Last November, following the Pennsylvania grand jury allegations of episcopal cover-up in clerical abuse cases, the US bishops met in Baltimore hoping to pass a tougher code of conduct that would involve the lay faithful in episcopal accountability. Before they could begin, Cardinal DiNardo had to announce to his brothers that the Holy See did not want them to pursue any such code, awaiting a February abuse summit in Rome that eventually came and went with a whimper.
Last Thursday, however, the Holy Father published the most comprehensive plan to date dealing with bishops on sexual abuse. Vos estis lux mundi – “You are the Light of the World” – is a genuine advance for the Church and a model for other institutions wracked by sexual abuse. It mainly focuses on the protection of minors and “vulnerable adults”, but crucially, it includes protections for seminarians and religious who can be exploited and coerced under the sway of superiors. In other words, the Pope not only wants to ensure this never happens again to children, but also to adults under authority, like those seminarians “Uncle Ted” McCarrick used to take to his infamous beach house.
There is much to praise in the document. The Holy Father even provides penalties for bishops who fail to properly report and investigate. But the procedures for reporting and investigating bishops remain, somewhat incredibly, solely in the hands of bishops. The “metropolitan plan” – championed by Cardinal Cupich at the last US bishops’ meeting – largely keeps lay involvement at a discretionary minimum, while not excluding greater involvement if bishops so choose.
In a New York Post column, JD Flynn, editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency, shows how the Pope’s plan differs from the November proposals of the US bishops. More importantly, however, he also shows how those proposals might complement and implement the Holy Father’s plan.
“[T]he pope’s new policy, while allowing for ‘qualified’ lay Catholics to assist in the investigation of bishops, is a process mostly reserved to senior bishops. Although the Holy Father has condemned ‘clericalism’ for enabling abuse, his plan is largely a clerical one and doesn’t require lay collaboration, involvement or accountability.”
The US bishops will meet again next month, once again in Baltimore. They should pick up where they left off, and return to the proposals which they intended to discuss last November concerning their own deep commitment to lay involvement. As Flynn notes, there is nothing in the Holy Father’s plan which prevents them from resolving to use lay review boards in the investigations of bishops.
The shepherds need to regain the trust of their flock. They need to show that we are all in this together. Joining their plan for lay review boards to the Holy Father’s reforms would show that our communion makes each of us co-responsible for the holiness of the Church on pilgrimage to the City of God.
The whole world was riveted with delight as Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex introduced their newborn son.
The adorable Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh in line to the throne. When his grandfather Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, becomes King, the newborn could become His Royal Highness Prince Archie of Sussex. It’s all magnificent, and perhaps uncomfortable for the boy’s father, who found it difficult growing up as Prince Harry under the weight of royal tradition. He preferred being called Captain Wales while an Army Officer, then chose to marry an American actress and divorcée. Prince Harry and Meghan are fond of breaking with tradition.
What strikes me most about these proudly “non-traditional” royals, however, is how much a world which loves “to break with tradition” still celebrates the most traditional thing in the whole history of humanity: a man and a woman united as one flesh in order to bring into the world the unmistakable glory of a beautiful, newborn, immortal being. As Archie’s mother exclaimed with exuberant joy: “it’s magic.”
We are often told that history has sides, or that we must move with whatever cultural revolution is underway at present. But history doesn’t have sides, and the revolutions never really make good on their promise to change the world. History is just us. Or as St Augustine once had it: “We make our times; such as we are, such are the times.”
The world is tired and weary. Evils abound. But God is constantly renewing the world with new life, making even the paparazzi bow to a newborn. That’s because we can’t help but recognise and adore the actual goodness of humanity. No one yet doubts that Archie is a boy. No one is playing games with His Royal Pronouns. The whole world lets the nonsense rest for a bit to gaze at a baby. That’s a great tradition.
May Archie discover that he’s been made, through the union of a man and a woman, for a royal dignity even greater than king: friendship with God.
May the Lord bless him.
C C Pecknold is Associate Professor of Theology, and a Fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology, at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Read his Daily Herald columns at CatholicHeraldUS.com