The Pope, The Church: The Story

by Nicolas Briscoe – Scott Beason Radio Contributor – August 29, 2018

I have been silent on the scandals facing the Catholic Church since they broke. On one hand, the silence is as inconsequential as a vociferous condemnation might have been. I do not hold a place in the clergy, nor in the ranks of the lay hierarchy. I cannot claim to be a particularly diligent attendee of mass, nor a routine seeker of confession. On the other, I have more in common with the average Catholic than does the average priest, bishop, or deacon. I have received the sacraments in accordance with my age and progression in the faith, and I have defended the Church publicly in the past from attacks both left and right. I have defended her when atheists and new wave protestants decry her doctrine as uber-orthodox and regressive. I have defended her from attacks of indulgence and hyper-modernity slung by the fundamentalist wing of the Christian faith. The most recent accusations against my Church, however, have left me in no mood to defend her.

These accusations are not limited to disagreements over the degree to which the Church follows Christian doctrine. They are not arguments over the degree to which the Virgin Mary or any of the many apostolic saints is to be venerated or prayed to. They are revelations of pure, demonic evil. Over one thousand children sexually abused. Dozens of children conditioned to accept the abuse by priests whom they were told they could trust. One report revealed the story of a boy stripped naked and tied to a cross, while predatory priests took photographs and convinced him that such an activity was a Catholic rite of passage. Behavior so heinous, that were a script to be written detailing it, we would surely dismiss it as anti-Catholic propaganda too ridiculous and unimaginable to suspend belief and accept as true. The devil lives among us, and he has cloaked himself in holy vestments to prey on the most vulnerable through the actions of those who claim to be most holy. 

The story, however, does not end with the various evils of these sadistic and abusive individuals. Individual evil, while not excusable, is understandable. One can rationalize it. Evil has been a part of the human experience and its fundamental character since the garden of Eden. What defies logic and belies understanding is the mass covering up and enabling of such evil by an institution that is supposed to hold those in positions of power within its ranks accountable. Bombshells have been dropping in quick succession this week, implicating the entire Vatican power structure in the aiding and abetting of predatorial clergymen. That is by no means an exaggeration—Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, has been accused of knowing about the abuse of young priests, seminarians, and at least two minors at the hands of disgraced former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick who, just last month, became the first American Cardinal in history to resign his post. The accusations, however, do not stop there. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the author of the letter in which the accusations are leveled, has also alleged that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had been aware of the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick for years prior to his resignation. The implications of these accusations are nothing short of monumental.

Now, we must not make the mistake of ignoring the context in which these accusations against the papacy and the broader Church hierarchy are made. Vigano is an ardent opponent of Pope Francis’ reformative agenda. He has staunchly decried the acquiescence to what he views as increasing pressure from the liberal wing of the faith, which argues in favor of abandoning long-held Catholic beliefs centering primarily around LGBT and other social issues du jour. Vigano believes, as do many conservative Catholics, that Pope Francis has hollowed out the soul of traditional Catholic doctrine in favor of passing political fads. The American media, in seemingly direct response to the accusations, have slandered Vigano and his allies as homophobic bigots standing in opposition to the most pro-LGBT Pope in history. As a result, the disparate factions that occupy this story have been drawn along largely political lines. More so than ever in the modern history of the Church, the battle between good and evil has taken the form of a battle between left and right. 

In the age of political saturation, in which every cultural totem becomes political and vice versa, perhaps the framing of this battle as one between the conservative status quo and the progressive neo-reformation was inevitable. The Washington Post described Archbishop Vigano, as, “recalled from his D.C. post in 2016 amid allegations that he’d become embroiled in the conservative American fight against same-sex marriage”. The New York Times dismissed Vigano’s letter as “unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks”. The American media has clearly chosen sides in this pontifical power struggle, and they have not chosen that of the victims. As the pressure from within mounts following the fallout from Vigano’s letter, the pressure from without might prove overwhelming. 

If proven true, Archbishop Vigano’s letter will undoubtedly plunge the Church into absolute chaos. Revolutionary reforms not seen since the days of Martin Luther will almost certainly be in order. Already, many are calling for radical changes to the Clergy; female priests, married priests, etc. are some of the favorite remedies of the casual religious observer. Whether or not such changes would be a positive development in Catholic doctrine is debatable, but the root of the issue is significantly deeper than such superficial remedies might address. A sense of imperviousness and tribalism pervades the Church. The accused have acted with impunity under the impression that the higher-ups in the Church will rally to their defense, either publicly or privately. When the leadership refuses to punish these offenders, or worse, when they actively cover crimes up, they send signals to the clergy that such behavior is only prohibited with a wink and a nod. Such a culture among the Church’s elite is toxic. The faithful masses having full knowledge of the abuses at the hands of Church leadership is nothing short of Cataclysmic. Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us sinners.