A major role organizational leaders play is to set the standard example of behavior. Whether it is congratulating someone on an accomplishment, announcing routine business, taking a hard issue head-on, avoiding dealing with the elephant in the room, what leadership models publicly tells to the rest of the organization what they really value and believe.
With respect to hard issues – the Roman Catholic Church has it in spades. It’s hard to defend the indefensible when it comes to decades of abuse and mistreatment, organized cover-up, and turning a blind eye to conduct and behavior that has no place in the body of believers. When it comes to light that a church organization that is supposed to be a refuge from sin and abuse was instead a long-term refuge for sin and abuse, only the strongest words and clearest calls to action will do.
In his letter to the Diocese of Madison, Bishop Robert C. Morlino wrote what I consider an excellent example of leadership facing down and dealing with the kind of unthinkable scandal faced by the Roman Catholic church. He takes charge of the situation, owns it, names evil for what it is, shows remorse and repentance, draws a line in the sand when it comes to infractions, and delivers a clear mandate for the entire church to do better in the future.
Following is a significant amount of Bishop Morlino’s letter – I encourage you to read it in full. All emphasis are mine.
August 18, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Diocese of Madison,
The past weeks have brought a great deal of scandal, justified anger, and a call for answers and action by many faithful Catholics here in the U.S. and overseas, directed at the Church hierarchy regarding sexual sins by bishops, priests, and even cardinals. Still more anger is rightly directed at those who have been complicit in keeping some of these serious sins from coming to light.
For my part — and I know I am not alone — I am tired of this. I am tired of people being hurt, gravely hurt! I am tired of the obfuscation of truth. I am tired of sin. And, as one who has tried — despite my many imperfections — to lay down my life for Christ and His Church, I am tired of the regular violation of sacred duties by those entrusted with immense responsibility from the Lord for the care of His people.
The stories being brought into light and displayed in gruesome detail with regard to some priests, religious, and now even those in places of highest leadership, are sickening. Hearing even one of these stories is, quite literally, enough to make someone sick. But my own sickness at the stories is quickly put into perspective when I recall the fact that many individuals have lived through them for years. For them, these are not stories, they are indeed realities. To them I turn and say, again, I am sorry for what you have suffered and what you continue to suffer in your mind and in your heart.
If you have not already done so, I beg you to reach out, as hard as that may be, and seek help to begin to heal. Also, if you’ve been hurt by a priest of our diocese, I encourage you to come forward, to make a report to law enforcement and to our Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, so that we might begin, with you as an individual, to try and set things right to the greatest extent possible.
There is nothing about these stories that is okay. These actions, committed by more than a few, can only be classified as evil, evil that cries out for justice and sin that must be cast out from our Church.
For too long we have diminished the reality of sin — we have refused to call a sin a sin — and we have excused sin in the name of a mistaken notion of mercy. In our efforts to be open to the world we have become all too willing to abandon the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In order to avoid causing offense we offer to ourselves and to others niceties and human consolation.
Why do we do this? Is it out of an earnest desire to display a misguided sense of being “pastoral?” Have we covered over the truth out of fear? Are we afraid of being disliked by people in this world? Or are we afraid of being called hypocrites because we are not striving tirelessly for holiness in our own lives?
Perhaps these are the reasons, but perhaps it is more or less complex than this. In the end, the excuses do not matter. We must be done with sin. It must be rooted out and again considered unacceptable. Love sinners? Yes. Accept true repentance? Yes. But do not say sin is okay. And do not pretend that grave violations of office and of trust come without grave, lasting consequences.
The deeper crisis that must be addressed is the license for sin to have a home in individuals at every level of the Church. There is a certain comfort level with sin that has come to pervade our teaching, our preaching, our decision making, and our very way of living.
There must be no room left, no refuge for sin — either within our own lives, or within the lives of our communities. To be a refuge for sinners (which we should be), the Church must be a place where sinners can turn to be reconciled. In this I speak of all sin. But to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual — almost exclusively homosexual — acts by clerics. We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals. We are talking about acts and actions which are not only in violation of the sacred promises made by some, in short, sacrilege, but also are in violation of the natural moral law for all. To call it anything else would be deceitful and would only ignore the problem further.
To fall into the trap of parsing problems according to what society might find acceptable or unacceptable is ignoring the fact that the Church has never held ANY of it to be acceptable — neither the abuse of children, nor any use of one’s sexuality outside of the marital relationship, nor the sin of sodomy, nor the entering of clerics into intimate sexual relationships at all, nor the abuse and coercion by those with authority.
It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church’s teaching is clear that the homosexual inclination is not in itself sinful, but it is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest. And the decision to act upon this disordered inclination is a sin so grave that it cries out to heaven for vengeance, especially when it involves preying upon the young or the vulnerable. Such wickedness should be hated with a perfect hatred. Christian charity itself demands that we should hate wickedness just as we love goodness. But while hating the sin, we must never hate the sinner, who is called to conversion, penance, and renewed communion with Christ and His Church, through His inexhaustible mercy.
At the same time, however, the love and mercy which we are called to have even for the worst of sinners does not exclude holding them accountable for their actions through a punishment proportionate to the gravity of their offense. In fact, a just punishment is an important work of love and mercy, because, while it serves primarily as retribution for the offense committed, it also offers the guilty party an opportunity to make expiation for his sin in this life (if he willingly accepts his punishment), thus sparing him worse punishment in the life to come. Motivated, therefore, by love and concern for souls, I stand with those calling for justice to be done upon the guilty.
I said that I was tempted to despair in light of all of this. However, that temptation quickly passed, thanks be to God. No matter how large the problem, we know that we are called to go forward in faith, to rely upon God’s promises to us, and to work hard to make every bit of difference we can, within our spheres of influence.
…if you have knowledge of any sort of criminal abuse of children by someone in the Church, contact law enforcement. If you need help in contacting law enforcement contact our Victim’s Assistance Coordinator and she will help connect you with the best resources. If you are an adult victim of sexual abuse from childhood, we still encourage you to reach out to law enforcement first, but even if you don’t want to, please still reach out to us.
I add my name to those calling for real and sustained reform in the episcopate, priesthood, our parishes, schools, universities, and seminaries that would root out and hold accountable any would-be sexual predator or accomplice;
I will hold the priests of the diocese to their promise to live a chaste and celibate life of service to you and your parish, and evidence of failure in this regard will be justly addressed;
I will likewise hold every man studying for the priesthood for our diocese accountable to living a chaste and celibate life as part of his formation for the priesthood. Failure to do so will lead to dismissal from diocesan sponsorship;
I will continue to require (with our men and our funds) that all seminaries to which we send men to study be vigilant that seminarians are protected from sexual predators and provide an atmosphere conducive to their holistic formation as holy priests, in the image of Christ;
More than anything else, we as a Church must cease our acceptance of sin and evil. We must cast out sin from our own lives and run toward holiness. We must refuse to be silent in the face of sin and evil in our families and communities and we must demand from our pastors — myself included — that they themselves are striving day in and day out for holiness. We must do this always with loving respect for individuals but with a clear understanding that true love can never exist without truth.
Again, right now there is a lot of justified anger and passion coming from many holy and faithful lay people and clerics across the country, calling for real reform and “house cleaning” of this type of depravity. I stand with them. I don’t know yet how this will play out nationally or internationally. But I do know this, and I make this my last point and last promise, for the Diocese of Madison: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”