An Open Letter to Cardinal Cupich

Re: Clerical SexAbuse Conference called by Pope Francis

Reverend Blasé Cupich:

As you and other members of the Planning Committee prepare to tally the results of the questionnaire completed by bishops, along with it, we urge you to include the insights of some of the leadership of the Church – including priests, bishops, and vicar generals – who have affiliated with us. In a separate letter, we have presented our hopes for specific agenda items in the form of bullet points for your reflection in these remaining weeks. Having submitted these points, we recognize that the follow-up planning will be long term and must of prudent necessity include the lay faithful in many forms. We appreciate and support your description of this conference as “the beginning of a worldwide reform that will need to be ongoing and will involve a process of initiatives on regional, national and diocesan levels.” Guided by the Spirit, the bishops will most assuredly lay out plans that will involve the people of God’s full participation, not limited to serving as equal members on tribunals and could even lead to calling a 3rd Ecumenical Council. With this in mind, we’d now like to present what most progressives consider to be the apparent overriding solutions that will purge the Church once and for all of this malignant disease infesting our Church.

Rid the Church of Clericalism

The problem of sex abuse is recognized not just as an abuse of minors but also of adults. Priests, being human and in need of close personal relationships, can use their “clerical power” to attract sexual partners whether male or female. It is now recognized that the real problem is not sex but clericalism. And the ultimate solution to clericalism must include revisiting changes in Church practices made decades after the time of Jesus. The Church should consider reinstating optional celibacy and acceptance of married clergy. Stronger steps should be taken to overcome discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. Nothing short of these changes will rid the church of clericalism, and its consequent sickness pervading our church.

Decentralize the Church

Moving away from a monarchical global church to Pope Francis’s upside-down pyramid is clearly being called for around the world. This should not stop at the conferences of bishops but should continue down to the local diocese and the local parish. In this way, such decisions as accepting married priests, recognizing the LGBT community as reflecting God’s creation, accepting women into the deaconate and/or priesthood would be determined by the local community. Other churches have much to teach us after hundreds of years of experience. Just as in the Episcopal Church, the parish council (or “vestry” as it called) is the deciding body in the parish. They are chosen by the people to hire their priests, to establish their salaries, to outline their duties, etc. emphasizing that we are all one body with many parts, each doing our part to build the Body of Christ without one being more important than the other.

Include the people in the selection of their own bishops

A simple way for the people to become involved in the process is to return to the practice of the early Church. Under the current system, this process is in the hands of the Papal Nuncio, who submits to the Vatican three recommendations of priests to serve as bishop in a given region. One way to include the laity is by asking the people to send in proposals to their Nuncio of those whom they feel should be considered as candidates for bishops along with the reasons why they are most qualified. The goal is to have the Nuncio represent the people’s choices to Rome rather than Rome’s choices imposed on the people. This would be an opportunity for the people to express the qualifications they believe are important for a bishop: one who would have the “smell of the sheep” and who would welcome having lay involvement and lay leadership. Once this succeeds in one region of the world, the methodology could be shared with other parts of the world.

Move toward synodal participation of the people

The February summit – and, indeed, the crisis of clerical sexual abuse – is an opportunity to make the Church more synodal, to provide structures and practices that more adequately and more fully encompass participation of the people. We suggest a resolution be agreed upon during the business portion of your meeting:

RESOLVED that, at the urging of each regional conference of bishops, each bishop shall welcome one or more mechanisms for synodal participation by the people and do all in his power to see that this comes to fruition within their diocese. These mechanisms are to be direct participation in small groups rather than through representation on parish or diocesan councils.

Each diocese would have a permanent procedure for assembling groups of eight or ten to provide community discernment on a question posed by the bishop, by a pastor, or by the community itself. The methodology of reflection would be first to listen to each other and to their stories of lived experience, and then to form or revise judgments in light of the different views that have been heard. The object of such discernment would not be consensus but rather a plurality of viewpoints at least one of which can be supported by each member of the group. It is important that lay initiative and ownership over these gatherings be given priority, otherwise there will be a resurgence of a culture of clericalism and the possibility of synodal governance will be stillborn.

This work product could then be published in an appropriate publication available to the entire diocese. It would give due appreciation to the dignity of each participant, and a plurality of viewpoints would give due respect to the dignity of the whole community. You yourself, Fr. Cupich, have said that the bishops need the lay faithful to assume a leadership role in any resolution to the clerical sex abuse crisis. Without direct hands-on lay involvement in all that is set forth following the conference, the work of the synod of Bishops will once again lack credibility.

We ask you to consider all these points as follow-up plans are established during your February 2019 conference. With prayers, blessings and good wishes for you and all the bishops gathered next month,

Rene Reid,
Director, Catholic Church Reform International

CC: Pope Francis
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta
Rev. Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University


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