Parts of Bishop Robert Barron’s Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis are excellent. It is an odd mixture of forthrightness and reticence. He acknowledges the current and past corruptions in the Church but argues that disillusioned members should stay because it is still the Mystical Body of Christ, that nowhere else can people receiving the deifying Eucharistic Lord, the source of holiness.
To begin with the last point: The Orthodox Churches have a Eucharist as valid and deifying as the Roman Catholic Church, and they manifest it better in their liturgy. Christians of all denominations can make a spiritual communion, which the Council of Trent taught had all the benefits of a sacramental communion.
But Barron’s emphasis on the Eucharist only makes the difficulty greater: how can men who confect and receive the Eucharist daily for decades commit such horrible crimes. Priests are closer to the sacraments than any member of the laity is, but they have clearly fallen short of common human decency, much less deification.
It is a question I ask myself, and ask Jesus, when I receive Him in communion: Why am I not immediately transformed by the presence of the ascended and glorified Lord, with whom I commune under the forms of bread and wine? I don’t know the answer, but the fact that I, and more importantly priests, are not transformed indicates that something in addition to the Eucharist is needed. And what is it?
The Christian is simul justus et peccator, at once just and sinful; the Church is a casta meretrix, a chaste whore. We all, some more than others, lead double lives, and integrating and centering our life complexly on the self-gift of God in Jesus Christ is the work of more than a lifetime, and a work that can hardly be accomplished on our own power. And simply receiving the sacraments is not enough and may not even be the most important thing.
There is also a big omission in Barron’s account of the failures of priests and bishops: the failures of the recent, not just ancient, occupants of the chair of Peter. Why was Pope John Paul so willfully blind to abuse, even when people informed him and pleaded with him to act? Given that gross failure, should he have been given the honor (and honor is all it is) of canonization?
Benedict did far more than John Paul, but even he failed to act with vigor against abusers such as McCarrick. Francis has fallen short of Benedict; the lay members of his commission resigned in disgust, he failed to carry out announced reforms, he rehabilitated abusers whom Benedict had disciplined, he had to eat his words when he traduced the victims of Chilean abusers. I have no great hopes that Francis will drain the sewage from the clergy; he is inconsistent, and everything seems to rely upon personal loyalty rather than principle.
The United States may have made some progress in curbing abuse, but I know that bishops are still playing games and hiding abusive priests. Nor are they willing to engage in fraternal correction of other bishops. Has Barron ever commented on Mahoney, who should probably be in jail, not lecturing to Catholics? Third world countries, where most Catholics live and which send many priests to the United States, have abysmal standards.
Nor do I have any confidence that the bishops of the United States really want to reform any more than they have to to keep the lawyers out of the pocketbooks. I am a board member of BishopAccountability, which has amassed millions of pages of documents on sexual abuse on the Church. It is no doubt the largest such archive in the world, the library from hell, as my wife calls it. We have never received a request from the hierarchy for information. The bishops do not want to know what happened. Why?