Ezra Pound, the American poet, once wrote of the Catholic Church: “Any institution that could survive the picturesqueness of the Borgias has a certain native resilience.” True, but cold comfort. Survival is one thing – even assured by Jesus Himself. But at this moment, everything beyond mere survival seems in doubt.
To shape the future, we need to understand the past, but in a Catholic way. And for that, we should follow Dr. Johnson’s advice to “clear your mind of cant.” It’s cant, he told Boswell, when we say things not quite true in public: “You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society; but don’t think foolishly.”
There are three “Cs” in our discussions about the abuse crisis that must be cleared of cant: the Church, clericalism, and corruption.
It’s cant, in my view, when we say “the Church” failed in handling abuse. Still worse, that “we’re all responsible.” The “Church” did not fail. Specific individuals committed specific acts. Other specific individuals either passively ignored what they knew or actively covered up. They failed, sometimes aided by networks, formal or informal. Not “the Church.”
It’s cant to broaden the guilt like this, which only diverts attention from the true problem. In the meantime, the situation is like an infected splinter. Until the splinter comes out, attempts to “heal” the inflammation will fail. We’ve had many expressions of regret and calls for forgiveness. They probably have to continue to calm the waters. But they will only be effective if the specific causes of the infection, specific individuals, are removed. — from “The Church, Clericalism, and Corruption” (2018)