One of my roles as a federal judge is to help people resolve disputes that have spawned expensive and emotionally charged litigation. A lot has been written about the self-imposed destruction of the Catholic Church, where I worship, but one thing is certain: The church desperately needs help from the laity.
Catholic bishops need a reality check.
They need trained mediators to help them assess their approach to the pedophile crisis and cover-up, and to help resolve their internal bickering. Lay professionals need to explain the risks the church faces and work toward a peaceful resolution and meaningful reform. Moreover, a professional investigation of the cover-up is essential to restoring trust. And the bishops finally need to look beyond the "boys' club" cronies they always appoint, primarily based on their status as wealthy donors or their deference to the clergy. Women, non-Catholics, young Catholics, and ex-Catholics need to be involved.
This will be no small task. The church operates in secrecy, restricts the laity — primarily men — to mere advisory roles, and shields itself behind the curtain of canon law. On its deathbed, the church has nothing to lose by trying a new approach before it loses another generation of worshipers.
The bishops apparently have other thoughts.
As the church implodes before our eyes, some bishops have launched a civil war bordering on sheer madness. Instead of swiftly addressing the crisis and instituting reform, the bishops are bickering over control and power. They have lost sight that whoever wins will inherit a flawed institution hemorrhaging members and plunging into irrelevancy.
The recent letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano reads like the diary of a jilted teenager hell-bent on trashing a rival, Pope Francis, who benched him from the diplomatic corps. The letter is tabloid-worthy, featuring allegations of lies, homosexuality within the celibate clergy, and political favoritism.
Meanwhile, the pope is fighting five-alarm fires on all fronts. His pleas for dialogue and forgiveness seem as effective as a thimble of holy water in quenching the flames. The pope refuses to dignify Archbishop Vigano's claims with a response. Not helpful, Holy Father.
Not to be left out of a good brawl, Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has sucker-punched the aging pontiff, whom he embraced three years ago in Philadelphia. Instead of calling for a truce while they address more pressing issues, Archbishop Chaput vouched for his fellow conservative, Archbishop Vigano.
Archbishop Chaput never lifted a finger to support the pope, who apparently dissed him after the 2015 Philadelphia visit by not making him a cardinal. The pope's sin was akin to Archbishop Chaput's winning the Masters golf tournament and not getting a cheesy green sport coat. Nor did Archbishop Chaput advocate for reform of the cover-up culture, such as extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, as a grand jury recommended.
With the church teetering on self-destruction, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who heads the U.S. bishops, suggested that the laity might play some role in addressing the scandal. It remains unclear what, if any, role that will be. Until now, the men who run the church – and this is all about powerful men abusing their authority – have been investigating themselves in secret.
At least the bishops' ineptitude is consistent. When the pedophile crisis first erupted, the bishops made a few token changes, such as the revolutionary notion of notifying police of child sex abuse by priests. They swiftly turned to a new priority: tinkering with the prayers at Mass. Abuse victims should be comforted that Catholics now use words such as "incarnate," "consubstantial," and "with your spirit" at Mass.
Meanwhile, those few of us left in the pews stare at empty seats while praying for answers.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit commentator, urges us to tell our priests and bishops that we are angry. Really? Most parish priests are too ashamed, fearful, or defiant to meaningfully discuss the crisis. And most bishops view us as disobedient and ill-informed. Other suggestions are even less realistic, such as removing all bishops and a mass resignation.
That leaves us crippled by hopeless resignation. The church that has played such a huge part in lives is dying, and we are helpless.
Deathbed prayer is our only option.
I pray that the bishops will enlist the laity to address the crisis. If we can persuade the bishops to acknowledge the church's sinfulness, we might help save it. Otherwise, the church will be remembered as a nonprofit hijacked in the name of God and used as a racketeering enterprise by child predators and their protectors.