Theologians, Lay Leaders Call for ‘Collective Resignation’ of U.S. Bishops

More than 700 educators and Catholic lay leaders have written an open letter urging the United States bishops to tender their collective resignation to Pope Francis in the wake of a string of scandals related to clerical sex abuse.

The letter references a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report that alleges not only clerical sexual abuse but also “systematic cover-ups by bishops and others in positions of power.”

The report came hard on the heels of “revelations of decades of sexual predation by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and in the long shadow of the sexual abuse crisis in Boston and beyond,” the letter states.

The centerpiece of the open letter is the following line: “Today, we call on the Catholic Bishops of the United States to prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God’s People.”

In May, the bishops of Chile resigned en masse following a three-day meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican to discuss the sex abuse crisis that had shaken the church in that country.

In a written statement, the bishops said that their joint decision to hand in their resignations meant that “the Holy Father can freely decide on what to do with each of us.” On that occasion, Pope Francis ultimately accepted three out of 34 resignations.

The letter declares:

After years of suppressed truth, the unreserved decisiveness of the Chilean bishops’ resignations communicated to the faithful a message that Catholics in the United States have yet to hear, with an urgency we have yet to witness: We have caused this devastation. We have allowed it to persist. We submit ourselves to judgment in recompense for what we have done and failed to do.”

The letter writers justify the amplitude of their proposal by pointing to the momentous nature of the problem.

“The catastrophic scale and historical magnitude of the abuse makes clear that this is not a case of ‘a few bad apples’ but rather a radical systemic injustice manifested at every level of the Church,” they state.

The wounds of systemic sin “are not healed through statements, internal investigations, or public relations campaigns but rather through collective accountability, transparency, and truth-telling,” they add.

The authors further embrace proposals for specific reforms, including “external investigations of every ecclesiastical province in the United States akin to the one just completed in Pennsylvania.”

At the same time, other groups such as the Catholic League, while sharing an abhorrence for the crime of clerical abuse, have also pointed out the intentionally incendiary language of the grand jury report, as well as the anti-Catholic animus that seems to have motivated it.

The report is not crafted in the measured and objective tones one would expect in such a document, but seems designed to stir up anger and revulsion.

In a lengthy analysis of the report, Catholic League President Bill Donohue corrected what he saw as the errors contained in the report or propagated by the media in their interpretations of it.

He noted that the grand jury’s preliminary report was not a finding of guilt, but a list of unsubstantiated accusations that were never verified. In other words, it reads more as the statement of the prosecution without any possibility of defense.

In the 2004 report by the John Jay College for Criminal Justice, Donohue notes, only half the number of those “credibly accused” were actually substantiated.

“Importantly, in almost all cases, the accused named in the report was never afforded the right to rebut the charges. That is because the report was investigative, not evidentiary, though the report’s summary suggests that it is authoritative,” Donohue stated.

Moreover, he noted, the report covers accusations extending back to World War II, and “almost all the accused are either dead or have been thrown out of the priesthood.”

Mr. Donohue also takes issue with a targeted investigation of the Catholic Church when no such investigation is made into other institutions where adults regularly interact with young people, in which there is a comparable or even superior probability of sexual abuse.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro and his predecessor, Kathleen Kane (who is now in prison), “have never sought to shame imams, ministers, or rabbis—they just want to shame priests,” Donohue said. “Nor will they conduct a probe of psychologists, psychiatrists, camp counselors, coaches, guidance counselors, or any other segment of society where adults routinely interact with minors.”

“No amount of compassion for those who have been violated by priests should ever be done at the expense of telling the truth, no matter how unpopular it may sound. To do otherwise is cowardly, shameful, and unjust,” Donohue said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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