There’s much for each of us to do, and every prayer or good deed is part of the rebuilding the Church desperately needs.
Fr. Roger Landry
I have tried in recent columns to respond to some of the many questions that people have been asking about the scandals that began with the revelations about the predations of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, were magnified by the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and have now expanded further with the publication of several testimonies by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former apostolic nuncio to the United States.
I would like to continue tackling some of the more frequent and important questions I’ve been hearing in some recent talks, comment boxes, social media posts, phone calls and emails.
Can I still trust the clergy? It’s clear that trust has been shattered for many Catholics by the actions and omissions of priests and bishops who have proven themselves untrustworthy. Two of the online comments to one of my recent articles made this point emphatically.
One man, John, wrote, “You give advice, but we no longer trust you.”
Another, Alan, commented, “After 2002, we trusted the bishops, though they obviously did not trust us, the laity, with all of their programs, training and background checks. Now it is far too late. We cannot trust priests. We cannot trust religious. We cannot trust bishops. We cannot trust the Pope. … I want to be as clear as possible: I do not think you are a homosexual or a pedophile. I believe that you are possibly a very orthodox and good priest. Despite that, I would die before I let my son be alone with you, because I cannot trust you, and that goes for all priests, religious and bishops. We cannot trust you.”
Trust is a firm belief in someone else, that he’s reliable, honest, upright. It’s a positive “prejudice,” an act of faith in someone that he can be counted on to tell the truth, to keep his promises and commitments, and not to take advantage of you. Lack of trust is likewise a prejudgment that someone is probably dishonest, deceitful, unreliable, corrupt or even traitorous.
In the past, thanks to the accumulated goodness of generations of faithful priests, most people were predisposed to trust that priests were men of God, to believe that they told the truth, to have confidence that when they acted, it flowed from love of God and neighbor. It was this general trust in God and in clergy that abusers exploited in order to gain access to their victims and various bishops took advantage of when they lied to victims and their parents, reassigned abusers and covered up these sacrileges.
After the scandals of 2002 and 2018, many now treat priests and bishops with suspicion instead of trust, with doubt rather than the benefit of the doubt. It’s clearly part of the reparation priests and bishops today must do for the sins of their brothers.