Brother in Christ, we need to work together. But I really cannot emphasize enough how seriously lost at sea the church seems to be.
(Letter sent by email on July 19th 2010.)
Cardinal William J. Levada
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Vatican City State
Dear Cardinal Levada, Brother in Christ:
Although you and I have met face to face on a couple occasions, I would not say we really know each other. We do however have some important things in common.
We are both old men, with fewer years ahead of us than behind. Time for us is important if we are still to accomplish a few important things. We are both Roman Catholic men, both historical theologians (both defended our doctoral dissertations magna cum laude). We are both Americans; and we greatly value, I trust, the American virtues of equality, freedom of expression and transparency. And I have no doubts that we both share a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel and to the Church.
All of the above, of course, is by way of introduction. Now to my letter: This, as you may suspect, is about the latest instruction from your Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sexual abuse and rape of children and teenagers by Roman Catholic priests is indeed a grave offense. Jesus was very clear as well: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
Frankly, Cardinal Levada, many actively-engaged Roman Catholics are deeply disappointed and distressed by this latest instruction. This most recent Vatican response to sexual abuse in the global Church is a total and complete disaster. To be blunt about it, it is outrageous. Not just a major public relations failure but a colossal leadership failure. The Vatican – and very particularly your office – has lost just about all credibility, thanks to a widely-publicized document that equates ordained men raping children with women being ordained.
Why is the Church so afraid of women in ordained ministry? Why are Church leaders still so ignorant — yes ignorant — about the ministerial history of women in the Church? This latest instruction from your Congregation that condemns women’s ordination as a “grave crime” is not just an unfortunate development. It is a sign of institutional ignorance and stupidity. Somehow you and your Congregation have to repair the damage done by this foolish statement.
I am pleased that the Church wants to speed up its disciplining of criminal priests. What I miss in the latest instruction, however, is any disciplining of criminal bishops. You know, as well as I, there are bishops, right now, guilty of their own sex crimes; but also more than a few bishops who have covered-up for and allowed – and still allow – abusive priests to remain sexual predators on young people. These bishops must be brought to trial; and some of them, quite frankly, belong behind bars. One very famous American Cardinal, who many observers believe should indeed be brought to trial in the United States, is now gloriously installed in Rome as Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
Cardinal Levada, as one old concerned Catholic, to another, the church has a lot of repair work to do. The institutional church’s credibility is at an all-time low. Seriously — at an-all time low. Many of us, for whom the Church was once a ray of light and source of hope, are very capable and very willing to help reform and rebuild the Church. We want to collaborate not compete.
Brother in Christ, we need to work together. But I really cannot emphasize enough how seriously lost at sea the church seems to be. Lost at sea with neither a map nor a compass.