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Avoiding another Roman fiasco in February

There are disturbing signs that Those Who Just Don’t Get It are still not getting it, I’d like to flag some pitfalls the February meeting should avoid.


By peremptorily ordering the American bishops not to vote on local remedies for today’s Catholic crisis of abusive clergy and malfeasant bishops, the Vatican dramatically raised the stakes for the February 2019 meeting that Pope Francis has called to discuss the crisis in a global perspective. How the Americans taking decisive action last month would have impeded Roman deliberations in February — the strange explanation offered by the Vatican for its edict — will remain an open question. Now, the most urgent matter is to define correctly the issues that global gathering will address. As there are disturbing signs that Those Who Just Don’t Get It are still not getting it, I’d like to flag some pitfalls the February meeting should avoid.

1. The crisis cannot be blamed primarily on “clericalism.”

If “clericalism” means a wicked distortion of the powerful influence priests exercise by virtue of their office, then “clericalism” was and is a factor in the sexual abuse of young people, who are particularly vulnerable to that influence. If “clericalism” means that some bishops, faced with clerical sexual abuse, reacted as institutional crisis-managers rather than shepherds protecting their flocks, then “clericalism” has certainly been a factor in the abuse crisis in Chile, Ireland, Germany, the U.K., and Poland, and in the McCarrick case (and others) in the United States. There are more basic factors involved in the epidemiology of this crisis, however. And “clericalism” cannot be a one-size-fits-all diagnosis of the crisis, or a dodge to avoid confronting more basic causes like infidelity and sexual dysfunction. “Clericalism” may facilitate abuse and malfeasance; it doesn’t cause them.

2. The language describing the crisis must reflect the empirical evidence.

“Protecting children” is absolutely essential; that is the ultimate no-brainer. But the mantra that this entire crisis — and the February meeting — is about “child protection” avoids the hard fact that in the United States and Germany (the two situations for which there is the largest body of data), the overwhelming majority of clerical sexual abuse has involved sexually dysfunctional priests preying on adolescent boys and young men. In terms of victim-demographics, this has never been a “pedophilia” crisis, although that language has been cemented into much of the world media’s storyline since 2002. If the Rome meeting ignores data and traffics in media “narratives,” it will fail.

3. Don’t ignore the devastating impact of a culture of dissent.

Ireland and Quebec demonstrate that sexual abuse occurred in the pre-conciliar Church. Still, the data suggest that there was a large spike in abuse in the late 1960s, 1970s, and much of the 1980s: decades when dissent from Catholicism’s settled moral teaching was rampant among priests, tacit among too many bishops, and tolerated for the sake of keeping the peace. That appeasement strategy was disastrous. February meeting-planners have said that the Church needs a change of culture. Does that include changing the culture of dissent that seems to have been involved in spiking the number of abusive clergy and malfeasant bishops? Then let the bishops gathered in Rome in February issue a clarion call to fidelity to the Church’s teaching on the ethics of human love, as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. And let them affirm that ethic as a pathway to happiness and human flourishing, rather than treating it a noble but impossible ideal.

4. Forget bogus “solutions.”

How many times have we heard that changing the Church’s discipline of celibacy would reduce the incidence of clerical sexual abuse? It’s just not true. Marriage is not a crime-prevention program. And the data on the society-wide plague of sexual abuse suggests that most of these horrors take place within families. Celibacy is not the issue. The issues are effective seminary formation for living celibate love prior to ordination, and ongoing support for priests afterwards.

5. Resist playing the hierarchy card.

Drawing on lay expertise does not diminish episcopal authority; it enhances it. Bringing lay expertise to bear on this crisis is essential in getting at the facts and to restoring the badly-eroded credibility of too many bishops — and the Vatican. The leadership of the U.S. bishops’ conference understood that, and the majority of American bishops were prepared to act on that understanding with serious remedies. The February meeting must be informed of those remedies — and it should consider how Roman autocracy made a very bad situation worse.

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About George Weigel 419 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).


  1. Excellent article! However, I wonder about the avoidance of the issue of homosexuality. This is the main reason, at least 95% of the reason. In ALL seminaries across the globe, if candidates have an inclination toward homosexuality, they should NOT be considered for the priesthood. Period. I love the priesthood, the office of the bishops, the office of the archbishops, the cardinals and the Pope, but I love God more.
    The Church must make an concentrated effort to help these poor souls with an inclination toward homosexuality. In many states in the USA, organizations who sought to “cure” someone from homosexuality have been banned! The Church must take its own stand.

  2. No George Weigel you delineated the issue of inter clerical homosexual abuse those with clerical power upon the younger priests and young seminarians [very few boys as you mistakenly allude] almost perfectly not the resolution. “Effective seminary formation” and prior “love of celibacy” has been tried studied retried and failed. The Church as Bishop Morlino was candid enough to say must refuse anyone with same sex predilection. A draconian but realistic measure. Insofar as Laity taking the lead in purging the Church that was tried in 2002 and met with resistance by hierarchy. Only the Roman Pontiff has the authority to initiate and empower a Lay investigative body which is the best approach. However George don’t bet the farm on that occurring under this pontificate. Or even a cup of coffee.

    • Indeed excellent article by George Weigel about the homo-clerical problem in the Church, but unfortunately he avoids pointing his finger to the only person who can provide the solution: The Pope. But this Pope, as Fr Morello asserts, will refuse to do this. This Pope protects and supports homosexual priests and homosexuality promoting priests like James Martin. As long as this Pope holds his hand over James Martin don’t expect any reduction in the immoral homosexual depravity of the Church.

  3. Calling on lay expertise is certainly, but form what I have been reading in the comboxes of various American Catholic publications, there is a danger of some lay folk not understanding that the Church’s divinely given structure is hierarchical and that the Church is governed by the Pope and the bishops, based on the Sacrament of Holy Orders. There seems to be an upsurge of a kind of puritanism among American Catholics, and a danger of congregationalism as well as a possible return to the trustee crisis of the 19th century. This is mainly due to the fact that Pope Francis and his minions in the Vatican don’t seem to “get it” regarding the crisis. Of course, lay faithful with competence in various fields have an important role to play in investigating and solving the present crisis.
    As for sexual abuse by clergy being present in the Pre-Vatican II Church, it was obviously present centuries before as that is why it is mentioned in Canon Law. Of course, after Vatican II, the inane notion that we no longer need Canon Law became widespread.

    • When the Vatican powers don’t get it the faithful priests and laity need to rise up. The power of keys is given to the bishop of Rome and the bishops for the shepherding and governance of the Church, not for the abuse of power and enforced heterodoxy and sin. We keep praying, demanding and cojoling these generally weak or misguided men. We need to lobby the bishops in great numbers before this mess in Feb. takes place.

  4. Dec. 5th: Weigel like so many other Catholic commentators avoids using the term: ‘homosexual’ – why are so many afraid to offence the homosexual lobbies??? It’s time to call a spade a spade. Or just bow down, as so many Bishops and Clergy have done, to homosexuals and their agenda which has been a strategy for decades – to bring homosexuality into schools and Churches and youth groups as ‘normal’ – it is not normal nor is it ‘natural’ … male and female God created us.

  5. First of all, why do we have the same old priests and bishops rehashing the same old rhetoric ? Why do we think this is a formula for change ? Integrating some lay leaders who live in the real world day after day may infuse the group with some fresh ideas and solutions. Secondly, I believe there are very few of these priests and bishops who have any academic training or experience in treating the areas of sexual abuse and homosexuality. Reading a few books just doesn’t do it. It is similar to trying to do a kidney transplant without having gone to medical school or done an internship.They need to bring in the experts – the clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and other treating practitioners who can educate them what works and what doesn’t work and why. Without this kind of input, how can they be expected to make intelligent decisions. They may still choose not to, but at least they’ll have a choice.

    • Do not expect much help from psychiatrists.Besides the renown psychiatrist Gerard van den Aardweg, who calls homosexuality and pedophile homosexuality not only a sexual neurosis, but also a sickness of the soul, there are few psychiatrists nowadays who agree with him. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (APS) eliminated the word homosexual from the DSM III Revised 1987 edition. The homosexual disorder which until 1953 was called a sociopathic personality disturbance had disappeared completely by 1987. No treatment required or welcome. In some states treatment is even forbidden.

    • Dr. Abbott, could you please explain how relying on “experts” — psychiatrists and psychologists— would have any positive effect on the situation that the Church is facing?

      Don’t “the experts” view homosexuality as normal and acceptable?

      In fact, haven’t “the experts” been instrumental in spearheading the cultural shift that’s taken place over the past twenty years which has seen homosexuality almost completely embraced and endorsed culture-wide?

      Indeed, weren’t “the experts” part of the problem a generation ago, when they assured assorted bishops that, through therapy, offending priests could be “cured” of their homosexual tendencies?

      And wasn’t the advice offered by those “experts” then the primary reason for those bishops sending offending priests to “therapy” and then simply shuffling them around to other unsuspecting parish communities?

      In that way, haven’t those “experts” actually been at the heart of this problem within the American Catholic Church for decades?

      Isn’t there a moral component to this issue? And, as is the case with the medical profession at large, doesn’t the profession represented by “the experts” operate largely outside of and apart from any questions of morality?

      And after you’ve addressed those questions, please tell me how these “experts” whose profession has totally embraced homosexuality as normal and acceptable behavior, can possibly be of assistance when it is precisely this normal and acceptable behavior that they would now be called upon to treat?

      As I see it, the blandishments and assurances of these “experts” are as responsible for this horrendous violation as are the fearful ditherings and weaknesses of the offending bishops.

      I would submit that, in this case, the absolute last people we should look to for assistance are “the experts.”

  6. Our problem in the Boston area is that our parish priests welcome a homosexual lifestyle and ignore Catholic doctrine; ignoring Catholic doctrine has consequences. Disregard of Church doctrine in any area undermines our ability to promote Church doctrine in all areas. The result of this disregard for doctrine is that people see the inconsistency and have no interest in our faith. Surely this is not our objective.

    Disciplined leadership is called for now to practice adherence to Church doctrine. In doing so, we will then most effectively support our overriding call to demonstrate love for each person, created in the image of God. While this is not an easy story to tell, since it introduces difficulties, it is the only way to avoid inconsistencies that promote confusion instead of truth.

    With humility,

  7. Taking a long view it certainly would appear that right now things are being done to protect the guilty. There are too many priests and bishops very close to Pope Francis who are freely advocating same sex marriage and sexual relations between ordained clergy without any fear of rebuke. The problem for me lies in the Vatican.

  8. The appointment of Chicago’s slippery Cardinal Cupich to the “organizing committee” of the February meeting in Rome is a sufficiently “disturbing sign” that the meeting is already a fiasco.

    Mr. Weigel’s “five pitfalls” are well taken–as a very plausible outline of what the meeting will in fact amount to: an exercise in damage control. And to borrow a metaphor once used by Weigel in another context, I’ve got this huge hole in northern Arizona that I’d like to sell to anyone who supposes that the meeting will be anything other than damage control rendered in managerial episcobabble.

  9. Is it too harsh to say that the problem isn’t that Francis doesn’t get it, but that the problem is that Mr. Weigel doesn’t get it? What you’re not seeing is that this article would make sense to a man who thinks normally. But please, can’t we acknowledge that if we were dealing with a hierarchy full of men who thought normally, this article would never, ever have been “needed”? When will we just acknowledge that, and stop expecting anything close to normal behavior from these men? It’s a complete and utter waste of time. So what can we do? Certainly speak out, but speak out against the right things. Demand an investigation, not another “retreat” or “discussion”, both organized by the likes of Cupich. You won’t get an investigation, because the documents will thoroughly condemn the Vatican and will tell us what anyone paying attention already suspects, that Satan is a high ranking member of the curia, and that he is there by invitation. But we have to demand it anyhow, so that their avoidance of the truth is constantly on display. We have to acknowledge the reality of what is happening in Rome, and we can’t be silent about it.

    Look, I know it sounds crazy to bring up Freemasonry. Everyone “knows” that that is just a silly social organization whose membership has an average age that’s about the same as the membership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. But look at this summary of the Freemason’s “Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita: “Eventually, a Pope would be elected from these ranks who would lead the Church on the path of enlightenment and renewal. It must be stressed that it was not their aim to place a Freemason on the Chair of Peter. Their goal was to effect an environment that would eventually produce a Pope and a hierarchy won over to the ideas of liberal Catholicism, all the while believing themselves to be faithful Catholics. (This has obviously been done!) These Catholic leaders, then, would no longer oppose the modern ideas of the revolution (as had been the consistent practice of the Popes from 1789 until 1958 who condemned these liberal principles) but would amalgamate them into the Church. ***The end result would be a Catholic clergy and laity marching under the banner of the enlightenment all the while thinking they are marching under the banner of the Apostolic keys.***”

    The only correction I’d make is that Francis and Maradiaga and their gang don’t think of themselves as being faithful Catholics. They know very well that they aren’t. But what is true is that we, the laity, have been “marching under the banner of enlightenment all the while thinking (we) are marching under the banner of the Apostolic keys.” That’s where we’ve been for my entire adult life, but it’s so glaringly obvious now that we’ve been duped that there is no excuse for thinking an article like George Weigel’s would make any difference. It won’t. These men are not normal, and they cannot be treated as normal or expected to think or act normally. Writing articles like this one is a complete waste of time. Please, wake up and realize where we really are. Speak up so they know they can’t hide. But most of all, pray, work on your own personal holiness, and make liberal use of sacramentals like Holy Water and the scapular. Things are very, very bad, and way past the point of “advising” these men on how to behave.

    • Sharon – I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the situation.
      Standing on a street in the middle of a hurricane while arguing with a billboard would be infinitely more fruitful than applying arguments based on faith and reason to those who have knowingly forsaken both.
      At this point in human history, I look only to Christ to save us from ourselves. No person or group of persons can effect a mid-course correction when we are this close to crashing.

  10. The Church is now controlled by “Cardinals” who owe their “episcopal careers” to the arch-liar and post-Catholic abuser Theodore McCarrick: men like Cupich, Wuerl and Tobin of Newark.

    Francis owes his election to McCarrick and Mahony and other abusers or coverup artists like Danneels of Belgium.

    Francis has appointed Cardinals at the rate of 2-3 times that of JP2 and B16…meaning more counterfeits like McCarrick and Mahony and Wuerl and Tobin are spreading across the Church.

    These are men who have devoted their careers to opposing the moral teaching of Our Lord Jesus, and his faithful pontiff’s JP2 and B16, and all such faithful pontiff’s before 2013.

    Father of Lights: send your Archangel Michael to defend our poor children against such false shepherds, and give us Your sanctifying grace to conform us to the beauty of Your Son Jesus.

  11. The underlying problem is man’s refusal to fulfill his prophetic vocation of making the fatherhood of God present in the world. Man is not taught and knows that that is his calling. It’s time for man to answer this call and take his fatherhood seriously. When he does it will solve a lot of the moral and ethical problems we are seeing in the world such as rampant use of contraception, abortion, fornication, sex slavery, homosexuality even radical feminism, sexual abuse in the clergy.

  12. The only thing that I know of that deals with lust is the fruit of the Spirit temperance or self-control. I don’t know of any current Church teaching that emphasizes it and moves us in the direction of arriving at it. It has always been there from the beginning, but it needs to be emphasized. New Testament spirituality would be the place to start. There would be no need to go beyond that.

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