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This Lent, don’t give Catholic bishops a dime | Marc Thiessen

How is it that, 17 years after the abuse scandal first broke, we are still learning new information from grand juries and whistleblowers about the scandalous conduct of the bishops?

Bishops gathered during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront in November 2018.
Bishops gathered during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront in November 2018.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

On Ash Wednesday, the holy season of Lent begins — and so do the annual fund-raising drives by many of the nation’s Catholic bishops, known as the bishops’ Lenten appeals.

My advice to my fellow Catholics? Don't give them a dime.

Last fall, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was supposed to vote on a resolution to create a special commission, including six lay members, to investigate bishops who cover up sexual abuse. At the last minute, Pope Francis barred the bishops from holding the vote. But it’s not clear the resolution would have passed. After all, the bishops did vote on a nonbinding resolution that declared, “Be it resolved that the bishops of the USCCB encourage the Holy Father to release all the documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop [Theodore] McCarrick.” As they debated the wording, the National Catholic Register reports, “they could not even agree on the inclusion of the word ‘soon.’”

Even the watered-down resolution was rejected 137 to 83, with three bishops abstaining. Want to know how your bishop voted? You can’t. When I asked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the roll call vote, a spokesman replied, “Sorry, the votes are anonymous so we don’t know who voted for what.” That’s their idea of transparency.

The situation in Rome is no better. This year, Pope Francis reportedly informed Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley that he would not authorize a full-fledged investigation into the McCarrick coverup. In 2015, O’Malley and a special Vatican advisory group Francis appointed him to lead made a simple recommendation: If any Vatican office receives a letter from an abuse survivor, it must acknowledge the letter. The pope approved the recommendation, but Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has refused to comply — with no consequences from the pope.

The pope also agreed in 2015 to create a new tribunal, including laymen, to judge bishops who ignore or cover up sexual abuse. But a year later, he changed his mind. After an “intense dialogue,” Muller said, “it was concluded that to confront possible criminal negligence by bishops we already had the competence of the Congregation for Bishops.” Translation: The bishops can police themselves.

No, they can’t. How is it that, 17 years after the abuse scandal first broke, we are still learning new information from grand juries and whistle-blowers about the scandalous conduct of the bishops? Until every corrupt bishop who ignored or actively covered up abuse is exposed and removed, the laity should shun the bishops’ Lenten appeals. When your pastor hands you an envelope, hand it back empty — or better yet, send your bishop a letter explaining that he will get no financial support until the conspiracy of silence is ended and corrupt bishops are held to account.

I offer this advice with a heavy heart, because I am, and will always remain, a faithful Catholic. I will never leave the church for one simple reason: I will not let Judas separate me from Jesus. But let’s be clear: There are Judases in the ranks of today’s successors of the apostles. They covered up or ignored sexual misconduct and moved around predator priests and continue to do so. They made secret payouts to victims while requiring them to sign confidentiality agreements. They were told about McCarrick’s serial abuses and did nothing, in many cases because McCarrick helped them rise to the powerful positions they now hold.

The church is not a democracy, nor should it be. It exists to spread the views of its founder, not its followers. But that does not mean that the laity must tolerate the bishops who have overlooked, ignored, or covered up abuse. We must demand every bishop who did so be held to account and removed from office. Clearly the outcry of the victims is not enough. The only way we can get accountability is by voting with our pocketbooks.

Some may object that the bishops’ Lenten appeals fund many good causes. There’s a simple solution: bypass the bishops and give directly to the many wonderful Catholic charities that help the poor and vulnerable. At the National Catholic Register, Simcha Fisher has a list of nearly two dozen worthy Catholic charitable groups dedicated to aiding the destitute, the disabled, the aged, the persecuted, the widowed, the unwanted, and the unborn.

Give them what you would normally give to the bishops. Give more. But until church leaders cleanse themselves of the stench of corruption, boycott the bishops.

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. @marcthiessen