Last week’s grand jury report about sex abuse in the ranks of the Catholic clergy filled me with both disgust and anger that I can’t adequately describe here.
One thing it has made clear, however, is that there is an ecclesial “swamp” or a “deep state” within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, one that needs to be drained without hesitation. The similarities between this clerical swamp and the D.C. political swamp are uncanny.
Both raise the question of who is actually being served. In Washington D.C., the Swamp’s status quo serves many things, primarily the wealth and influence of America’s entrenched political class and the constant growth and leftward drift of government power. The ecclesial swamp serves the interests and reputations of predators and their enablers, which far outweigh the needs of their flocks or the Church as a whole. Both swamps are concentrated on goals widely different from what their jobs actually are.
When a scandal hits, the political and ecclesial swamp creatures can always be expected to circle their wagons, run to public relations firms, and hide behind non-apologies rather than confront their own wrongdoers or offer legitimate penitence. And few will ever vacate their posts unless forced to either by public pressure or orders from higher up. Job one is preserving their own positions and authority. Just look at the calls for Cardinal Donald Wuerl — who is mentioned some 200 times in the grand jury report — to resign. For an example of a slick PR response, just check out TheWuerlRecord.com … and note that it redirects to the website of the archdiocese.
Both have their own languages. Where D.C. swamp creatures speak politician-ese, those in the clerical swamp speak bishop-ese. Anyone who has seen a scandal unfold or seen the rollout of some do-nothing, headline-grabbing bill knows what it sounds like. Likewise, if you’ve seen a bishop’s letter or press release that talks of things like “deep sadness” without any mention of the deep-rooted problems in the church hierarchy or the desperate need for structural reforms, then you’ve read some grade-A bishop-ese.
Naturally, there are those who seek to drain both swamps. They are typically younger folks, true believers in first principles. They talk the talk and walk a firm walk on what they believe and what needs to change at the leadership levels in order to get back to those principles. For this, they’re typically despised by those who seek to preserve the status quo and are dismissed as “rigid” or “extreme.”
I don’t wish to oversimplify a complex problem. The two are not totally analogous. The Catholic Church is not a Democratic body, nor should it be, but its members are not unaccountable, especially those trusted with the care of souls. But this comparison offers non-Catholics some perspective on the problem and, I hope, encourages my brothers and sisters in the Catholic laity to step up in this moment.
We’ve heard a lot about a coming “age of the laity” in recent years. At a time like this, it might be helpful to remember the words of Archbishop Ven. Fulton Sheen when he addressed the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus back in 1972:
Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious.
This will not be a quick or easy task by any stretch of the imagination. If swamps drained themselves, there would be no swamps. It falls to the ranks of the faithful to demand and effect the changes necessary. The monsters of this festering swamp have claimed far too many victims already.