Apologia Lost

Since May, 2015, Pope Francis has spoken, repeatedly, of the words “please, thank you, and sorry” as being essential to repairing and reinforcing bonds.  The phrase “I’m sorry” in particular, he said, is the one which, when lacking, causes small cracks in relationships to become larger to the point that they become deep trenches.

Apparently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, did not get the memo.

This became clear, recently, when Benedict addressed allegations that he disregarded the reports of four survivors of clergy sexual abuse when he was Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.  While denying that he mishandled those accusations, he acknowledged his failure to assist those victims when they sought his help.  In asking for clemency, he added:  “I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church.  All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”

It is worth pointing out that Benedict’s comments lack the simple phrase … I’m sorry … that his successor, Francis, held as key to healing and mending brokenness.  This being so, one is left to wonder … don’t these guys talk to each other?

Benedict’s lack of personal remorse met with swift reaction. In New York, for example, Robert Hoatson, a priest for 45 years and co-founder of Road to Recovery, demonstrated in front of Archdiocesan offices carrying signs that read: “Pope Benedict: A Moral Failure.  Like All Church Leaders.”  When interviewed, he spoke for many disaffected Catholics in asserting that: “The Church is never going to change.  It’s corrupt to the core, from the Vatican down to New York City.”

To apologize, one needs to honestly hear what happened from the other person’s point of view and how it affected them. But those who believe the world revolves around them like, for example, the Princes of the Church, tend not to be interested in listening to others, particularly if they are being accused of doing something wrong.

Having, over the course of many years, learned this painful lesson, victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy have, long since, abandoned hope of receiving a sincere and meaningful apology from hierarchy of the Church.  

And as the recent intransigence from the upper reaches of the Vatican reveals, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

The Man Next Door

Our new neighbor seems nice.

He appears to be of retirement age and, though he moved in about a year ago, he keeps pretty much to himself.  Somebody said he came here to the Midwest from one of the New England states, and that he had spent a number of years in the Navy.  He lives alone.

A large American flag flies over his front yard, and he is frequently seen in his garage working with his large collection of tools.  He doesn’t socialize much, but he has a couple of buddies with whom he goes golfing and boating.  It’s nice to see retired guys enjoying life.

He must be a religious sort, for there is a statue of Jesus on his front steps and a sticker on his car reading: “I’m Catholic and I Vote.”  He volunteers at a nearby convent where he drives ailing nuns to medical treatment, and he recently began working with a local community theater group offering programs for adults and young folks.

There are many kids here on our quiet cul-de-sac, and we parents keep a close eye on them.  Our own children are well-mannered … when they are playing outside, they wave at our neighbor and say: “Hello.”  He always waves back at them.

We don’t know much about this fellow, but it doesn’t seem like we should be concerned about him.

Should we?

This “new neighbor” is not an actual person.  Instead, he is a composite of details unearthed by the Associated Press (AP) in a recent search for 1,700 disgraced former Catholic clergy living clandestine lives in unsuspecting communities across the United States.

In their exhaustive October, 2019, report, the AP located fallen clerics employed as school teachers, sex assault counselors, nurses and volunteers working with at-risk children.  Some of these individuals lived near playgrounds and day care centers and, since leaving the church, many have been charged with crimes including sexual assault and possession of child pornography.

And, most distressing, these individuals … each of whom had been removed following credible allegations of sexual abuse … were living in unwary neighborhoods absent supervision by the Catholic Church or notification to any government entity.

When asked about this sad state of affairs, Church leaders maintain that once a priest is dismissed there is no way to keep track of him.  But this is simply not true.

In November, 2018, for example, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released the names of 57 clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors over the years in southeast Louisiana.  In revealing the names of the abusers, the Archbishop said surviving former clergy on the list were notified that their names were about to be made public; he went on to note that efforts were undertaken to notify family members of deceased former religious as well.

It should come as no surprise that other Dioceses and Archdioceses have that same ability.  Consider, for example, the many accused clergy who continue to receive pensions or health insurance from the church … it has been suggested that dioceses should devise a system making those benefits contingent upon defrocked priests self-reporting their current addresses and employment

No longer can we allow Catholic leaders to assert that fallen clergy removed from ministry are not their problem.  The failure to monitor predator priests and report their presence in our communities is inexcusable for, as American author Dean Koontz warns:

Evil is no faceless stranger, living in a distant neighborhood. 

Evil has a wholesome, hometown face, with merry eyes 

and an open smile. Evil walks among us, wearing

a mask which looks like all our faces.