Sitting on a Fence or Jumping on a Band-waggon?

The events of the last few days have shaken many ordinary Catholics — not in our faith, but in our perception of the Church’s leadership and its ability to deal with the apparently never-ending revelations of abuse, corruption and cover-ups. Archbishop Viganò’s letter is merely the latest but potentially most damning accusation of all. That fact makes me want to repeat something I have said many times already: unless or until we know the full facts, we should be wary of adding further fuel to the fire by rash accusations or counter-accusations of our own. Sitting on a fence may not seem very brave — it is certainly uncomfortable — but it is better than jumping on a band-waggon. Just think for a moment. To make a false accusation against another is calumny and defamation of character. It is a serious matter. At the moment both Pope Francis and Archbishop Viganò are having very grave allegations made against them. Most of us are not in a position to judge. We may have our suspicions, but suspicions are not evidence and usually reflect our own previous opinions about various matters. Unfortunately, this has led to some very ugly in-fighting made public online and soon, no doubt, in the press. I daresay that is exactly what the devil wants. Destroying the unity of the Church, setting us against one another, creating an atmosphere of chaos and toxic distrust, is not the work of the Holy Spirit! Those using the opportunity this discord brings to advance an agenda of their own should ask themselves whether they are helping or hindering those who have suffered or could be exposed, now or in the future, to abuse — which is, after all, where we began and is the terrible sin the Church must address.

I was thinking about this in the context of St Monica’s feast today. She is conventionally portrayed as ‘merely’ the mother of a much greater figure, St Augustine of Hippo, and as such often given rather short shrift. She had an impossible husband and a drink problem, and the years of her widowhood were far from easy. It all sounds rather dreary, so no wonder we look at the son and tend to forget the mother. But there is something about St Monica that I think we do well to remember: she was a woman of extraordinary persistence in prayer. Would Augustine have become a saint without her? Who can say, but surely those ceaseless prayers, that persevering faith, count for something. St Monica encourages us ordinary Catholics to go on praying, believing, hoping and, above all, trying to maintain the bond of charity which unites the Church. The unholy glee with which some Catholics have greeted the latest revelations is, indeed, unholy and destructive. May we never be party to it. May we not fail those whose wounds the whole Church now knows about and must try to heal.


14 thoughts on “Sitting on a Fence or Jumping on a Band-waggon?”

  1. All this is very sad. There seems to be so much child abuse and I can’t understand why anyone would want to do such things, but it seems to be widespread. My friend gave up teaching small children after she was told that if a child fell over and cried in the playground she must not touch him/her. Years ago when I took a school party backpacking in India I had to bring a girl down a mountain with altitude sickness and the hotel was full so we had to sleep the night in a double bed. Wouldn’t dare do that these days. And who’d want the Pope’s job? As an Anglican I think he’s great, but his hands are tied by others who wield power. God must weep.

  2. Praying but finding it difficult as I am stunned and feel “sandbagged”. You are so right about not rushing to judgment. Better to pray.

  3. I am just grieved to my core. I feel I have no idea what is going on. I have no words to pray with. I stand Before Him. Lord God, look at this.

  4. When praying seems impossible I just ‘groan in the spirit’ or recite the prayers I have learned by heart with a sense of intent. I find it beyond me to pray in specific words when faced by appalling situations. The saying ‘I am lost for words’ becomes a reality.

  5. Saddened beyond expression. Whenever I read another account of who said what and who can/cannot be trusted/believed I feel as though the knife is twisted deeper. At this point all that is keeping my husband and I in the RC Church is Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments. The words “To whom shall we go Lord you have the words of eternal life” are as true now as 2,000 years ago. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon so to speak, doubling down on prayer, examination of conscience and doing our best to live as disciples of Christ seems to be the right way forward. Jesus promised our Church would never be destroyed so we continue to trust.

  6. Thank you for your comments. Several people have asked me if I am advocating a ‘do nothing’ policy. On the contrary. The above post is a plea not to jump to conclusions or take sides on the basis of media reports and anecdotes. Unless or until we have better knowledge of the facts, we would be merely adding to the confusion and possibly perpetrating further injustice. My own view is that the evil of abuse has been known about for far too long but very little has been done about it. If every Catholic were to write to their bishop and to the Holy See asking for an immediate and thorough investigation, with those at fault properly sanctioned, it would make a difference. If you look at the concluding paragraphs of ‘Cor Orans’, you will see how quickly the Vatican can act when it wishes to do so; and if the pope can have a list of names of those who have not complied with the new regulations for cloistered nuns on his desk every month, why can’t he have the details of those who have offended in the much greater matter of abuse and cover-up? I would also add that any investigative process must include the laity and religious, not just bishops and priests, if it is to have any credibility.

  7. Thank you for your calm and wise words. However, I rather think that the laity have in many cases voted with their feet. For far too long they have been ignored when they risked any comment which was faintly critical. They have invested time, energy and often money in trying to help keep the ship afloat. I know, I have done so. I even went so far as to doorstep a bishop! The response reminded me of Pooh Bah’s “Run away, little girl, run away”.
    Like kings and others in positions of power, those in the Church should rather seek out those who question, contradict and criticize, and value them. It is to be hoped that there are some left. I remain a Catholic despite the hierarchy now.

  8. My belief is that as long as the Church is ruled solely by celibate men in opaque power structures, we will continue to have these kind of toxic situations. It’s tragic, and certainly not the work of the Holy Spirit, as D. Catherine has said. I think it’s a call to a radical rethinking of the way that power is wielded in the Church.

  9. May I suggest we all write to our respective country’s Papal Nuncio and copy our local bishop and archbishop? In Canada the Nuncio’s website suggests we “drop a line”, perhaps as a friendly invitation to be in contact. I believe the time has come to do so.

  10. Sister, while what you say about calumny and detraction are all too true, yet when a former Nuncio publishes such a document, it is surely for to try to inform other members of the Church. How are we to be informed of anything if we do not trust at least some of what we read? So, I think that to say we know nothing is not exactly accurate. Is not this where discernment is needed: ‘test the spirits’? Pope Francis refused to comment, but told journalists to do their job of enquiry. We can choose to distrust Vigano, but the very great danger in all this is that we shall end up trusting no one. Trust has been the great casualty in all this.

    We do not have the authority to deal with these matters, but I do not think ignorance is an option either. Heartfelt prayer is powerful. Congratulations on your recent anniversary.

    • Thank you, Mary. Could I just point out a couple of things? First, my post was written on 27 August; you are commenting on 6 September. When I wrote, Archbishop Viganò’s letter had only just been published but already people were taking sides, i.e. rushing to judgement. That is what I condemned in my post — I did not counsel ignoring the matter or failing to take investigative action, I merely pointed out that we were very unlikely to know the full facts of the matter at that time. If you look at one of my subsequent comments, you’ll see that I suggested every Catholic should write to their bishop and to the Vatican demanding a proper investigation of these matters — one in which I believe the laity should be fully involved. Secondly, Pope Francis was questioned about the letter on Sunday evening in the papal aircraft as he left Ireland. I imagine he was exhausted after his visit and would not have had time to consider the letter’s contents in great detail. As it happens, we know that the pope has used the ‘silent response’ before, believing that it enables the truth to emerge. It probably isn’t what you or I would choose, but there we are. I myself am no more in a position to judge some of the allegations in Archbishop Viganò’s letter than I was on 27 August. I refuse to take sides because the matter is so grave and because it is being used by those who have other agenda — both pro and anti. Personally, I find very difficult this public disputing with the pope because it seems contrary to everything we understand about the role of the pope in the Church. The breakdown of trust in the hierarchical part of the Church is, I agree, widespread as the IICSA report on Ampleforth and Downside and the Pennsylavania Grand Jury report have made abundantly clear, but that is not what I was addressing in my post of 27 August though I have considered it in others.

Comments are closed.