By Matt Rooney
To say the U.S. Church’s priorities are a little bit screwed up these days might be the understatement of the century. Or the millennium?
It’s been a long time since things have been this bleak for the Roman Catholic Church. The new revelation that hundreds of priests may’ve molested thousands of children in Pennsylvania alone, in ‘systemic’ fashion, certainly represents a new low for the once flourishing and formidable American Church. What Boston dealt with years ago is now creeping down into the Mid-Atlantic, and former giants of the Church are looking pretty small.
We’re not dealing in the abstract; all of this extremely personal. I’m a Roman Catholic, and Knight of Columbus, and a former altar boy. Four of the priests identified by Pennsylvania’s AG spent considerable time in New Jersey. One apparently taught at my high school albeit years before my attendance.
Another I knew personally: James Hopkins. This evil asshole was loved by just about everyone at my Camden County parish before we found out what he was really up to, naturally only AFTER he was moved out by the Diocese and my duped parish gave him a big, friendly farewell. He baptized my younger brother! Hopkins had even previously been a dinner guest at my parents’ home. What we didn’t know at the time? Here’s what the aforementioned report disclosed:
“In November 2012, the Diocese of Pittsburgh received an e-mail communication from an adult male about Father James Hopkins. He stated that several decades earlier, Hopkins performed a “medical exam” on him when he was freshman at St. Fidelis Seminary High School.
The exam involved the young man bending over naked in front of Hopkins and listening to Hopkins make creepy comments about his behind. There was no indication in the records that the Diocese conducted an investigation or attempted to contact the male about counseling.
That same month, the Diocese sent a letter to the Butler County District Attorney’s Office, advising of the allegation. The letter stated that Hopkins was transferred to the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey in 1973.
In 1995, he pled guilty to sexually molesting an altar boy in Camden County. He received a ten year prison sentence and was ordered to register as a sex offender.”
Disbelief. Pain. Anger. No; fury is the better word.
Mind you, I was only in grade school when this all happened in the 1990s and yet I still feel deeply betrayed by someone I looked up to during some formative years of my young life. Imagine how my parents felt, too, knowing this monster had been invited in our home as well as the homes of God knows how many other parishioners. Thank the Lord my brother and I were never abused; other kids obviously weren’t as fortunate.
It’s perfectly understandable how this stuff impacts many of the victims’ faith in… well, everything.
For the rest of us? Regular readers of this website know that I’m proud and unflinching Christian but one who is willing to criticize the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the direction of the U.S. Church in particular. My faith on one hand and my allegiance to men, and their institutions, on the other are not one in the same. Sadly, this worldview has been strengthened by a lifetime of interactions with priests who don’t deserve the honorific title “father.” Not always because of something as grave as what Hopkins did, of course. I’m talking about the priests who seems to care more about having nice cars, annual trips to Italy, and regular invitations to dine out than actually attempting to live a Christ-like life. Every Catholic reading this knows of what I speak!
Some loyalists and orthodox-types may say that makes me a bad Catholic?
Let them. Pope Francis’s “progressive” papacy is unambiguously taking the Church backwards, away from its mission as a force for good and light in our world. New Jersey’s own bishops are no exception to the rule, lecturing their flocks on immigration amnesty and open borders (which we’ve covered here at this site) while simultaneously turning a blind eye to wolves in clerical clothing who are preying on our kids.
Silence really isn’t an option anymore. The Church’s leadership culture is in the toilet. These “men” are destroying everything we hold dear.
My two cents on where/how the change needs to begin? The U.S. Catholic Church needs to spend a
little lot less time fretting over each and every “social justice” cause célèbre and devote all of its energy to cleaning its own house. The bishops have jettisoned their own morality in favor of our culture’s watered-down alternative. We’re rudderless because these old men don’t have rudders.
Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables; it’s long past time to kick some asses to the curb.
Less time on politics, more time on soul craft.
Less focus on “social justice” and more on supporting the cause of justice for those who are a danger to our society.
Less talk about conforming to political correctness and more emphasis on striving for holiness.
Less energy spent on those thousands of miles away and more energy devoted to the flock that’s present..
Francis and the bishops want to focus on Donald Trump “separating families” at the border.
Maybe it’s a deliberate misdirection; he and his buddies in purple and red would prefer to point fingers outward than incur scrutiny themselves for what these protected, shielded, re-shuffled clerical monsters did to families on their watch. The Church is suffering from having compromised its morality to appease an external, cultural elite’s values (or lack thereof). This stuff isn’t happening in a bubble, and it needs to stop. Now.
If the shepherds don’t want to go along? And change their ways? Maybe it’s time for the Catholic laity to have more power and authority. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s necessary. The early church wasn’t overtly hierarchical. It was a community. What came later in ensuing centuries represents man’s interpretation of God’s will for the Church (or something less honorable). The whole enchilada needs to be reconsidered in light of the current model’s clear failures. A little bit of democracy would not only begin to address the immediate crisis but also, I believe, make the Church more responsive to the real, pressing concerns of its members (e.g. we consider stopping child molesters a higher priority than global warming at the moment!).
To those intrepid social justice warriors who still stubbornly believe they’re substantively on the mark and insist these goals aren’t mutually exclusive? I say this: the clergy haven’t proven they can walk and chew gum at the same time.
The Church can’t be a force for good in the world again until it is GOOD itself, inside and out. And right now it’s mostly definitely not. Ask any Catholic who’s ever but his or her trust in a man like James Hopkins. We’re legion.