I was with the bishops in Baltimore for their annual fall assembly. Paralyzing fear was palpable among the prelates. The air was thick with it, permeating the general sessions, lobby, and corridors of the hotel where they met, ate, and slept.
They have proven it was necessary for Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò to have exhorted them to confront sex abuse as “courageous shepherds” rather than “frightened sheep.”
What are they afraid of? Just about everything.
Our bishops fear the laity
Members of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) are scared to death of the people back home who hold them accountable for the existence and perpetuation of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Along with the general public, lay people are incredulous that now-disgraced Archbishop Theodore McCarrick could abuse boys and seminarians for decades while ascending to the cardinalate.
If his brother bishops knew and did nothing, that’s a horrible scandal. And if they didn’t know, it’s a scandal of equal proportions because it reveals these men have no brotherhood at all.
Our bishops fear their own priests
USCCB members are scared of the priests in their own dioceses who now face this crisis on their own. They’ve had to endure painful “listening sessions” with angry and dispirited members of their parishes, some of whom risk losing their faith. In a sense, these priests have been hung out to dry.
These priests, mostly undeservedly, have also come under suspicion by parishioners and the general public who wonder if there might not be more priest-predators hidden under their noses.
Their priests needed them to make headway on dealing with the crisis in order to dispel the widely-shared notion that it continues unabated, out of control. Yet the bishops had to return to their dioceses with the news that they basically accomplished nothing while in Baltimore.
Our bishops fear the media
During this past week in Baltimore, access to our U.S. prelates was severely limited. Journalists were warned not to approach bishops one-on-one with our questions at any point during the five days we shared a hotel, restaurants, and elevators with them. Contact could only be made by submitting electronic request forms, most of which were ignored.
We were limited to, “Nice to see you, Your Excellency” as we rode elevators together in the luxurious waterfront Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel.
All that said, here are their three biggest fears.
The bishops fear Pope Francis
The bishops fear offending the Holy See. Despite whatever ferver was ignited in many after being informed that the Vatican had pulled the carpet out from under their plans to deal with the sex abuse crisis, the bishops could not even agree on a sentence or two of “encouragement” to Pope Francis, asking him to release the Vatican’s documentation on McCarrick.
The discussion revealed not only disarray and a directionless, wandering in the desert as the Israelites once did. It revealed a lack of manliness.
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