Monday, April 11, 2011

A letter to the Catholic League

This morning, the Catholic League, a civil rights organization that advocates for the rights of Catholics took out a full page ad in the New York Times, addressing the sex abuse scandals. Please follow the link to read this ad., which has been labeled "straight talk".

While it is admirable and right for the League to advocate for wrongly accused priests and bring false accusers to light, this ad in my opinion again misses the mark when it comes to addressing this scandal as we in the pews see it and experience it. I sent the following letter to the Catholic League this afternoon:

To Mr. William Donohue, President of the Catholic League

My name is Thomas Rooney. I am a Roman Catholic husband and father of two boys. I am also a 3rd Degree Knight of Columbus, a degreed member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and a candidate to the Secular Franciscan Order. I am active in my parish. I want all that to be clear, in that I have nothing to gain and no axe to grind against the Catholic Church. I feel I must address the ad which the League placed in the New York Times today.

The Catholic League and the hierarchy of our Church in general are frustrating to me (and I imagine, to many other faithful Catholics), in that they don’t seem to realize the depth of this issue or the breadth of our embarrassment and anger. They don’t seem to understand that there are two prongs to this abuse crisis. The first is where the hierarchy has concentrated, and has done so admirably; the actual sexual abuse of children and teens by clergy and religious. Most dioceses in the United States have implemented the specifics of the 2002 USCCB Dallas Charter well to address past abuse and prevent further abuse. Yes, the charter needs tweaking, in order to protect innocent clergy and religious against unwarranted accusations from those seeking financial gain at the expense of the Church. But the spirit of righting the wrongs seems to be there.

The second prong to the scandal has been, in my opinion, woefully ignored by the vast majority of the hierarchy. This is the seemingly callous nature of many in the hierarchy addressing the scandalizing of our children. To us in the pews, especially those of us with children, the age of the victims doesn’t matter. The degree of abuse (one-time fondling versus serial rape) doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the abuse was “consensual”, as if such a thing could exist. It doesn’t matter that “this happens in other churches”, as if that is supposed to make a difference to us. And most of us could care less if the abuser's orientation is homosexual or otherwise. The legal hairsplitting has to end. The indignant scrambling for excuses has to end. “Mistakes, horrible mistakes, were made” statements, always in the passive voice, always grudgingly given, have to end.

We in the pews hear constantly, from the Catholic League to the bishops themselves, about the horrible media that simply won’t let this go, the media which always wants to paint the Church in the worst light to sell subscriptions. In many cases, I must agree with this assessment. The Church makes for a big target, and the scandal makes for a “juicy” ongoing story. However, keep in mind that the “horrible media” in Boston is the only reason this scandal came to the light of day in the first place in the U.S. Would Cardinal Law, now with a plum Vatican assignment, have brought this forward, indeed, addressed this at all, had not the Globe forced his hand? It is not only the abuse, which is horrible enough…it is the shuffling of the abusers, the secrecy, the lies by many of the hierarchy that simply has not been addressed in any adequate manner that continues to scandalize our beloved Church.

There is a sacred trust between the congregation in the pews and those who are to teach us, to lead us in prayer and Sacrament. This trust has been shattered by the hierarchy’s actions and inactions during these proceedings. With the bishops’ collective role in allowing this horror to continue all in the name of, ironically enough, protecting the Church from scandal, we as Church were scandalized twice. Many have left the Church in disgust. Those of us who remain have had to endure explaining, time and again, how we could possibly remain Catholic, how we could remain members of this Church where our leaders stick their heads in the sand, hoping scandal will disappear if they can only remove it from their own diocese. Many of us who remain are embarrassed and humiliated for our beloved Church. The answer I give is simple; that the Catholic Church my home and I will not be run out of my own home. My older son lovingly and proudly serves at the altar, and we have wonderful priests at our parish. However, even with these fine role models, I would think twice about encouraging a priestly or religious vocation in my son, so he wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of that damaged trust, simply by virtue of wearing a collar or habit. It hurts to admit that, and this is only a small aspect of the pain as a whole. I suspect similar pain is widespread amongst the faithful who remain.

When we go to Confession, Catholics say an act of contrition before we receive Sacramental absolution for our sins. We then have to do our penance; make amends for the harm we caused by our sin, either through prayer, action or both. If there were any sense of true contrition from the hierarchy for the role they’ve played in perpetrating this scandal against the Church - the People of God, the very people whose spiritual care is entrusted to them - then perhaps we’d be further down the road to healing. We as Church hunger for healing. We want our shepherds to care for us, to help feed our souls, and to defend us from the wolves. But we will not be dismissed as unreasonable when we see our shepherds hiding in the brush as the wolves are circling. Especially when our own lambs are at risk.

Your Excellencies and Eminences; be the Men you were ordained to be. Stand up for us. Protect us. Lead us by example. Be truly contrite to those you have wronged, do your penance, and make your amends. Lead us down the road to healing our beloved Catholic Church.

Pray for us, as we pray for you.

Pax et Bonum,
Thomas Rooney

This ad coincidentally is released as the USCCB released its own report of the need to update the Dallas charter.

May God grant strength and compassion to the spiritual leaders of our beloved Church, William Donohue of the Catholic League, and the rest of the People of God who endure and pray for an end to this ongoing crisis.

Daily Mass Readings
Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62
Psalm 23:1-6
John 8:1-11


  1. Thank you for this wise, on-point letter. Very well stated.

  2. Amen. So well put and in charity and truth. Thank you.

  3. @Paul and Fran - Thank you both, I appreciate the feedback. I've gotten a number of responses from other folks who've read the letter, from different perspectives, and most of them were csupportive and constructive. This gives me hope!

    Nothing yet in the way of a response from the Catholic League yet, however!

  4. Well said indeed. I hope they read it.

  5. Well said my brother! I think what is missing is a sense of retribution i.e. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's give to God what is God's" The fact that abuse occurs is not that shocking. it happens in all strata of society...however, the lack of punishment and extent of attempted cover-up are what hurts the most! Whether a Priest or a cop on the take or a corrupt politician, all are guilty of a fundamental betrayal of TRUST! And should be thus punished even MORE severely! Those clergy who are guilty are the lowest of the low and have brought shame to a formerly honorable vocation. That is why we must pray for the good priests who now must suffer the indignity of constant suspicion.