This article appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of The American Perspective magazine. Subscribe here.
The truth at the heart of the lie
By James Carroll
For Catholics and others put off by the continuing tragedy of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, James Carroll’s book The truth at the heart of the lie comes as a welcome, sharp, and very readable dissection of a global humanitarian crisis, though not all will embrace its surprise prescription for reform.
As a former Catholic priest, bestselling author and opinion columnist covering Catholic themes for The Boston Globe for over 20 years, Carroll is uniquely positioned to delve into an issue that has upset the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and rocked the Vatican while undermining the moral authority of the Church for more than two decades.
Regarded as “A Memoir of Faith,” it offers an intimate and often anguished first-person account of Carroll’s journey of a boy who felt the presence of Jesus Christ at a young age, through his restless questioning of his life. vocation, and finally to his alienation from an institution he still loves.
Its final turn is sparked by the Church’s failure to prevent powerful priests from sexually assaulting children, its refusal to address the root causes of the phenomenon and, more specifically, its disillusionment with the Pope. Francis, a ray of hope for Carroll and millions of other Catholics when he was elected almost a decade ago.
The specific moment of Carroll’s alienation erupts during the Pope’s papal visit to Ireland in 2018, the scene of some of Carroll’s most memorable writings. Francis came on the heels of a decade of horrific revelations about clergy abuse in the once very Catholic nation, including the much-publicized Madeleine laundries scandal, where single mothers were forced to live in bondage and where, at one location, more than 800 infant corpses were found. , many of whom are victims of malnutrition and neglect.
Although Francis has repeatedly denounced clericalism, Carroll rightly accuses him of doing everything possible to support his “twin pillars.”
Still, the Pope said he knew nothing about laundries until he arrived in Ireland, a comment that Carroll said perfectly summed up the institutional denial that allowed the clergy sexual abuse scandal to continue unabated. “I had never heard of these mothers, they call it the women’s laundromat where a single woman is pregnant and goes to these hospitals,” said the unfortunate Francis. âI don’t know what they call them.
When he learned of these remarks, Carroll’s immediate thought was, âA lie. Pope Francis is lying. How could he not have heard about the famous Madeleine laundries, then the subject of several documentaries and the Philomene, the 2013 film with Judi Dench? But even if Francis wasn’t lying, Carroll said, the ignorance was just as bad. “A taut thread in me has broken,” he recalls. “Pope Francis Magdalene’s denial did it, and in an instant my core belief was challenged and my entire life changed.”
Carroll, who previously analyzed the doctrine and history of the Church in the Constantine’s sword, attributes the endless crisis of clergy abuse to clericalism, to the unique Catholic culture surrounding the exclusively male priesthood and hierarchy of the Church – an ancient secret society accountable only to itself and for which the headquarters are in the city-state of Vatican City.
Although Francis has repeatedly denounced clericalism, Carroll rightly accuses him of doing everything possible to support his “twin pillars.” Namely, the requirement of “inhuman” celibacy for priests and the exclusion of women from the clergy.
Catholic priests were allowed to marry and father children for over a thousand years, until the First Lateran Council in 1123. With the adoption of this draconian requirement, Carroll writes, the wives and children of priests have been plunged into poverty, prostitution and slavery, “a massive crime against thousands of innocent Catholics, especially women”.
Carroll’s deep disappointment with Francis and what he repeatedly calls the âmisogynyâ of the Church will strike a chord with Catholic women who saw the new Pope as a way to extend the liberal reforms of the 1960s and of Vatican II, only to see it affirm the efforts of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to permanently ban women from the Catholic clergy, claiming it was “the last word” on the subject.
As Francis ‘papacy draws to a close – he is 84 and recently underwent surgery for diverticulitis – Carroll’s acute disillusionment will certainly feature in the history assessment of Francis’ tenure as leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics around the world, as well as his attempts to thwart the Conservatives. currents broke loose during the 35-year reign of his predecessors, Jean-Paul and BenoÃ®t.
Francois struggled to back up his liberal statements and personal assurances with lasting action.
Without a doubt, Francis has rocked Church conservatives by downplaying their crusade against abortion and attempting to reposition Catholicism as a “church for the poor”, especially the growing ranks of migrants and refugees around the world. . He unveiled his attempt to reset the Church’s priorities almost immediately after his election, in 2013, when he met Fr. Gustavo GutiÃ©rrez, a Peruvian theologian and founder of liberation theology, who seeks to realign the Church with the dispossessed of the world by urging Catholics to take political action to correct social injustice, a school of thought condemned by Benedict when he was head of the Vatican office which applies Church orthodoxy.
Francis notably asserted his allegiance to the poor and to social justice movements within the Church two years later when he declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr and then presided over the process that led to his canonization, or holiness. Romero, a staunch advocate for the poor in El Salvador, stricken by poverty in the 1970s, was assassinated by a right-wing death squad while delivering mass.
Since then, Francis has continued to lead the Church in a liberal direction with statements highlighting the dangers of rampant capitalism, warnings about global warming, and the obligation of Catholics to act to protect the environment. âLiving our vocation to be protectors of the work of God is essential to a life of virtue,â he said in a papal encyclical. “[I]It is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.
But Francis failed to address or even recognize a series of pressing contemporary concerns which, as Carroll notes, all fall under the rubric of human sexuality. In addition to his inability to consider allowing women to become priests and the halfway steps he took to prevent clergy sexual abuse, he dodged celibacy, birth control, and same-sex marriage. Francis pointed out tolerance for LGBTQ Catholics when asked how he might act as a confessor to a homosexual person and replied, âWho am I to judge? But the Church continues to view homosexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil,” as Benedict XVI said, and same-sex marriage is not allowed.
Francis has also struggled to back up his liberal statements and personal assurances with lasting action, a fact underscored by his efforts to curb the conservatives who control the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, especially those seeking a mandate for prevent President Joe Biden from receiving Holy Communion unless he renounces his support for the right to abortion. Following a vote in June to create a âteaching documentâ on the meaning of the Eucharist, the USCCB said: âThere will be no national policy on refusing communion from politicians. . But the document is unlikely to be considered for approval before a November bishops’ conference, leaving enough time for internally torn American bishops to amend their statement. It is as if Francis, who prefers a conciliatory approach to the ideological war raging within the world Church, never understood that the Church is a political institution, and that lasting reform and progress Meaningful spirituality can only come after the consolidation of political power.
Carroll’s assessment of Francis and his overall indictment of the Church for his failure to deal effectively with the clergy sexual abuse crisis has all the hallmarks of an airtight record, and it just might be that. But he makes a surprising change in his concluding chapters and epilogue – “A Catholic Manifesto” – by calling for change.
Rather than leaving the Church, Carroll calls on dissident Catholics to organize a rebellion from within by establishing a foothold for anticlericalism and a more humane Church “on the inner ecclesial margin,” even if that means giving up. Sunday mass, like Carroll did. . Returning to his days as a Catholic priest advising young conscripts seeking to avoid the Vietnam War, he said, âSee us as the conscientious objectors of the Church. We are not deserters.
In part, Carroll’s argument is practical: the Church is a worldwide community of over a billion people, including thousands who care for the poor and heal the sick, who will not be âgoing awayâ anytime soon. As such, it is an institution with the potential to make great humanitarian progress. Indeed, Carroll goes so far as to say that “a reformed Catholic Church, enlightened and full of hope is essential to the development, even to the survival, of the human species”.
His argument is also spiritual, because it goes back to the early days of Christendom, before the Church decided that only priests can pronounce the Eucharist, before the requirement of celibacy, before the era of empire, then that much of the Catholic dogma that Carroll finds objectionable has been codified in Church law. In particular, he turns to the book of Matthew, where Jesus says, âFor where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.
Many Catholics will be grateful for the hope Carroll offers. âHope is a choice,â he writes. Others, perhaps clergy sexual abuse survivors and their friends and families, may be dismayed at a spirit of appeasement, or simply saddened by the sight of a Catholic Brigadoon who will never return.