DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics from the University of Oxford, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Boston College, Fordham and a number of institutions are demanding the "collective resignation" of every bishop in the United States.
On August 15 — the Feast of the Assumption — Catholic theologians, educators, parishioners and lay leaders issued an open letter calling on the bishops to step down after decades of covering up clerical sex abuse.
Since Wednesday, the "Statement of Catholic Theologians, Educators, Parishioners, and Lay Leaders On Clergy Sexual Abuse in the United States" has collected more than 1,300 signatures, with representatives from major universities and institutions as well as hundreds of parishes and ministries across the United States.
The statement begins by referencing the Pennsylvaia grand jury report, which chronicled "with nauseating clarity, seven decades of clergy sex abuse and systematic cover-up by bishops and others in positions of power," as well as "last months' revelations of decades of sexual predation by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick" and "the long shadow of the sexual abuse crisis in Boston and beyond."
Denouncing the crimes of predator priests and prelates, the signatories declare, "We are brought to our knees in revulsion and shame" by these "abominations."
"We are sickened in equal measure by the conspiracy of silence among bishops who exploited victims' wounds as collateral in self-protection and the preservation of power," they continue. "It is clear that it was the complicity of the powerful that allowed this radical evil to flourish with impunity."
"Today, we call on the Catholic Bishops of the United States to prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God's People," the letter states.
The statement urges U.S. prelates to follow the example of Chile's bishops, who in May resigned en masse (so far, three of the 34 have been removed) after being hauled to Rome for an emergency meeting with Pope Francis after their own systemic cover-up was revealed:
After years of suppressed truth, the unreserved decisiveness of the Chilean bishops' resignations communicated to the faithful a message that Catholics in the United States have yet to hear, with an urgency we have yet to witness: We have caused this devastation. We have allowed it to persist. We submit ourselves to judgment in recompense for what we have done and failed to do.
The signatories acknowledge the sweeping scope of their demand, but argue it is justified, based on the scale of the catastrophe.
"Some will feel that the resignation of all bishops is unjustified and even detrimental to the work of healing," the letter says. "After all, many bishops are indeed humble servants and well-intentioned pastors. This is an urge we recognize, but it is not one that we can accept."
"The catastrophic scale and historical magnitude of the abuse makes clear that this is not a case of 'a few bad apples,'" they note, "but rather a radical systemic injustice manifested at every level of the Church."
"Systemic sin cannot be ended through individual goodwill," it continues. "Its wounds are not healed through statements, internal investigations, or public relations campaigns but rather through collective accountability, transparency, and truth-telling."
"We are responsible for the house we live in, even if we did not build it ourselves," it adds. "This is why we call on the U.S. Bishops to offer their resignations collectively, in recognition of the systemic nature of this evil."
The letter recognizes that to stamp out the "epidemic of sexual violence" inside the Church, "structural change on a scale previously unimaginable" will be required. But a more fundamental change is needed: conversion.
"[T]ruth-telling and repentance are prerequisites to conversion," it notes. "This is as true of institutional conversion as it is of individual conversion."
As a collective body, the bishops have given the faithful little indication that they recognize and take accountability for the breathtaking magnitude of the violence and deceit that has continued unabated under their leadership. Thus, we call on them to follow Christ’s example in offering to the people a willing abdication of earthly status. This is a public act of penance and sorrow, absent of which no genuine process of healing and reform can begin.
The signatories identify themselves as teachers in "Catholic schools, colleges, universities, and graduate programs," and workers in "parishes, retreat centers, and diocesan offices."
They proclaim their support for all who have been devastated by the sins of the hierarchy: "We stand in solidarity with the thousands of victims, named and unnamed, whom predatory priests, protected by the willing silence of many bishops, have raped, abused, brainwashed, traumatized, and dehumanized."
They continue: "We stand with those driven to alcoholism and drug addiction, to mental illness and suicide. We grieve with their families and communities."
"We grieve in a different but no less profound way for our students, children, families, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and all of those we love who have left or will leave the Church because they have found its leaders unworthy of trust," they add. "We grieve for our parishes, communities, schools, and dioceses. We grieve for our Church."
Signatories also note their demand is not based on ideology, but morality.
"The call we issue today is neither liberal nor conservative," they say. "It does not emerge from a particular faction or ideology but rather from the heart of a wounded Church. It is an expression of fidelity to the victims, to Jesus Christ, to the Church in whose service we have devoted our lives."
They conclude with a final appeal to the hierarchy, repeating their call for the bishops to step down: "Thus, we call on you, Bishops of the United States, to consider this humble and public act of penance on behalf of us all. Let it be the first of many steps toward justice, transparency, and conversion. Only then might the wrenching work of healing begin."
The "Statement of Catholic Theologians, Educators, Parishioners, and Lay Leaders On Clergy Sexual Abuse in the United States" is open for any Catholic to sign. It can be found on the Daily Theology website.