The Church I See

September 13th, 2018

We have all seen the horror stories over the past few months about sexual abuse in the Church. We have all been disgusted and enraged by them. For some, it has been too much. They have decided to leave the Church because of all the ugliness they see.

I understand that. I see the same ugliness, more close up and personal than most people do. I have been working in the child protection program of the Archdiocese since 2005. I have read the public reports and I’ve read through the files of priests who have been abusers. I’ve read academic studies of child molestation and the testimony of victims. Part of my job is to help investigate allegations, so I’ve talked personally and at length to many victims of abuse. I see the raw ugliness of the sins that were committed against these innocent people. At times it’s overwhelming, and it is always depressing. I’ve also seen the poor responses, the indifference, sometimes the hostility of Church authorities who have tried to ignore, deny, deflect, or conceal what was going on. So yes, there is much ugliness.

But that’s not all I see when I look at the Church I love. Even with everything that’s been going on, and all the sin and evil in the Church, I still see so much beauty. I see things like:

  • The Holy Hour of Prayer for the victims of sexual abuse that we held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What could be more beautiful than adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the devotion of those who were there —  mostly young adults.
  • The deep reverence of priests towards the Eucharist during exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and even during daily Mass.
  • The profession of final vows by the Sisters of Life. A spectacular liturgy, sublime music, and the powerful witness of women who were dedicating their entire lives to the Lord and his least ones.
  • The consecration to Mary that my wife and I made on the feast of Our Lady of Knock. Mary has been a source of so much grace and consolation to us that it was wonderful for us to offer ourselves back to her.
  • The Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, which we visited recently. Such a powerful devotion, and a wonderful, peaceful location for prayer and reparation.
  • The ardent curiosity and commitment of the young adults who come to our monthly Discussion and Discipleship group. We talk about Church teaching on tough topics like contraception, life issues, and sex abuse. You can sense the yearning and hunger for truth in the hearts of these wonderful people.
  • The sublime beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass and the noble simplicity of the ordinary Mass.
  • The sight of members of the Legion of Mary, praying the Rosary at the Grand Central subway station. Such a wonderful public witness of the power of prayer.
  • The dedication of so many loyal Catholics whose hearts burn with love for Christ and his Church, and who are desperately looking for something to do to correct the abuses.

There certainly has been much ugliness in the Church, and we need to be ruthless in eliminating it. But I refuse to dismiss the whole because of the rot in some of its members. Without the Church, I would know nothing of God, I would never have encountered Christ, and I would still remain in my sins without hope. I totally relate to what St. Peter said when Jesus asked if the apostles would leave him because of his hard teachings, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

St. Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27)

We wicked foolish humans have done our worst to deface and desecrate the Bride of Christ. We now have to do our best to cleanse her so that she can truly be without blemish and we can present her back to the Bridegroom as he desires. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but the Church I see is worth fighting for.

That’s because the Church I see isn’t the one tarnished by ugliness, but the one whose beauty remains eternal.

The Truth is Our Most Important Ally

August 28th, 2018

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an abundance of news stories about the crisis facing the Church. The letter released by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States has begun a new phase of the crisis, by leveling some deeply troubling allegations. There is a great deal of anger and concern among the faithful, but there is also a lot of confusion about what is actually going on and what can and should be done about it.

At this troubled time, a relentless pursuit of the truth will be our best ally in dealing with the current crisis. But we have to leave ideologies, axe-grinding and agendas behind. We need, as the old TV character Sgt. Joe Friday insisted, to stick to “just the facts”. Here’s my attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

I think it’s vital to be clear about the specific issues that are in play right now. Some of them overlap, but at their heart they are separate problems that require particular corrective responses. As I see it, there are four basic issues.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy. This was the primary focus of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and it has been a major issue for the Church since at least 2002, when the Boston abuses became public. I consider this problem to be largely behind us, and it is no help for people to act as if nothing has changed since the adoption of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. We are still unearthing old cases of horrible abuse, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything like widespread abuse of minors by clergy taking place now. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary, and even the Grand Jury Report notes the dramatic changes that have occurred since 2002.

The dioceses across the United States have spend millions of dollars on prevention efforts, including training and background checking, and there has been a vast improvement in the way that cases are handled. In fact, we should have no problem with any outside organization auditing our files to see how we’re doing. If there are deficiencies, we need to have them identified right away so that we can correct them. But we also need to make abundantly clear that we will redouble our efforts and be held accountable to our absolute adamantine commitment that any offender will be excluded from any contact with minors in any program or institution of the Church.

Sexual harassment and oppression of seminarians. This is the major focus of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, and many of the other allegations that have been made since those became public. These allegations are particularly appalling. The idea that priests (or upper classmen seminarians) who are in positions of authority would exploit the power disparity between them and their students is utterly reprehensible, a sin that must be extirpated as soon as possible. These offenses corrupt vulnerable men and they poison the entire ethos of a seminary, which is to form young men in a life of holiness.

So little is known about the scope of this problem, and much needs to be done to get to the facts. Investigations clearly need to be done, which means that people need to come forward on the record with testimony and supporting evidence. To ensure that will happen, we have to institute and enforce robust whistleblower protections for priests and seminarians who provide evidence. Boards of Trustees of the seminaries need to take the lead on this, in conjunction with independent investigators. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, then they should be replaced by those who are, or outside help such as accreditation boards should be welcomed.

Sexual infidelity by clergy. This has primarily been centered on the issue of “gay priests”, although infidelity is not limited to them. From what we know so far, though, there is certainly a some connection between active homosexual clergy and both of the prior issues.

The exploitation of seminarians is clearly a homosexual problem. The Holy See issued a strong directive in 2005 that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”. A seminary should be a place where holiness and human formation are the priority, and sexual dynamics have no place distracting the men from that work. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to a man with same-sex attraction to be put into an all-male environment, which would necessarily be a constant occasion of sin. Just imagine putting a young adult male with normal sexual desires into an all-female dorm for four years.

It has to be noted that the sexual abuse of minors is not primarily a problem of homosexuality, although there clearly is some overlap. Pedophilia is a very complicated phenomenon. The clinical definition of pedophilia is a prolonged sexual attraction to minors 13 years old or younger. The large majority (over 70%) of the victims nationwide fall into that age group, but over a quarter were older teens. Studies have shown that the vast majority of men who have clinical pedophilia actually consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the clinical studies do not support the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious that same-sex attraction has to be a relevant factor in the sexual abuse of mid-to-late teenagers.

The response to sexual infidelity of clergy is not limited to those with same-sex attraction, and it certainly is nothing new. If you read the biography of every saint who was a bishop or an abbot, you will see that they struggled with reforming the clergy away from sinful behavior. Clearly, every priest and bishop must be called to (and helped with) fidelity to their obligations of celibacy (not getting married), continence (no sexual activity), and chastity (properly ordered sexual desires). Careful attention must be paid to friendships and activities that undermine those commitments. Worldliness in general must be addressed, since moral laxity is contagious.

No matter what celebrity priests might say, it is imperative that the Holy See’s directive about homosexuals in the priesthood and seminary be taken seriously and implemented. This should not create an open season or “witch hunt” for gay priests, but a time of cleansing and purification of the clergy.

Ensuring the holiness and fidelity of the clergy is the responsibility of individual bishops, but they should not hesitate to seek assistance from lay people in pursuing investigations. We need people to come forward with facts, not with rumors or innuendo. In fact, we lay people can be a big help in this regard — we all need to live in a way that is less worldly, more ascetic, more chaste. It is hard to expect our clergy to be pure if we are not pure, but a renewed commitment to reforming our lives and living according to the Gospel can’t help but aid our brothers in their own path to holiness.

The failure to correctly handle abuse cases. This includes covering up, moving offenders around, failing to report to law enforcement, punishing whistleblowers, and creating a culture of silence. Clearly, in the past, the three problems discussed above were poorly dealt with by Church authorities. The revelations in 2002, subsequent disclosures in dioceses around the nation, the Grand Jury Report, and the McCarrick case make that abundantly clear. And while the first problem (sexual abuse of minors) is being dealt with, the other two problems need serious and vigorous attention — immediately.

In this, we need our bishops to step up to the plate and exercise the governance responsibilities that are part of the charism and burden of their office. This has to be done at the local level, since the problems stem from specific local characteristics and activities, not from broad national generalities.

Cardinal DiNardo, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the other day that said some good things, but he left others out:

I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop [i.e., Archbishop McCarrick] could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò [the former Nuncio] brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t even address what will be done about the problems of sexual harassment of seminarians or sexual infidelity of clergy. Amazingly, it gives no indication that there is any sense of urgency. And it is a sad irony that the “plan of action”, which will supposedly enhance transparency, hasn’t been shown to anyone and nobody even knows who is involved in developing it. There are hundreds of people in our dioceses, and thousands in the private sector, who could offer excellent help and guidance in producing a plan to ensure internal integrity and whose involvement would assure greater public confidence in the process and the result. After all the terrible results of years of insularity and secrecy, USCCB needs to understand that the old ways don’t work any more if they’re to retain any credibility they might still have.

One thing is perfectly clear — in all of this, the truth is our most important ally. We are in a burgeoning crisis, and time is short. We have to get past politics, personalities, self-preservation, ideologies, agendas, fear of legal liability and personal embarrassment, and get to the truth. The truth is all that matters. After all, we have it on good authority that “the truth will set you free”.

The Supreme Court Nominee’s Error about Roe v. Wade

August 22nd, 2018

We are once again in the midst of the circus leading up to confirmation hearings for the new Supreme Court nominee. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is making the rounds of the Senate, speaking to the Senators who will consider his nomination, and seeking to woo some of the potential swing votes in his favor. It’s the standard ritual, with all the usual photo ops, pre- and post-meeting press comments, etc. Little of any substance usually comes of these things.

But today, something of significance came out of the meeting between the nominee and a Republican Senator who considers herself to be “pro-choice”. After the meeting, the Senator said that the nominee called the infamous Roe v. Wade decision to be “settled law”. Presumably this is an accurate account of their conversation, because neither the nominee nor his handlers have disputed the Senator’s account.

This is very unsettling to hear from a Supreme Court nominee. We have heard it before, and it is a clear indication that the nominee has no real interest in overruling Roe. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch both called Roe “settled law” during their own confirmation hearings, and Justice Alito has said that it has added strength as a precedent because it has survived prior challenges and people have come to rely on it.

This is a terrible way of thinking, and it fails to recognize the fundamental duty of a judge to do justice and to decide cases correctly. An unjust law, or one that is clearly wrongly decided, can never be considered “settled”. And there is no question that Roe v. Wade was wrong as a matter of morality and legal reasoning, and that it is profoundly unjust. Its progeny, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (which really is the controlling law now, not Roe), was also wrongly decided. Both of these cases ruled that there is an entire class of human beings who have no constitutional rights – they have been judicially defined as non-persons, in effect outlaws, and they can be subjected to violence and killing with impunity. It is deeply troubling that the nominee has signaled that he would uphold such a law.

The nominee likes to consider himself an “originalist”, meaning that he believes that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original public meaning at the time of its ratification. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to understand that judges of that time would never have viewed a wrongly-decided case as “settled”. Instead, they would have understood it to be their duty to correct the injustice.

The giant of English legal thinking, William Blackstone, wrote that prior decisions are not controlling if they are “flatly absurd or unjust” or “contrary to reason”. In the words of an great American legal scholar, Chancellor James Kent, “If, however, any solemnly adjudged case can be shown to be in error, it is no doubt the right and the duty of the judges who have a similar case before them, to correct the error”. Throughout our history, the Supreme Court has overruled prior decisions when it is clear that they were wrong or poorly reasoned. Judge Kavanaugh’s originalism clearly is not in keeping with these “settled” legal principles.

In another interview with a Senator, the nominee declined to say whether he thought Roe and Casey were correctly decided. One can understand his reticence, given the politicization of the confirmation process. But his failure to take a stand is incoherent. To believe that a case is “settled law” necessarily means that one believes that it was correctly; if one does not believe that a case was correctly decided, then it cannot be “settled law”. The nominee’s failure to take a stand is simply illogical – it violates the Law of Contradiction (a thing can’t be both A and not-A at the same time) that even lawyers understand very well. In any event, the nominee’s non-position certainly does not show any burning desire to overturn Roe.

So what is the final significance of all this? I have long been certain that the Supreme Court is not going to overrule Roe any time soon. Only Justice Thomas has ever said that he would do so, and all the other “conservatives” are now all on record saying that they believe Roe to be “settled law” or binding precedent. So, regardless of the assurances and wishful thinking of his supporters, I don’t believe that the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh brings us to the verge of Roe’s much-deserved demise.

That is not to say that I think Judge Kavanaugh will make things worse. I fully expect that he will show respect for the separation of powers and federalism, and that he will vote to permit states to have greater leeway in regulating abortion. That may begin the process of at least limiting the malign effects of RoeCasey. It may also contribute, in the long term, to the rebuilding of a culture of life in the law.

But in the meantime, the idea that the abortion decisions are “settled law” is an awful way of thinking, one that violates the fundamental duty of everyone – including judges – to do justice and act in accordance with the universal natural moral law. That law is “settled” – one may never deliberately take the life of an innocent person and the government has a solemn duty to ensure that all lives are protected from unjust violence.

Calling Sin by its Real Ugly Name

August 16th, 2018

As reparation for my sins, and to help me be a better protector of children, I have been reading the Grand Jury Report from Pennsylvania. The Report documents the history of clerical sexual abuse in six of the Pennsylvania dioceses (excluding Philadelphia and Johnstown-Altoona, which have been the subject of other reports). It is truly horrifying reading, enough to make your blood boil with rage at the men who did these wicked evil demonic things and the foolish incompetent men who failed to properly respond to them.

The most horrifying thing about the report is not just the cold, clinical way in which these awful sins are described by the Report. That’s somewhat understandable, because it’s an official document and they should strive for a tone of objectivity. Rather, it’s the cold, clinical, impersonal way that the internal Church documents discuss the offenses and how diocesan officials were reacting and handling them.

The Report singles one statement that is really beyond belief, but it is sadly not untypical:

In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist. (6)

That kind of indifference to the victims and solicitude for the offenders is all too typical of the internal Church documents cited in the Report. It is incomprehensible to me that those diocesan officials did not die of shame when they read Matthew 18:6 (“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”) and 19:14 (“Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”).

One of the hallmarks of the culture of silence and cover-up was the systematic use of euphemisms to describe what was happening. Terms such as “inappropriate sexual relationship”, “boundary issues”, “this difficult time”, and priests being “reassigned” or “out on sick leave” were used to conceal the true nature of what was happening. Plain words like “crime”, “sin”, “rape”, “sodomy”, and “torture” were rarely if ever used.

We have to call sin by its real name. Yes, those names are ugly, but not as ugly as the sins they describe. Nothing is as ugly as that. The Catechism provides a full panoply of very blunt talk about sexual sin, such as:

  • “Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.” (CCC 2356)
  • “sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents entrusted to their care… is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the violation of responsibility for their upbringing.” (CCC 2389)
  • “Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.” (CCC 2396)
  • “intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (masturbation, CCC 2352)
  • “gravely contrary to the dignity of persons” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “grave scandal when there is corruption of the young” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure” (lust, CCC 2351)
  • “a grave offense” (pornography, CCC 2354)
  • “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.” (CCC 2357)

You hear none of that plain language in the internal documents of the Church cited in the Report. Indeed, you get little sense that the gross immorality of the abusive behavior was even on the radar. Nor do you feel any degree of moral outrage at the evil behavior of the offenders, nor any effort to seriously discipline them. There is virtually no indication that any bishop ever seriously considered using the ample penal procedures of the Canon Law. All the priests were treated as if they had an illness to be treated quietly, not as if they had committed grevious sins for which they needed to repent and do reparation.

The only way that this horrendous scandal can be adequately dealt with requires first and foremost that we tell the truth. About the failures to respond to allegations appropriately. About the failures to bring law enforcement into the picture. About the failure to protect others from known offenders. And, to be fair, about the strides that we have taken in the last decade to improve things.

But more than anything else, we need to call sin by its real ugly name. And treat it with the revulsion it deserves.

Even More Gubernatorial Abortion Radicalism

August 14th, 2018

Just when you thought New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had gone about as far as he could in supporting extremist abortion laws and policies, he manages to find ways to go even more radical.

Last week, the Governor announced a new state-funded website that gives people information about how to get an abortion. In bold, large-font type with strange capitalization reminiscent of Twitter rants, his internet announcement invokes an approaching anti-abortion apocalypse in such exaggerated and hyperbolic terms that they would exceed the most generous Orwellian standards:

In Light of Widespread Reports that Crisis Pregnancy Centers Provide Misleading, Medically Inaccurate Information on Reproductive Services to Dissuade Abortion, Campaign Connects Women to Accurate Information on Options for Unintended Pregnancies, Including Abortion. Facing Relentless Federal Attacks on Reproductive Rights, Governor Cuomo Will Fight Back to Protect Women’s Access to Reproductive Rights and Continue to Call on Senate to Codify Roe v. Wade

These alleged “widespread reports” actually come from the Governor’s allies in the abortion industry, and he gladly parrots all of their propagandistic talking points. As for “relentless attacks”, those are only in the fervid imaginations of abortion zealots, whose company the Governor regularly keeps and who are happy to number him among the true believers by endorsing him for re-election.

Does anyone really believe there’s a lack of access to abortion in New York? My office did some research a few years ago and found over 40 places to get an abortion in the City of New York alone. Mr. Google is happy to provide an extremely long list of abortion clinics in New York State, just for the asking. A simple search yields over 22 million hits, some of which might not be a place to have a child killed, but an awful lot of them are, and some of them are even helpfully reviewed by Yelp.

The horrific official abortion statistics from the New York State Health Department put the lie to any claim that there is difficulty getting abortions in our state:

  • 86,627 – the total number of abortions in New York State in 2015 — more than two sell-out crowds at the Mets’ Citi Field.
  • 367 – the number of abortions per 1,000 live births in the state. In other words, over a quarter of all pregnancies in our state ends with an abortion.
  • 505 – the number of abortions per 1,000 live births in New York City. In other words, over a third of all pregnancies in the City ends with an abortion.
  • 1,038 – the number of abortions per 1,000 live births for African-Americans in New York City. So there are more abortions than live births among African-Americans.
  • 2,106 – the number of abortions in our state after 20 weeks — after the time when unborn children can feel pain. How much more inhumane can we be, than to dismember a living human being who feels the pain of it?
  • 2,854 — the number of abortions where the mother had already had at least 5 prior abortions.

Seriously, if those numbers don’t horrify you, or at least give you pause, then I fear for the state and fate of your soul.

The Governor’s attack on pro-life pregnancy centers is truly bizarre. His press flacks said, “We are launching this public awareness campaign to combat the insidious spread of misleading, medically inaccurate information about reproductive health and to ensure all New York women know the options they are legally entitled to.”

Insidious? Really? You mean when pregnancy center volunteers actually tell women the real facts about the stages of fetal development, the potential side-effects of abortions, and remind them that an abortion ends the life of a real human being? Horrors. Of course, they cite no actual evidence whatsoever that pregnancy centers pose a threat to anything, because there is none. Anyone who thinks that volunteer-run, shoe-string-budget pregnancy centers are some kind of massive stealth threat to women’s health has drunk too much pro-abortion Kool-Aid.

One can only assume that the people who write the Governor’s scripts haven’t seen the videos of women being taken from Planned Parenthood clinics in ambulances due to complications from abortions, or they didn’t read the recent stories of the doctor who pleaded guilty this year to killing a woman in a botched abortion. Or perhaps they didn’t ask the Governor how many abortion clinics his Health Department has inspected recently (because it’s virtually none) and how many unlicensed clinics they’ve shut down (absolutely none). They certainly have never interviewed the women who have been coerced into abortions, or who were the victims of sex traffickers or abusers who were never reported by abortion clinics. I guess they were too busy complaining about pregnancy centers to investigate the abuses of the abortion industry.

Or perhaps they have discerned certain truths that are embedded deep in their hearts, and are reacting angrily because they feel threatened in their distorted worldview. Perhaps they realize that if women are truly presented with their options, in a loving and supportive environment, they might actually choose not to have an abortion. Perhaps they’re afraid that women will reject the lie that they cannot fully participate in life if they have an inconvenient pregnancy. Perhaps they’re worried that more and more women will see that life is a beautiful gift, and that when we receive it generously we become better people.

The truth is a frightening thing, when you’re in the grip of a radical anti-life ideology.

A Challenging Lesson in Mercy

August 6th, 2018

Last week, the Holy See announced that Pope Francis had approved a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty. This has provoked considerable controversy, and I believe that it is because many people haven’t fully understood exactly what has happened. The controversy has been over whether this new language contradicts prior Church teaching, and thus casts into doubt the teaching authority of the Church. I am certain that it does not, and I will explain why.

First, let’s look at the actual language itself, to see what’s changed. Here is what the former version of the Catechism said:

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’ [quoting Evangelium Vitae 56.]

That narrowed the use of the death penalty down to very, very few circumstances. Building on that, here is what the new section of the Catechism will say:

2267 Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Note very carefully the language that was chosen. It is absolutely key that the new language does not use the word “intrinsically evil”, a theological term of art that means that an action can never be done in a moral way, regardless of the circumstances. By not using that term, the Catechism does not condemn capital punishment as being always immoral. Rather, it implicitly affirms that capital punishment may still be permitted (i.e., it may be “admissible”) under some  circumstances, but that those circumstances do not exist at the present time.

Critics charge that the new language is a contradiction of prior definitive Church teaching that the death penalty could be a legitimate act by the state in defense of the common good. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued a letter to the bishops explaining this new language, anticipated that argument and made it clear that their judgment that this is not contradictory of prior teaching, but rather represented a recognition of changed circumstances:

The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Francis, situates itself in continuity with the preceding Magisterium while bringing forth a coherent development of Catholic doctrine. The new text, following the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, affirms that ending the life of a criminal as punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes. This conclusion is reached taking into account the new understanding of penal sanctions applied by the modern State, which should be oriented above all to the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the criminal. Finally, given that modern society possesses more efficient detention systems, the death penalty becomes unnecessary as protection for the life of innocent people. Certainly, it remains the duty of public authorities to defend the life of citizens, as has always been taught by the Magisterium and is confirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in numbers 2265 and 2266…. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.

This statement, and the Holy Father’s obvious acceptance of its reasoning, is entitled to tremendous weight, especially given that the bishops around the world have been all but unanimous in calling for the abolition of the death penalty on the same grounds. Moreover, the CDF’s argument is entirely logical that there is no contradiction of the Church’s prior teachings that the death penalty can be morally legitimate. Here’s why. If the Church teaches in an authoritative way that something is always forbidden (i.e., intrinsically evil), it can never later teach that it is sometimes permissible. That would be a  contradiction. On the other hand, if the Church teaches in an authoritative way that something is permissible under some circumstances, it can later teach that it is forbidden under some or all circumstances. That is development, not contradiction.

We have to remember that the moral analysis of the death penalty begins with the universal moral prohibition of intentionally killing a human being, and the very strong admonition by Our Lord Himself that we show mercy to people, even when they apparently don’t deserve it. There are very limited circumstances under which the Church would recognize an exception to that rule. That is why the death penalty is dealt with in the section of the Catechism that deals with the Fifth Commandment, and specifically in the chapter about “Respect for Human Life” and “Legitimate Defense”.

The Church previously taught that the death penalty could be an exception to the general moral principle that it is impermissible to deliberately intentionally kill a human being because circumstances existed where that was reasonably necessary for the defense of society and it did not degrade respect for human life (which is a dubious proposition, given the common barbaric methods of execution, but there it is). The Church now says that it is no longer reasonably necessary and it contributes to the degradation of human life. The circumstances have, and thus the Church has concluded that the exception is no longer available.

To be honest, even if the new language had used the term “intrinsically evil”, that would not trouble me at all. We’ve already seen the same kind of doctrinal development, where the Church came to a deeper understanding of the morality of something that had previously been accepted as a legitimate tool of criminal investigation and prosecution — namely, torture. In the Middle Ages, the Church accepted the legitimacy of torture, largely as a result of the rediscovery and adoption of Roman law, which required that certain testimony be given under torture if it was to be admitted in court. The most prominent approval was given by Pope Innocent IV, in his decree Ad Extirpanda(1252), which specifically authorized torture to be used against suspected heretics. Perhaps the most famous use of torture by the Church was in the trial of Joan of Arc, where she was threatened with torture by her ecclesiastical prosecutors (but, thankfully, it was never carried out).

Fortunately, the Church recognized that this teaching was not infallibly proclaimed and thus could be reformed, and torture was finally declared to be intrinsically evil by the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes (27). Section 2297 of the Catechism embodies that teaching and section 2298 essentially apologizes for the Church’s earlier approval of torture. I can’t imagine anyone actually arguing that section 2297 contradicts earlier teaching and this is not a valid doctrinal development by the teaching authority of the Church.

I totally understand the natural instinct for justice and retribution, particularly when offenses are heinous. In my former life as a prosecutor, I personally met some of the worst people imaginable — child rapists, major drug dealers, high-ranking members of the Mafia, and multiple murderers, all of them guilty of horrendous crimes. It is very difficult to keep in mind that even evil people are made in the image and likeness of God, and that they don’t lose their inherent dignity because they have turned away from God and His law. But it’s important to bear in mind that the Holy Father’s new teaching doesn’t stop the state from imposing necessary prison sentences on major offenders in order to protect the common good.

By changing this section of the Catechism, the Holy Father is teaching us a hard lesson in mercy. But it’s the same lesson that the audience of the Sermon on the Mount heard.

Preaching, Practicing, and Conversion

July 21st, 2018

Last week, the Church marked the 50th anniversary of the great encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. This event is being commemorated by Catholics around the world who share the Holy Father’s beautiful vision of marriage and love. We are particularly noting the Holy Father’s prescience in foreseeing all the ills that would befall society if contraception and sex outside of marriage were to become accepted.

This year also happens to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s comprehensive declaration on sexual morality, Persona Humana, which is best-known for its unequivocal condemnation of all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual acts and masturbation. It also marks the 37th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, which is noted for its magnificent teaching on the beauty of marriage and the integrity of married sexuality, including a rejection of any form of contraception. It is also the 26th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which comprehensively catalogued Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, again including an unequivocal condemnation of all sexual acts outside of marriage and any contraceptive act. It is also the 23rd anniversary of the Pontifical Council for the Family’s compendium of Church teaching and advice for families in educating their children, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

We can also note the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (13th anniversary), theUnited States Catholic Catechism for Adults (from the U.S. Bishops — 12 years old), and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (also USCCB — 9 years old), all of which reiterate the same immemorial Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.

All of these teachings offer us a beautiful, uplifting and affirming understanding of the nature of the human person, the meaning of our bodies, the way to experience true love, and the means to embrace the gifts of fertility and new life. If people accepted and abided by them, there would be an immeasurable increase in human happiness, and many of our social ills would be eradicated. Just imagine what life would be like for women in particular. There would be no more abusive objectification of women through pornography, no degrading hook-up culture, no sex trafficking, and no sexualization of young girls. Marriages would thrive in a climate of actual mutual self-giving and respect. The #MeToo movement would be incomprehensible and unnecessary.

Tragically, that’s not the case. The destructive legacy of the sexual revolution is everywhere to be seen and is even worse than Blessed Pope Paul predicted. The signs are all around us and are  almost tiresome to repeat  — the saturation of culture with pornography, denigration of women in popular music, out-of-wedlock births, a dehumanizing dating scene based on meaningless sex, the decline in marriage, the breakdown of families, abortion, and on, and on, and on. Hearts have been twisted into thinking that this is all normal and acceptable, instead of being an abberation from God’s plan for human life and love. Opinion surveys repeatedly show that Catholics generally do not accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality and are largely no different from the rest of society in approval of non-marital sex, homosexual acts, contraceptive use, cohabitation, etc. We are definitely not practicing what our Church is preaching, and we are paying the price.

In fairness, it has to be said that regular Mass-goers are more likely to accept Church teaching, but the numbers are still appallingly low. It is also enormously encouraging that there is a core group of Catholics — especially young adults — who not only accept but cherish the teachings of the Church and see them as the liberating and life-giving gift that God intends them to be.

The sex abuse crisis that we have been going through as a Church and society is certainly an outgrowth of the sexual revolution. It stems from the evil lie that sex is merely a physical act with no deeper meaning and no necessary connection to marriage. It then adds the perverse idea that it can be used as an instrument of power, exploitation and oppression. The sins of abusive clergymen are wicked on several levels. They are violations of the absolute prohibition on sex outside of marriage; they are an inexcusable breach of the obligation of perpetual continence for the clergy; in most cases they are acts that the Church has called “acts of great depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”; they are horrific betrayals of trust that corrupt the innocent; they cruelly mistreat people made in the image and likeness of God as if they were mere instruments for use; and they are egregious acts of violence that leave lasting scars. They also weaken — if not destroy — the credibility of the Church in teaching the will of God for sexuality, and lead people to believe that there is no truth in it. In characterizing these acts, weak phrases like “disappointing” or “morally unacceptable” are nowhere near sufficient. They must be condemned in no uncertain terms as wicked sins that cry out to heaven for justice.

In this context, it’s hard for our priests to preach the truth about sexuality. It must be disheartening that so few of their flock are practicing what the Church preaches, and to read the headlines about the sins of other clergymen. But we cannot be satisfied with this status quo. Those of us who treasure and live by the teachings of the Church must stand up and speak the truth, and encourage our clergy to do the same. Even with all the negative factors in play, this is no time for defensiveness, it is a time for boldness. God’s truth about sexuality is good for us and good for society, and is the ultimate answer to all the sexual sins that horrify us.

The Church has given us a wealth of teachings about sexuality. We need more preaching. We need more practicing. And we all need more conversion.

The Idolatry of Abortion

July 18th, 2018

Once upon a time, people who called themselves “pro-choice” insisted that nobody is really in favor of abortion, but rather they see it as a sad necessity for women who are forced to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. We even heard from President Clinton – and the First Lady – that they thought that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”. These attitudes reflected the ambivalence of ordinary Americans about abortion. While most people support legal abortion in some cases, most actually oppose it and would impose restrictions on it in most cases.

While the ambivalence of Americans remains, the reticence of abortion rights supporters is long gone. The leading lights of that movement are revealing their true beliefs that abortion is a positive good that is not to be regretted but rather is to be celebrated. We are at the point where there is a virtual idolatry of abortion, where it is seen as a sine qua non for the active participation of women in society.

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been the catalyst for an astonishing amount of overheated rhetoric about abortion. We’ve seen claims that his confirmation will lead to the deaths of women, and even the display of the mythical coat-hanger meant to evoke illegal and dangerous abortions that are supposedly just around the corner. The fear-mongering will undoubtedly get even worse once the Senate convenes its confirmation hearings.

The most notable practitioner of waving the bloody shirt has been our Governor. His devotion to legalized and unrestricted abortion is long-standing, and his preference for outrageous rhetoric is well known. This is the man who once said that pro-lifers “have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

He is now on the campaign trail pushing for the State Legislature to return to Albany for a special session to “codify Roe v. Wade” in state law. He recently made the bizarre statement that “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, women lose their right to choose in the state of New York today”. He must expect that nobody will actually fact-check him and realize that he is just making things up. The reality is that New York already has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the nation, one that pre-dates Roe and which permitted thousands of abortions prior to Roe. Abortion is available on demand, for any reason whatsoever, at any time prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and afterwards if the life of the mother is at risk. Overturning Roe will have no effect whatsoever on that – the vast majority of abortions will still be legal in New York.

The only way that the Governor’s statement makes any sense is when we realize that Roe was the high-point of abortion jurisprudence. It legalized late-term abortion to preserve a woman’s health – a term the Supreme Court defined so broadly that it means any reason whatsoever – and it was used by courts to strike down virtually all regulations on abortion at any stage of pregnancy. So what the Governor is really advocating for is unrestricted abortion and particularly late-term abortions on demand.

And that’s precisely what the Governor’s own abortion expansion bill would do. Back in 2013, the Governor introduced a radical bill as part of his “Women’s Equality Act” that would: expand the availability of late-term abortions on demand; permit non-doctors to do abortions, including late-term abortions; virtually eliminate the ability of the State or local governments to regulate the practice of abortion; immunize from criminal prosecution any person who directly tries to cause the death of an unborn child (e.g., in a domestic violence incident); and severely limit criminal prosecutions of unlicensed “back-alley” abortionists (which is ironic, given all the rhetoric about going back to the days of illegal abortions). That’s not a “pro-choice” bill, it’s the abortion industry’s wish list.

The Governor has also made the deeply weird statement that he will sue somebody for something in some court somewhere if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, and that’s why he really needs the Legislature to pass his abortion expansion bill now. I must have missed the class in law school where that makes any sense at all. Perhaps when the Governor was in law school he missed the class where they taught that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, that there is no appeal to another court from its rulings, and that lower courts cannot overrule a Supreme Court decision.

The Governor also doesn’t seem to realize that Roe v. Wade is no longer the controlling law when it comes to abortion. In 1992, the Supreme Court decided the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which permitted much more regulation of abortion than Roe did. By expressing his preference for the Roe legal standard, the Governor shows that he is out of step with public opinion, which supports many limitations on abortions, especially late-term abortions, and that he wants New York to have the most extreme abortion law possible.

Our Governor is not the only one who is going to such extremes. Many pundits and leaders of the Democratic Party are just as far out there. This is becoming clearer and clearer, and by the end of Judge Kavanaugh’s Senate auto da fe, it will be undeniable.

Perhaps the clearest example of how the pro-abortion movement has come to idolize abortion took place on late-night television recently. An unfunny comedienne staged a bizarre and crude “Salute to Abortion” that celebrated the unlimited right to destroy unborn children. “Progressive” pundits applauded, and politicians who publicly recoil from every incontinent tweet from the President were nowhere to be found or heard from.

There’s a reason for that. The ideology of abortion has reached the point in certain precincts in America where its adherents have turned it into a virtual idol. This is why we must continue to oppose the Governor’s radical abortion bill, and any effort to extend legal protection to the killing of unborn human beings.

Realism about the Supreme Court and Abortion

July 7th, 2018

The President is about to announce his nominee to fill the newly vacant seat on the Supreme Court. That will set off a bruising confirmation battle that will stretch into September at least. The rhetoric will be heated and likely ugly, and may even include a large dose of religious intolerance. As this maelstrom kicks off, it’s important that we have realistic expectations about what this will mean for legalized abortion.

It is a clear sign of the debasement of our American political society that so much energy and effort are going to be devoted to a Supreme Court nomination. The loss of a proper understanding of natural law and the dominance of a sense of moral agnosticism have left our government and courts without a moral and legal compass to guide them in interpreting and making civil law. The centralization of power in Washington, which was never envisioned by the Founders of our nation, has given the federal government and especially the courts a disproportionate control over public policy, when compared to the states. One consequence of this has been the constitutionalization of what should be political questions, as we have seen in the issues of abortion and marriage. Another consequence has been the increasing intrusion of politics into areas that are rightly protected personal liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, religion and association.

The worst consequence has been that the Supreme Court — and particularly the “swing vote” that was exercised by the retiring Justice Kennedy — has become our de facto ruler when it comes to essential questions of the separation of powers between the branches of government and crucial social issues relating to life, family and religion. It is truly bizarre that the last few weeks in June is a time of great anticipation, as the Supreme Court’s term comes to an end and we citizens passively wait for rulings that will define our lives. This is why I often derisively refer to the Court as our “Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers” — a role that Washington, Hamilton and Madison would be horrified to see.

These trends are so deeply rooted that we have to have realistic expectations. None of the nominees to the Court will change this sorry situation. None will restore the correct separation of powers or the federalism that were built into our constitutional structure as a defense against the abuse of power. None will stop the trend of constitutionalizing political questions.

We particularly have to be realistic when it comes to the momentous issue of abortion. There is no question that Roe v. Wade decision was wrongly decided as a matter of morality and legal reasoning, and that it has had a corrupting effect on the law, the legal profession and the judicial confirmation process. It is imperative to see it and its progeny overruled (particularly Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which really is the controlling law now, not Roe), and for the constitutional rights of unborn children to be recognized and protected. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon, no matter who the President selects.

Regardless of who the nominee is, it is far from clear that that there would be enough votes on the Court to overrule Roe and Casey. Of the current judges on the Court, four are certainly never going to vote to overrule or even meaningfully limit abortion; only one, Justice Thomas, has ever said that he would vote to overrule; Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch both called Roe “settled law” during their own confirmation hearings, and Justice Alito has said that it has added strength as a precedent because it has survived prior challenges and people have come to rely on it. So it’s not as if Roe and Casey are hanging by a thread and just need one more vote to be overruled.

It’s also important to understand that the “conservatism” of some of the Justices would suggest that they may actually shy away from overruling Roe and Casey, even if they believe that it was wrongly decided. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, and it would already appear Justice Gorsuch, have a strong tendency to minimalism in their rulings — deciding questions on the most narrow grounds available, and choosing, as Justice Alito once wrote, to “leave broader issues for another day.” You can see that trend in some of the major decisions of the last term, for example the Masterpiece Cakesdecision, where the “conservative” justices supported a narrow ruling and completely ducked the critical free speech issue.

This minimalism is particularly important when one realizes how deeply embedded Roe and Caseyare in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Roe didn’t spontaneously emerge fully formed from the brow of Justice Blackmun, nor did the infamous “mystery of life” passage in Casey come out of nowhere. They were the result of decades of prior decisions, reaching back to the 1920’s, in which the Court recognized or invented “privacy” and other rights that are nowhere enumerated in the Constitution, many of which have no basis in history, tradition or natural law. Some of these decisions were actually correct, but many were perverse (like the contraception decisions Griswold and Eisenstadt), and all of them laid the groundwork for Roe and Casey. They also stemmed from a theory of absolute personal autonomy that evolved from the political liberalism on which America was founded and that produced the culture of sexual libertinism and moral relativism that we currently inhabit.

Overruling Roe and Casey would thus mean that the “conservative” Justices would be repudiating an entire body of law and a political and moral philosophy that is so deeply entrenched in our society that most people find any alternative view virtually incomprehensible. They would also set off a political explosion that would undermine the legitimacy of the Court in the eyes of a large number of Americans and many powerful elected officials. Such a momentous decision would be virtually unprecedented in American history, with the only prior examples that I can think of being Brown v. Board of Education and Roe itself.

Even if the Justices mustered the fortitude to overrule Roe and Casey, abortion would not suddenly be made illegal across the United States. The issue would then return to the states for regulation. A number of states already have laws on the books that would essentially permit abortion on demand for some, if not all of pregnancy. New York’s statute, for example, permits abortion on demand prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy. According to one expert on abortion law, if Roe and Casey were overruled, only eleven states have laws that would completely outlaw abortion, and over 80% of Americans would live in states where the situation would be essentially unchanged — abortion would still be legal for all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason and with little effective regulation.

It is also likely that state courts would step into the breach and declare a constitutional right to abortion. Iowa’s Supreme Court did so just last week, and as many as twelve other states had previously done so. We would also expect increased pressure in solid liberal states like New York to expand abortion rights through legislation.

This is not to say that we should expect that nothing will change for the better. I fully expect that the new Justice will be a legitimate constitutional originalist, which means that they would interpret the Constitution according to its actual original meaning. I also expect that they will show greater respect for the separation of powers and federalism. And I believe that at least in the short term they will vote to permit states to have greater leeway in regulating abortion, and to protect religious liberty and freedom of expression. Those would all be good developments, and may begin the process of rolling back Roe, Casey, and the terrible decisions that underlie them.

A new nominee to the Supreme Court will not be a magic bullet that will make all things new. Our challenge is to continue to press for social and legislative change that would increase respect for human life. We also have to work harder to create a social infrastructure that would replace the culture of contraception and abortion and promote a vision of women’s health that truly respects her fertility and genuine freedom. We still have a lot of work to do.

Cardinal McCarrick and the Integrity of the Church

July 2nd, 2018

The news about the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has produced a great deal of heat in secular and Catholic circles, and very little light. Several online pundits have used this news to bash the Church as thoroughly corrupt. One even claimed that “of all the institutions and societies that intersect with my life, the Church is by far the most corrupt, the most morally lax, the most disillusioning, and the most dangerous for my children”.

These are outrageous calumnies. They leave people with the false impression that the Church has done nothing to combat child sexual abuse. And they totally misunderstand the real significance of the Cardinal McCarrick story — as much as it is a tragedy and a crime, it is also in reality a success story.

It proves that nobody is above the law, and that the system in place to handle allegations of sexual abuse really works. It proves that people can rely on the Church to root out corruption and to protect everyone who comes to her. And it encourages other victims to come forward and tell the truth about what happened to them.

I am a lay person who loves the Church and wants to keep the Bride of Christ “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). If you look around the country, you will see hundreds of people like myself — safe environment directors, victim assistance coordinators, review board members, diocesan attorneys — who are doing the same thing in every diocese. The vast majority of them are lay people, and there is no question that they have the support of their bishops and clergy. I know that because I hear it all the time from my Archbishop and our priests.

Every diocese has elaborate procedures in place to handle complaints about sexual abuse of minors. I am part of the team in the Archdiocese that does that. In the Cardinal McCarrick case, as in all other cases involving allegations against clergy, we followed our process precisely, gathering all the relevant evidence and pursuing the truth wherever it led. (I should note that I was not an active part of that investigation, which was conducted by other members of our team.)

Our procedure is that whenever a complaint comes to our attention, we always refer it immediately to law enforcement. Every time. Always. We then step back and let law enforcement do their investigation. We cooperate 100% and let them do their jobs. In most cases, the allegations cannot be prosecuted because they took place too long ago. So law enforcement notifies us of their conclusions and we take over from there.

The Archdiocese then does our own investigation. We have hired an independent firm of private investigators who are former federal law enforcement agents, and they spearhead the investigation. They interview witnesses, gather documentary evidence, all the things that seasoned investigators do. Archdiocesan staff also assist in the investigation. Our diocesan attorney has a vast amount of legal experience and has conducted literally hundreds of investigations. I am a former Assistant United States Attorney and Assistant District Attorney and I have done hundreds of criminal investigations. We are professionals, we take this work very seriously, and we leave no stone unturned. We are given complete discretion in carrying out these investigations.

These cases are very, very difficult. The allegations usually involve events that took place decades ago. Many of the potential witnesses don’t remember any relevant details from so long ago or may even be dead. Very few of the incidents were reported to anyone at the time they occurred. Independent evidence that can corroborate or contradict the allegation is very hard to find. There is no physical evidence that can be examined forensically. Assessing the credibility of witnesses is a critical factor, and can be very challenging even to experienced professionals.

At a certain point in the investigation, the accused priest is interviewed. He is represented by an attorney and has been given access to all the results of the investigation. He has every opportunity to present his side of the story.

Once the investigation is complete, the case is presented to our Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board. This consists of several judges, a psychiatrist, a religious sister, a priest and several lawyers. They all have a great deal of experience and wisdom, and they are very engaged and proactive. If they think that more investigation is warranted, they ask for more information. In some cases (like the Cardinal McCarrick case), they ask the accuser and the accused priest to personally appear before them to give their testimony. They evaluate each case based on the hard facts, not on rumors or innuendo. If they find the evidence sufficient to substantiate the allegation, they say so. And they don’t hesitate to exonerate priests when there is insufficient evidence. They call them as they see them.

Backing all this up is an intensive program of child protection that is designed to minimize the risk of future incidents. We don’t do a good enough job letting people know about this. We background check everyone who works with minors, whether paid or volunteer – we’ve done almost 130,000 checks since our program began. We train everyone who works with minors in the signs and prevention of child sexual abuse, and we provide age-appropriate lessons to children too. We have a team of former police officers who conduct onsite visits to our parishes and schools to see if our policies are being implemented. We have detailed Codes of Conduct and policies to make our standards of behavior clear. And we are audited every year by an independent team that makes sure we’re doing our jobs. This involves a huge amount of labor and money, and it represents a major commitment by the Church.

There is also a separate and extensive process that takes place to determine if a cleric is has committed a crime of sexual abuse against a minor as defined by Canon Law. That process is initiated and conducted by officials here at our Tribunal Office. It can ultimately lead to a proceeding in Rome before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which can decide to dismiss the accused from the clerical state (i.e., “laicize” him). I am not a canon lawyer, so I am not qualified to explain that process and I have no idea how it will play out in the case of Cardinal McCarrick. But it is a vital part of the way that the Church addresses these terrible offenses.

So when people allege that the Church is not doing enough to police herself, that defames all of the people across the country who are doing everything they can to the best of their ability to make sure that justice is being done and that future crimes are prevented. When people claim that the Church doesn’t care, or that we haven’t improved, they are just showing their ignorance of the facts.

It is especially aggravating when people claim that the laity is somehow part of the problem for either not caring or not taking action. Every single person who was involved in the Cardinal McCarrick investigation was a lay person. With two exceptions, our Review Board consists entirely of lay people. Everyone who works in my Safe Environment Office is a lay person, and the vast majority of those who implement and enforce our policies in the parishes and schools are lay people acting under the leadership of their pastors. Here in the Archdiocese, lay people are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It’s also not fair to accuse the bishops or the priests of not caring. Our Archbishop, and I believe the other bishops in the United States, are all sincerely trying their best. The priests of the Archdiocese have been very supportive of what we have been doing. We’re not perfect, and neither are our bishops or priests. But the number of priests who have been found guilty of sexual abuse is still minuscule and the vast majority of our clergy are good and holy men. Of course, we can always do better, and even one offense is a horrendous crime. But this isn’t the 1970’s anymore, and we’re never going back to those bad old days.

The ultimate lesson of the Cardinal McCarrick case is that nobody is immune to sin. And these sins are terrible. For those of us who are working in this area it’s like swimming through a sewer every day with your mouth open. It’s horrible work, and you can feel the presence of the Evil One, who would do anything to corrupt the Church and scandalize God’s faithful people.

Writing blog posts from the sidelines, repeating rumors and conspiracy theories, and publishing anonymous allegations and grievances are no help whatsoever in fighting this evil. We need more people to do what’s best for the church and God’s people – help us root out the corruption no matter where it is so that we can ensure the integrity of the bride of Christ.