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February meeting at the Vatican needs to address directly the crisis of leadership

The evils plaguing the US hierarchy are not limited to the capitally gruesome realities of child abuse and coverup, but include entrenched networks of corrupt and morally bankrupt clerics, high and low.

Prelates pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel during a day of prayer Nov. 12, 2018 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

By refusing to assist the US bishops in their investigation of Archbishop McCarrick, and then ordering the US bishops to delay any corporate action to achieve a measure of accountability (and stop the massive hemorrhage of credibility with the faithful, civil authorities, and the public), until after the February 21-24 gathering of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences, the Vatican really has raised the stakes on the February meeting.

At the same time, the meeting’s principal organizers have attempted to lower expectations. “[The February meeting] is a very important start of a global process which will take quite some time to perfect,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta — recently named adjunct secretary to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a leading organizer of the gathering in February — told America Magazine shortly after the Vatican announced he would lead the organizing committee.

By calling it the beginning of a process, one may also detect an attempt to escape, if not to erase the past, take back promises, or otherwise rewrite history, rife as it is with protestations to the effect that Church leaders — including Pope Francis — really get it now, and replete with assurances they’re going to do better. As Phil Lawler pointed out in a terse commentary on the announcement, “[A]ll those times in the past, when we’ve been told that the all-out response was underway, it actually hadn’t even begun?”

The “process” has begun, in fits and starts, and with more help from Caesar than anyone wants — in places ranging from Chile to Ireland to the US, the Philippines, and now to Germany, not to mention the Pope’s own native Argentina. Nor will it do for the Pope or his lieutenants to protest that they need to get everyone on the same page, before letting any bishops anywhere have any sort of go.

“Many [bishops from the developing world, particularly the global south] are convinced that their cultures don’t harbor the problem to the same extent, and they resent the way that Western discussions of abuse scandals overshadow their own concerns and priorities,” Crux’s editor-in-chief, John Allen, wrote in an analysis piece this past Sunday. He’s right.

“They question the need for their nations to make a priority out of something many of them regard as a geographically and culturally limited phenomenon,” Allen continues, right once more. Francis, however, should know how perception in these regards does not always line up with reality. He was, by his own admission, part of the problem.

It would be easy to get into the weeds at this point, especially if one were to indulge the temptation to explore even a few of the ways in which the Pope’s preferred polyhedral (or prism) model of the Church could apply to the current crisis, and his handling of it. Suffice it to say that uniformity is not always to be desired, and almost never — to hear Pope Francis tell it, anyway — to be imposed:

[N]ot all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. (Amoris Laetitia, 3)

In that passage, Pope Francis was primarily concerned with teaching. The crisis of leadership in the Catholic Church is a problem of governance. That is to say, with precisely those practical consequences of doctrine, over which there can and indeed must be plenty of room for legitimate difference.

Just how much difference is legitimate, will always be a matter of tension if not contention, and that is one of the reasons we have the authority of Peter in the Church. But to say that the Church in the United States, for example, ought not address the burning question of episcopal accountability at all, because bishops in other jurisdictions do not have the same problems to the same extent — or do not perceive that they do — ignores the bishops’ duty to care. That is the fact of the matter, even as it flies in the face of the Pope’s own statements on the proper mechanics of governance, betrays a callousness to the needs of the faithful, and frankly beggars common sense.

For one thing, anyone who needs a three days’ meeting in Rome to learn that raping children is wrong and aiding and abetting it either before or after the fact is in many respects worse, should not only not be a bishop, but should not be in Orders at all. Indeed, anyone who doesn’t get that is unfit for decent society.

For another, the evils plaguing the US hierarchy are not limited to the capitally gruesome realities of child abuse and coverup, but include entrenched networks of corrupt and morally bankrupt clerics, high and low, as well as endemic cowardice even among those not guilty of the worst crimes, or any crimes at all.

If there are bishops in some parts of the world, who do understand that these things are enormities, but have a hard time getting their heads around the extent to which the practice of them has affected the life of the Church in other places, then that’s more reason not to insist on waiting where there is a need for action that has gone unmet for generations.

Nevertheless, the idea that Catholics in some places plagued by these evils will just have to wait for bishops in other jurisdictions to be brought up to speed, is the message Catholics in the United States have received, and it is a message not lost on Catholics wherever the crisis has come to the attention of the faithful and the broad public. It is a message driven home for Catholics in the United States by the double blow of the Vatican’s refusal to assist in the US bishops’ attempt to fathom the depth and breadth of the rot spreading from McCarrick’s forty years’ malign presence, and the heavy-handed intrusion on the US bishops’ recent business in Baltimore.

Neither Pope Francis nor his handlers and lieutenants in the Vatican can have it both ways. They cannot arrest responses already underway and announce they’re taking the reins, and in the same breath announce they’re pulling those reins in — let alone beg leave to tinker with their own takes on the crisis. That, however, is the path they have chosen.

The upshot of all this, however, is that the US bishops have, indeed, been hamstrung: forced to wait more than three months before they can attempt to do what they were going to do anyway.

When they are finally let off the leash, they will be operating under strictures: tethered to an appraisal of the crisis designed for bishops, who either haven’t the same skin in the game, or will have only very recently discovered how much they do have in it, or are working in very different socio-political and cultural environments.

“It is more important to start processes than to dominate spaces,” Pope Francis advises parents in Amoris Laetitia. Apparently unwilling to admit he’s missed the chance to do the former, he seems now bent on the latter.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 196 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. Altieri identifies a “crisis of leadership.” On this point of leadership, what might February 2019 and a side story in 1945 have in common?

    In late 1945 the cruiser USS Indianapolis sailed straight away from Tinian Island (where it had very secretly delivered the components for the atomic bomb) and right into the path of a waiting submarine. Nearly all souls perished, if not by the explosion, then by the depths and the sharks. The rescue was late, three days but not three months.

    Had the commander—the leadership—followed the standard and required procedure, and plotted an evasively random zig-zag path, the story would be less disrupted (shall we say, less of a “discontinuity”).

    Now, how about the path today of the barque of Peter? In the Church what we see is in fact a zig-zag—but this is feint to the right; then move to the left. What does this mean, really?

    Is a centerline to be found in a new institutional architecture–a polyhedron of national bishops’ conferences, perhaps as already illustrated, sadly, in recent German probes toward (universal) Church validation of its outlier local innovations? On these signs of the times the sidelined Cardinal Muller has had this to say: “[the Germans] see themselves as trendsetters of the Catholic Church on the march into modernity. They consider the secularization and de-Christianization of Europe as an irreversible development.”

    Then in the United States comes the added McCarrick torpedo: beach houses coupled with seminaries; priest shell games coupled with coverups and red-faced, red-hat appointments; voids in moral teaching coupled with a veneer of social gospel goodness and funding.

    Granted that not all needed solutions in the Church have to be “interventions” by Rome. But the delayed Vatican response already has sunk the solitary local lifeboat—-at least a few Baltimore-proposed corrective actions for the McCarrick catastrophe.

    February 2019? There surely will be verbiage. Verbiage is what we do. Action—-sufficiently complete action—-is what we yet might do. Yes, we must pray for the best for the Pope and for purification of the Church, but no less for leadership. “The more of it [unwritten common sense] one puts into writing, the weaker the institution becomes.”

    • “Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta …told America Magazine…”

      There you have it. The main man in charge of the meeting gives an interview to the most homosexual magazine in the world, put out by the most homosexual order in the world.

      Nothing more needs to be said.

      • Excellent point Samton.

        One post-Catholic, pro-sodomy cleric speaking to the world media HQ for the post-Catholic sodomy cult.

  2. Jesus is the good shepherd.

    I hear his voice in good Bishops like Archbishop Chaput and the late Bishop Morlino.

    I don’t hear his voice in Pope Francis…nor the sycophants (like Bishop Scicluna) surrounding him.

    What does Pope Francis think he can expect when he knows that we know that monstrous abusers and coverup artists like McCarrick and Danneels secured his election as Pope?

    These men are insane if they think they are going to be revered. They are utterly insane post-Catholic ecclesial careerists.

    God bless the 80-some US Bishops who voted for Catholic integrity…against the post-Catholic zombie Church of McCarrick, run by zombie Bishops like Cardinal Wuerl.

  3. Fear, greed, and lust are the order of the Church hierarchy today. To begin to address the problem of pederasty (lust), the pope and his men will need to purge the active homosexuals among the bishops (who generate the revenue—greed) and priests (who support the money train.) The pope fears such a purge, because he risks ripping the clergy to shreds, it shuts down his money train, and it would be performed by the very men who are themselves active homosexuals.

    • The Faith has not failed you though, just some of the flawed men who are preaching it. The Faith is the same now as it has always been regardless of how many might try to convince the world otherwise.

      There’s something of an old joke, but it’s humor comes from a core of truth… that the Church often survived in spite of its clergy rather than because of them. This wouldn’t be the first time in history that the Church has needed reformation. Indeed, many of our greatest saints are those who called the Church back to holiness.

      In the lens of history this might be a period remembered a thousand years from now for the good and holy saints in the making who do stand up for the Faith and call the Church again back to holiness.

      I do not know God’s plan, but I trust in God’s plan. Keep the Faith.

    • Kevin:

      Hang in there my brother.

      Our faith is in Jesus the crucified and risen, and in his Holy Bride the Church which he loves (the faithful who submit to him as our King and shepherd).

  4. I don’t see it as a crisis of leadership. I see it as a crisis of faith, and one that goes back well over half a century. As a child, I sensed that Protestants have a relationship with Jesus, while Catholics have a relationship with the Church. Being focused on Jesus was seen as being too Protestant. Now I believe that we are reaping the fruits of this. For any Catholic, but especially a priest or religious, union with the Father in Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the source and goal of our religion. “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (CCC 150). Without this relationship, we will seek fulfillment elsewhere.

    • Anne Marie isn’t Protestants per se that have a “relationship with Jesus” but anyone trusting fully and singularly in the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection to save those who believe. Depending upon traditions of men rather than in the truth of the Word voids salvation.

  5. Altieri acknowledges US bishops are stymied by papal authority recounting all the travesties before and during this pontificate [although to differ evidence shows homosexual clerical networking is universal] and is resigned to hope that this Pontiff will initiate the “process”. The more realistic even obligatory option alluded to though not sanctioned by the author is that held by the recent deceased German Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann [see Maike Hickson LifeSite]. Our loss is Heaven’s added gain of a saintly soul whose faithful counsel I pray will continue among the faithful. He was admirably correct in all he said including the allusion of Pope Francis’ intent “he should have known it would cause schism”. All the more Spaemann counselled are clergy responsible to individually and openly confirm within their sphere of authority the Apostolic Tradition on the family and sexual mores. If the Leader has pulled in the reins we by office of ordination must have no quandary in unleashing the truth revealed by Christ.

  6. Does anyone really care anymore what the Pope and the bishops have to say? I know I don’t. I have an orthodox priest in my parish. I have the Douay-Reims Bible on my desk. I have a rosary in my pocket. Our Church leaders can go hang themselves for all I care.

  7. Kevin, look at it this way. Perhaps this will help. My faith has never been stronger precisely because of the current scandal. Why? Because of the effort that Satan has made to destroy the Church, the Body of Christ in this world. It is because Satan has so targeted the Church that I am reassured that I am where I should be. Name one institution that Satan so vehemently opposes or attacks. Be reassured in your faith. The battle rages but the war is already won.

    • For the record, the devotion and its allied alleged apparitions and locutions was condemned by the Bishop of Cleveland eight years ago. See file:///C:/Users/Owner/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/IE/QUWJIRUA/HolyLove_ENGLISH_2009-11-11.pdf

  8. I’d like to see the faithful and true American Bishops go under the radar and proceed with addressing the McCarrick-related disfunction and corruption embedded within the Catholic Church insofar as their respective authorities allow them as Catholic Bishops.
    We have arrived at the time in which the “remnant” Church, as prophesied, must now move underground in order to survive.
    By the grace of God, survive it will.
    Rome has selected its own destiny, also as prophesied.
    As Ramses II said, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”

  9. To carry out what appears a modernist agenda, Pope Francis needs all the help he can get. Can he afford to much antagonize the Lavender Mafia?

  10. A read of St. Peter Damian’s book ~The Book of Gomorrah ” Gives a clear insight of what has happened in the 11th century as compared to what is happening now. Seemingly worse then or are we just getting started.

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