FORTH WORTH, Texas — While fallout from this summer’s clerical sexual revelations threatened to overshadow last week’s long-anticipated national summit on Hispanic Catholics, sentiment among the more than 3,000 attendees at the V Encuentro might be summarized as this: Our faith is bigger than the clergy who fail to live it out.
After four full days of keynote addresses, masses, breakout sessions, and coffee breaks, the sexual abuse crisis was repeatedly acknowledged by both the laity and Church leaders alike — but with the realization that the way forward will not be a singular silver bullet solution nor an “us versus them” mentality, but rather, as one bishop described to Crux, as a family acknowledging its faults but committed to repairing them together.
The “Special Gifts” of the Latino Community
According to Sister Teresa Maya, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), confronting sexual abuse in a universal Church requires universal buy-in from its members.
“There’s no way that any one of us, no matter what part of the Church you’re in, whether it’s in leadership or in the pews of the parish, that we’re not saddened and worried about this situation,” she told Crux.
“I think, however, the solution has to be all of us owning that this is our Church and asking, ‘What are we going to do so that this never happens again, and so that we can rebuild trust?” she insisted.
Maya, who is Mexican-American, said the Latino community has “special gifts” to offer a Church in crisis.
“The first one is that their faith is broader and deeper than just a kind of clerical, institutional model. They have taught us throughout the years and through history that they have not always had clergy with them, or in situations where mass is being offered, and yet their faith has helped them to grow,” said Maya.
“I think God is bigger than all of this, and that’s something they have taught us. The second thing is that they have taught us that you can be a resilient people. You can live through all kinds of crises and if you’re together as a community, you’ll be able to face it,” she continued.
“And these are people who have suffered a lot, who overcome discrimination and challenges to get to this country, issues of legal status, and yet they celebrate their faith. We have something to learn about how even in the bad times, God never leaves us.”
Walter Mena, who serves on the youth pastoral network of the archdiocese of Boston, offered a similar interpretation of the crisis, observing that most Hispanics have a different cultural view.
“I don’t mean to say that it’s not important, because it’s vital, but for us, independently of the priests or the bishops and the noise that the crisis might produce, what we have is our faith,” Mena said.
“The first thing for us is the Kingdom, the Church.”
Uruguayan layman Guzman Carriquirry, who served as the Vatican’s representative to the Encuentro, told Crux that he believed the timing of the event was providential, providing a chance to reflect on the joy of the Gospel in difficult times.
“God wanted for this event to be held amidst this storm,” he said. “Why? Because it’s become a kairos, a moment of grace for the whole U.S. Church,” said Carriquirry, who serves as vice-president of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America.
“It’s a balm from God, a caress for the wounds, consolation amidst the tribulations,” he said, noting that during the event he didn’t find people who were sad or depressed, but people “full of enthusiasm and joy, despite being conscious of the crisis.”
Such sentiments were felt not just by the laity, but also by many of the bishops on hand for the occasion.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, reflecting on the “vitality” of the Hispanic Church, told Crux that “This is for me, like an antidote. It’s not an escape. It’s helping us to figure out where we go from here.”
“We have to acknowledge all of this, and there will be many difficult consequences, but we are also talking about rebuilding. Here we are, and this is where we rebuild,” he said.
Regaining Credibility through Conversion
While warning against the temptation to look for a “silver bullet” or a “mechanized solution” that would quickly resolve the scourge of sex abuse, Bishop Michael Olson of Forth Worth told Crux that conversion was the only way for bishops to regain credibility.
For Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, conversion will require humility as a starting point — but a humility that accompanies a prophetic witness for the over 70 million Catholics in the country — many of whom are counting on their shepherds to represent their voices in the public square.
“We have to recognize head on the reality that our credibility in the public forum is diminished by our moral failures on the issue of abuse, and not only the historical shame we carry, but also the things we have failed to do in the past two decades,” he told Crux.
“We have to understand that we must speak with a deeper humility because of that. Our statements have to reflect a sense of humility, but humility does not mean any less strong clarion call to the joy of the Gospel,” he continued.
As a bishop along the U.S. border with Mexico, McElroy said that “humility accompanies in this present moment — the proclamation of justice for those who are being mistreated in in our midst, and for our national legacy as a country which is commuted to accepting refugees [while] we’re seeing the decimation of refugee programs.
“I do think that it demands a different tone of us, a different stance,” he said, “and a willingness that when people shout back at us they’re going to shout ‘you have failed and who are you to speak to us,’ and we have to say ‘yes, we have failed, but we’re trying to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ even in our failures.’”