Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Gnats and Camels

I probably shouldn't be blogging about something immediately after said thing has made me upset, but hey, here I am.

The American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church announced today, as CNN terms it, a major campaign to oppose what it views as threats to religious liberty from the federal government as well as various local governments.


This entry is not about the individual policies being protested by the bishops--I agree with the bishops in some cases and I disagree with them in others. This entry is also not about religious freedom--I've already tackled that topic recently. This entry is about the moral authority claimed by someone like a bishop, or like me as a pastor, when protesting something.

Because...and I'll try to say this as delicately as I can...the bishops are simply not very good spokesmen to lead the charge for increased religious freedom and autonomy, especially in regards to sexuality.

Exactly 10 years ago, in 2002, the Boston Globe broke the stories of the criminal prosecutions of five Roman Catholic priests for child molestation. In the ensuing weeks, months, and years, it became readily apparent to the public that the scope and scale of the plague of child molestation within the Roman Catholic Church was enabled by cover-up actions committed by a number of Catholic bishops, ranging from reassigning accused priests rather than defrocking them to failing to report credible accusations to law enforcement.

In response to the scandal, that year the US Conference of Bishops created a "zero-tolerance" policy that required uniform adherence to rules such as use of background checks and the conducting of investigations, which was absolutely the right thing to do.

But with stories like these coming out from Philadelphia and these coming out from my hometown of Kansas City of abusive priests having still been sheltered by their dioceses after the zero-tolerance policy went into effect, it raises serious questions about whether the Roman Catholic hierarchy is even following its own rules and regulations regarding child abuse. When it is estimated that two-thirds of American bishops actively participated in such cover-ups before 2002, there really should have been a zero tolerance policy for bishops covering up abuse as well, because a certain portion of the distrust that many people now feel towards the clergy and the church can be laid directly at their feet. They showed that they could not be trusted with the autonomy they exercised.

So even though I am not Catholic, it is hard not to take those stories personally--as a human being, or as a person who does have a lot of affection for the Roman Catholic Church, but especially as a young male pastor who works with children every week.

I was immensely blessed in college and seminary to receive intellectual guidance and spiritual support from a number of Catholic clergy, but I have to admit that the trust I have in all of them does not really spill over in the direction of the hierarchy. I want it to, but it doesn't.

And it doesn't because it didn't have to be this way. I read these stories of the powerful protests from the bishops, and I think to myself, "What if they had applied this zeal and enthusiasm to keeping their churches' children safe?" Just imagine how much that zeal would have strengthened the church in that world, and made that world a better place!

Instead, exactly one week after a Kansas City judge rules that Bishop Robert Finn should stand trial for failure to report suspected child abuse, the American bishops devote their collective energy to initiating a public campaign not to better enforce their own policies regarding sexual misconduct, but to expand their own religious liberties, including in matters pertaining directly to issues of sexuality.

As Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:24, "You strain out a gnat but you swallow a camel!"

Yours in Christ,

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