Later this week, the Church will celebrate the annual feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. The holy day is a time to solemnly honor the authority and call to service that was entrusted to Saint Peter (and his successors) by Jesus Christ.
From Peter of Galilee to Francis of Buenos Aires, there have been 266 holders of the office of chief apostle and leader of the universal Church.
The feast day is a time to foster greater devotion to the papal office and the man who has been called to exercise it. Ironically, the holy day this year will fall in the middle of an international gathering of the pope with the presidents of bishops’ conferences from throughout the world. The meeting is not a happy one. It is not a celebration of accomplishments or an impetus to a deeper living out of the Great Commission.
Truth be told, the meeting is a belated and embarrassing clean-up job of sexual abuse of vulnerable people by predator priests and bishops, of the abuse of power, of a disgraceful intimidation or neglect of victims, and of massive cover-ups of such abuse by leadership.
Or, at least, that’s the hope of believers. Will this meeting produce real results or is it the usual bella figura of the Roman bureaucracy? Will the pope act decisively and consistently or will the Church have to suffer through more lip service?
The faithful of the Church desire to be just that, faithful. They want to believe in the papal office and in the man who holds it. They want to believe that the Church is being governed well and that leadership is modeling the universal call to holiness. Believers want to trust and have confidence that their shepherds are doing the work of good shepherds, namely, feeding the flock and guarding against the wolves.
And so, from the trenches, here’s an attempt to name and address some of the real, unbiased, faith-based issues that believers hope will be addressed in the coming days. These are not written from any desire to disrespect the pope, diminish his authority or popularity, or to hurt or weaken his vision for the Church. These are born from a moral sense given by the teachings of the Church and by an intense hope to see the Church flourish in her efforts to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the entire world.
And so, here are only three pressing issues:
1) The pope needs to address the charges leveled against him by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and the questions surrounding portions of his episcopal ministry in Argentina. If he made mistakes, he needs to repent. If he put his trust in the wrong people or for the wrong reasons, then he needs to address them and take accountability.
Dismissing these and thinking he can make veiled comments in liturgical homilies and that they will go away, only indicates that he does not realize how much this omission hurts his moral authority and the trust that people of goodwill wish to place in him.
Right or wrong, the pope needs to clear the air and regain a higher level of trust in himself and in his authority to shepherd and reform the Church.
2) The ecclesial life and series of promotions of Theodore McCarrick need to be fully investigated. We are beyond a mere laicization. Now, the names of enablers and protectors need to be given. Other clerics need to be disciplined.
If this doesn’t happen, then trust in the internal governance of the Church will be lost. The hierarchy will appear to be a stained boys’ club which looks out and protects its own, even when they abuse and hurt others. The enablers and protectors of McCarrick need to be removed and disgraced for their shameful compliance with evil. It must be clear to all that there are consequences for cooperating with evil.
3) The obvious question of gay priests needs to be taken seriously. Attempts to place this abuse and cover-up solely within an arena of clericalism is only a raw and unthinking display of the very clericalism that is supposedly being exposed and denounced.
Beyond these empty efforts, the pope needs to legitimately address whether men with homosexual tendencies should be in the Catholic priesthood. Supposedly that is already our discipline, and yet it doesn’t seem to be enforced or taken very seriously.
These are only three of the many issues in the hearts and minds of the faithful.
As the international gathering approaches near the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, it’s the immense hope that the pope will act swiftly and honestly and that the harm done to victims, to the faith and to the Church will be taken seriously and that a concrete path of repentance and wide-scale reform will be spelled out and justly followed by all.