to which Jesus will go to purify His Church. The wound of sin in this area is deeper than most of our brothers in the hierarchy are willing to acknowledge or to confront. But the Lord will not relent.
In the letter to the Church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, Jesus tells the leaders of the Church the following:
“I have this against you, that you abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rv 2:4-5).
Jesus warned the leaders of the Church that even though they had done many things right, they had lost their first love. He then gave them a three-step process to make things right: remember, repent, and act. They were to remember the place from which they had fallen, to repent, and then do the works they had done at first. In this crisis, this is a good guide for all of us, especially our leaders.
Jesus is calling our leaders to remember the purity and holiness to which they have been called, and to make a thorough examination of their lives before Him. They must then act decisively, with zeal and determination, to bring to light all that is hidden in darkness. They must remember that this severe mercy is an act of love that calls for total obedience to the Lord, knowing, “those whom I love I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent” (Rv 3:19).
Just as in Ephesus, so it will be with the Church in America, if we don’t respond wholeheartedly, with complete honesty. If the Church refuses to expose the truth, and in the fear of the Lord to cooperate with Him in this hour of purification, He will “come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
That is what I believe is at stake at this time for the Church in America. To “remove your lampstand” means, in the words of Victorinus of Petovium, to “disperse the congregation.”[i] The Church in many parts of the United States is already in decline. If we as a Church do not cooperate fully with the Lord at this time of visitation, the decline will escalate dramatically.
Cooperation means that policies, good public relations, the advice of lawyers, and the like are not enough. Just looking to the future is not enough. Positive platitudes are not enough. What is needed is action to root out systemic habit patterns of sin, to expose strongholds of sin to the full light of day.
This kind of stronghold of sin will not go away. It will keep producing like a deadly virus in the body or like a festering wound that has only been tended to on the surface. The infection will keep spreading. To date, the words of Jeremiah are a fitting description of the response of the bishops to this serious problem: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly” (Jer 6:14).
The bishops can no longer continue to treat this wound carelessly; it has to be cut out, to the root. That means having to confront the fear that holds them back. To address this problem head on and to take appropriate action will likely cause serious disruption in the Church for a time, and serious pushback from forces in and outside the Church. There is no easy way forward; it will require great courage.
There is a way out of this: follow Jesus, obey Him. He will give all of us what we need. It’s time to awaken the graces of our confirmation, fortitude that is “prepared to suffer injury and, if need be, death for the truth and for the realization of justice.”[ii] And a healthy fear of the Lord to overcome the fear of men that so often leads to inaction and weak, foolish responses in the face of serious sin. “The man who fears the Lord will not be fainthearted” (Sir 34:14).
We have nothing to fear if we put all our hope in Him. It’s not our job to secure all the potential consequences that may transpire from a radical response to Jesus at this time. Our job is to obey and to entrust everything to His mercy and love, and to the protection and intercession of Our Lady.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Even in the greatest darkness, we can walk in the Light.
[i] Peter Williamson, Revelation: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 62.
[ii] Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 11.
Ralph Martin wrote the following report from India, where he has been for about three weeks, speaking extensively and serving with his wife Anne, Deacon Dan and Dolly Foley, Fr. Chas Canoy, John and Michelle Kazanjian, and Erin Campbell. This is the first in a three-part series about the mission. Anne Martin already has provided two reports about the mission, which can be found here and here.
Dear Partners in the Mission,
Finally, I have a little space of time to try to sum up the amazing three weeks in India that are soon coming to an end. Thankfully, I even have an Internet connection that will allow me to send this to you! I am writing this in the bishop’s house in the Diocese of Pune, where I just gave two talks to eighty-five nuns and priests who belong to religious orders in the diocese.
I am grateful to my wife, Anne, who allowed her reports back to our family to be shared more widely with you. I know she provided more interesting detail than I could have given you!
As I write this, we are in the very last days of our time in the Diocese of Pune, finishing a retreat for all the priests of the diocese. Normally, the vicar general told us, thirty-five to forty priests attend the annual retreat, but this year, there are fifty-seven—ninety to ninety-five percent the entire presbyterate! This diocese gets the attendance award!
Yesterday afternoon, we prayed for all the priests to be baptized in the Spirit, or to renew their baptism in the Spirit and open themselves to the gifts of the Spirit. Their openness to the Lord and deep sincerity, even from those who asked very contentious and challenging questions earlier in the week, totally surpassed our expectations. As all of our team members moved among them laying on hands, many began to speak in tongues and experience deep actions of God in their lives. At evening prayer that night, many were raising their hands in praise and joyously praising God—way beyond what we could have asked for or imagined!
Let me go back over some of the events that Anne has already mentioned in earlier reports. The time at our first destination the Diocese of Vasai, just north of Mumbai (the former Bombay) was very blessed. Archbishop Machado, who said he has been reading my books since he was a seminarian, invited us to stay with him and his two wonderful priest assistants. This gave us the opportunity to have many meals with him and get an in-depth “seminar” on the Indian Church and the pervasive culture of Hinduism.
He served in Rome for many years with a high level of responsibility regarding inter-religious dialogue, and we found ourselves of one mind and heart on this topic, as well as many others. He told us an amazing statistic—while the Indian population of more than one billion people is only two- to three-percent Catholic, the Catholics carry out forty percent of the country’s education, healthcare, and social services, and are highly respected. However, the growth of a more fundamentalist Hindu Nationalism is putting heavy pressure on their ability to continue providing these services and this witness. While open evangelization is not possible in many parts of India, the witness of these institutions and person-to-person faith sharing is indeed powerful.
We didn’t get to bed until around 4 a.m. on the day we arrived, and we had to dive in at noon with two talks to an open evangelization meeting mainly oriented to “Sunday Catholics,” but which Hindus and others periodically attend. I gave two talks, and Deacon Dan Foley, the chairman of Renewal Ministries’ American Board gave a talk as well. The next day, we conducted a day-long conference for members of the Community of the Good Shepherd, who were doing the extensive organization for all the events of our stay, providing transportation, etc.
Deacon Dan and his wife Dolly were the spark for this mission, as their daughter married a young Hindu man from Pune who became a Catholic; they now live in Chicago, where he works as an engineer. They arrived about a week after we did and were able to present their three-month-old baby daughter to his parents.
We then did a day-long conference for prayer group leaders in the diocese. Over 500 attended, and I gave three talks there as well. Deacon Dan often offered commentary after my talks, just as Fr. Mike Scanlan used to do when he traveled with me for the Crisis of Truth message. (We miss and love Fr. Mike, who was a member of our board for many years, a co-host of The Choices We Face for many years, and a true friend to many of us.) All the talks, except those to the priests and nuns, had to be simultaneously interpreted into Marathi, the dominant local language.
The next day, I gave three talks to the priests of the diocese. In the evening, we all spoke at a meeting with about fifty young people.
The day after that, we met with the nuns of the diocese, and again I gave three talks. In the evening, I gave two talks at an event in a huge outdoor field, where about 5,000 people had gathered, very much surprising the archbishop! The talks were adding up!
We then were blessed to travel to the “tribal area,” where the diocese has about sixteen mission stations, at which they do excellent work in providing education, healthcare, and social work services, all while quietly evangelizing. They are currently preparing 165 people for baptism this coming Easter! Praise God! Anne told you about our amazing experience of being greeting by hundreds of school children in uniforms who were throwing flower petals and singing for us with music provided by their native instruments. This was a very moving experience for all of us, and tears came to our eyes. Again, I gave three talks to about fifty of the priests and nuns who work in the mission areas who couldn’t come into the city earlier in the week.
On our way to the airport in Mumbai the next day, we stopped to see Fr. Fio Macarenhas, who was the third chairman of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Council. (I was the founding chair, Fr. Tom Forrest followed me, and then Fr. Fio served.) After visiting with Fr. Fio, who runs a Catholic Bible school in Mumbai, we visited a shrine at the top of a steep hill, where a miraculous statue of Mary was recovered by fishermen centuries ago. On the way up the hill, a man on a motorcycle called out my name. It turned out that twenty years ago, the last time I visited India, he gave me a ride on his motorcycle, in order to take me to the conference center where I spoke. He had hoped to make it to Vasai a few nights before to hear me speak, but couldn’t, and then the Lord brought him across my path as I walked up the hill! How utterly amazing! Twenty years later, the same man and I crossed paths, and he recognized me! He invited me to hop on his motorcycle once again and gave me a ride up and down the hill a few times. It was very amazing and wonderful! Talk about finding needles in the haystack, or the Lord numbering the hairs on our head!
The second installment in Ralph’s report from India will be posted on Tuesday, Jan. 24.