The World is Now Scrutinising the Church

Nov 20, 2022 | 22 comments

“The fact is that now it is no longer the church scrutinizing the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel. It is also the signs of the times – beginning with the voices of victims and survivors of abuse – scrutinizing the church in the light of the Gospel.”

This sentence from a recent striking NCR article – by theologian Massimo Faggioli and papal advisor on the safeguarding of children in the church Hans Zollner – has struck home with a regular contributor here, Soline Humbert of We Are Church.

Soline comments:

“We are in the midst of both our national Irish synodal pathway and, at the level of the universal church, in the phase of reflection on the Continental document, with our feedback requested by 22nd December.

“I believe the article linked below and quoted above is timely in raising, in the context of the synodal discernment process, the issue of abuse in the church: sexual abuse of children and vulnerable persons, and more broadly spiritual abuse and abuse of power.

“Some, perhaps many, will be tempted to say: enough about all this talk of abuse, let ‘s move on!…

“But can we, should we?

“When I first read the article, this particular sentence resonated strongly with me:

The fact is that now it is no longer the church scrutinizing the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel. It is also the signs of the times – beginning with the voices of victims and survivors of abuse – scrutinizing the church in the light of the Gospel.”

“In a week when we heard, again, on our national airways the powerful testimonies of brave survivors, we cannot but ask ourselves: What is the Spirit telling us through their voices through their tears through their cries for justice, healing?

“At the same time I have been watching in France (my country of origin) the ever-increasing number of cardinal(s), archbishops, bishops being named as perpetrators of abuse, as well as of covering up. The systemic nature of abuse in the church is being exposed at the highest levels.

“Many of us have been affected, directly or indirectly, by these abuses for several decades. We know well the deadly fruit they bear, the evil they spread.

“I agree with the authors that we cannot leave the abuse scandal out of the mainstream of synodal deliberations.

“To do this would be to avoid our responsibility to our sisters and brothers and therefore to Christ who said: ”What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to Me.”

“As a church, let us be courageous and unflinching in shining the light in all the dark corners and trust that the truth, and only the whole truth, will set us free.

Now is the time, the kairos.

The abuse crisis should be the center of the pope’s ongoing synodal process (NCR).


  1. Soline Humbert

    The case of famous artist, spiritual author, Jesuit cleric Marko Rupnik SJ is now slowly surfacing, but only thanks to whistle-blowers, after decades of official omerta and coverup during which he rose to starlike prominence. Two years ago he preached the Lenten retreat in the Vatican and only last month he was honoured by a catholic university.

    Nine religious sisters /former religious have complained of psychological and sexual abuse while he was confessor, spiritual director. The first complaint was made in 1995, but with a canonical investigation and trial delayed for decades, it is apparently now time-barred… As Cardinal Barbarin once famously declared in another case of clerical sexual abuse(against multiple children): ‘Thank God, the acts are time -barred’.

    Without the whistle blowers we would still be completely in the dark. There is still absolutely no transparency when it comes to cases of abuse and church investigations, trials and sanctions. It remains that if you are a famous cleric with powerful connections and your victims are of no status, the likelihood of any meaningful justice is very remote. Such is the present institutional ecclesiastical system and its culture.

    • soconaill

      Quite a few bishops will now lament the ‘fortress mentality’ that governed this cover-up – but essentially the fortress remains in the concentration of the administrative, governing and teaching roles in the canonical power of the bishop. Pope Francis’s insistence that authority in the church rests on service is merely, I fear, a continuation of the magisterial habit of speaking as though the ideal was already and always the real.

      And that in turn means that the teaching credibility of bishops remains at zero wherever ordinary Catholics have woken up to the reality of the vulnerability of children – and even adults – to clerical abuse, precisely because the ideal world of church documents has been revealed as a pious facade.

      If the ongoing ‘Universal Synod’ does not recognise and address this issue we will know that piosity still rules OK – and continue to depend upon secular media and other institutions to impose honesty – usually well after-the-fact – on men from whom it should have come naturally long, long ago.

      • Michael J. Toner

        While it`s to be expected that in such a forum as this that the focus should be on abuse of children by clerics, what thinking here has been given to the context of such abuse in the wider society? I mean specifically that of all those imprisoned for such abuse, well over 95% are not clerics. It would be wise therefore not to be too complacent about the moral superiority of the laity in this.
        By raising this I certainly do not mean to minimise the sense of scandal, outrage and revulsion caused especially by abuse by clerics, since in this country they have been happy to have taken on a unique responsibility as representatives of Christ, but rather to suggest it might be profitable to locate the focus of thinking about it in society as a whole, and that thinking about it and study of it may encompass more issues than those related to sexual morality.

        • soconaill

          As the founding purpose of ACI is the forwarding of the Vatican II programme of Catholic Church renewal, it is within that context that all issues are discussed here.

          It would be a mistake to conclude therefore that if we are not focussed primarily on the global issue of sexual abuse, as studied for example by Ireland’s SAVI report of 2002, that we are complacent about the reality that most sexual abuse is not perpetrated by clerics. Our campaign for church reform is based upon the conviction that the whole church needs to be discussing together and addressing all issues of injustice, including the realities that you describe regarding sexual abuse.

          Back in February 2005 the Irish hierarchy published a short Lenten reflection called ‘Towards Healing’, inviting the whole church to consider that global issue of sexual abuse in society, with a view to addressing the many injurious consequences. That very few people even remember that document now is testament to the power of internal inertia in the church – which dictated that those copies of ‘Towards Healing’ that ever reached parish churches would lie mouldering unopened in cupboards, never to be discussed.

          Only in 2022, finally, in our faltering approach to ‘Synodality’ did we begin to count the cost of avoiding the discussion of such issues, in a context of Christian faith. You are quite right to remind us of what SAVI revealed, but mistaken if you think us complacent about the wider problem of sexual abuse in society. The continuing lack of permanent structures of accountability and transparency in the church is still the main obstacle to the wider discussions that we seek.

          Under ‘Ongoing’ on the main menu you will find our thinking on the role of all baptised Christians regarding issues of injustice. Sexual abuse in its totality is unquestionably one of those issues.

        • Anthony Neville

          While accepting Michael Toner’s points about the percentage of abusers imprisoned not being clerics and the danger of a feeling of superiority by the laity, two points:

          I echo Sean’s point on the objectives of the ACI and not being blind to the problem in wider society.

          As a father myself, I am very conscious that the majority of abusers are fathers, who are neither ordained or celibate, and often remind people of this. However, there is no pyramidal organisation or authority of fatherhood actively working to conceal such abuse and seeking to obstruct efforts to expose this abuse and to protect the abusers. Instead the Church continues to do this, rather than evaluating its every action against the Beatitudes, in sharp contrast to its own objectives.

        • Patricia Fitzsimons

          I feel a complete sense of despair at Michael.J.Toners comments “Catholic Clergy” are not the only people abusing children as if this somehow makes it less wrong. I honestly believe that unless the Institutional Church recognises an equal role for women in the church that the issue of the sexual abuse in the church will never be dealt with. My biggest concern is that having consulted the laity in the Synodal Process that nothing will change and I will not be able to continue in the church.

    • soconaill

      Another illustration of the uselessness of canon law, Soline. If the magisterium was serious about tackling spiritual abuse of women there would everywhere be a bench of female canonists trained also in psychotherapy.

      Ireland’s Margaret Kennedy – now seriously disabled – wrote a brilliant doctoral thesis on this issue, again insisting that ‘boundary violations’ re women by priests should be automatically punishable, in the same way as such violations by a doctor or a therapist.

      As if!

      • Soline Humbert

        The Catholic church in France has now just set up a national penal tribunal, with both clerics and lay people ( including several women) as judges. (Cases of sexual violences against minors are still the preserve of the DDF in the Vatican ) .This was one of the recommendations from the CIASE report into church sex abuse in France,which is well worth reading( there is a summary version in English)
        Yes Sean, I have met Margaret Kennedy in Greystones and read her thesis. Her founding of MACSAS and her activism have been a pioneering work for which she rightly got official recognition. Well deserved.

    • soconaill

      Massimo’s ten dimensions to this abuse crisis will be nine too many for all who have already lost hope of the clerical institution ever reforming itself.

      Does a mature Christianity need to rely on any mediating institution? This question becomes ever more pertinent with every revelation of the betrayal of the trust placed in intermediaries as such, and the exploitation of ‘charisma’ by those to whom it is attributed. Faith is hard enough to sustain without the challenge of broken trust – and trust seems to be a magnet for those who would exploit it. The clerical institution now seems less like the person of Christ than one of the houses of sand that Jesus spoke of.

  2. soconaill

    From that article by Tom Roberts, Soline, the concluding questions:

    ‘ What would you, members of the hierarchy, require of a group of powerful laypeople who had conspired to engage in the worst public betrayal of the church in modern history, smeared the name of Catholicism globally in an unprecedented way, done unspeakable violence repeatedly to the most vulnerable, engaged in elaborate strategies to conceal the sin, drained the church of credibility in much of the world, raided its treasury to pay for silence, and now wished everyone would just move on?

    ‘What do you do to reconcile with the community when you’ve been complicit in what one longtime victims’ advocate termed “soul murder”?’

    I fear that reconciling with the community is endlessly postponed because the total honesty required for that will involve acknowledgement that in this matter the hierarchy followed Caiaphas and not Christ – in agreeing that it was better that some of the poorest and most vulnerable should suffer than that the clerical church should lose its sacramental prestige.

    That this dithering has deprived the sacraments of meaning for so many is now clear. There is no precedent for the open hierarchical confession that the situation demands, so the whole building is groaning on the brink of total collapse.

    • soconaill

      Clericalism involves complete blindness to – or denial of – this, unfortunately.


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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