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Laying aside all pretense of preeminence, the cardinals and bishops of the Catholic Church should resign themselves to the mercy of God. They should evince this resignation by declaring their intention to lay down their offices, with effect after a period of preparatory prayer and fasting throughout the Body of Christ. After that period, the College of Cardinals should convene to select a Pope. Following the example of the first Apostles, they should select two candidates, neither of whom is at all tainted by personal or doctrinal complicity in the scandal of human self-worship and idolatry that presently permeates the Church.
Again, as in the beginning, the final decision should be made by casting lots, to signify due reliance on the merciful providence of God. Once a new Pope is elected, all Church leaders bearing the title and office of bishop or above should formally resign their offices. All should them await the new Pope's decision regarding their future service. Thus, the Church's leadership will humbly place itself before the Lord, saying, like the leper in the Gospel (Matthew 8:2): "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." Then it will be for God, in and through Jesus Christ, to answer what He will.
Three weeks ago I wrote the above-quoted paragraphs broaching the idea that all the cardinals and bishops of the Catholic Church should resign their offices, effective immediately after the election of a new Pope untainted by any involvement in the sex abuse crisis (mostly involving clerics inclined to homosexuality). With the revelations involving ex-Cdl. Theodore McCarrick and the cover-up of his career of sexual transgressions, the sex abuse crisis has now shattered confidence in those who administer the Catholic Church at its highest levels.
My previous article foresaw the need to elect a new Pope. I thought some readers would question the need to replace Pope Francis. But in comments on the article, no one did so. Now comes to light the letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former papal nuncio to the United States, testifying that Pope Francis was aware of McCarrick's homosexual predation but "continued to cover him," even making him "his trusted counselor" in naming bishops for appointment.
At the same time, Abp. Viganò's action verifies the logic that requires all the hierarchs resign. For we cannot but suspect that there are other cardinals and bishops, not to mention priests and lay people, in the Church who know the truth but have not yet come forward to bear true witness. Moreover, it's also logically appropriate to expect that there are others, like McCarrick, whose transgressions remain under cover of the conspiracy of silence or complicity that allowed him to rise to such a high position.
Of course, the observation just made confirms the difficulty some readers accurately foresaw in the proposal I made in my previous article, quoted above. Given the pervasive doubts and inevitable suspicions recent events justify, how can it make sense to assume that a majority of the College of Cardinals is free of the taint of silence or complicity?
This month, "Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the diocese of Albany, who had a priest sexually molested by ex-Cardinal McCarrick, sent a public message to the entire U.S. episcopacy that indicated clearly Cardinal Wuerl's solution — bishops investigating bishops — would have zero credibility with the People of God."
So now that Pope Francis stands accused of reversing the sanctions Pope Benedict imposed on McCarrick because of his sexual abuses, doesn't the idea of the present College of Cardinals electing a new Pope also lack credibility?
Regarding the sex abuse crisis in the United States, "Bishop Sharfenberger said it was time for the bishops to call forth the expertise of the lay faithful, who can exercise their baptismal priesthood, in helping the bishops make lasting reforms in the Church." He "has called for a national, independent panel of expert lay faithful — completely separated from any source of power in the Church that could exert influence on them — to investigate the bishops. And this national panel should be commissioned and "duly approved by the Holy See."
But now Pope Francis himself faces a credible allegation that he abandoned his predecessor's proper judgment against then-Cdl. McCarrick, instead relying on McCarrick as his confidante and personal representative. If the allegation is true, how can we assume that Pope Francis' judgment has been and is reliably guided by the Holy Spirit? And if we cannot assume it in him, what of the members of the College of Cardinals who selected him?
In his letter to "the People of God" about the sex abuse crisis, Pope Francis suggested that "clericalism" is somehow the cause of the crisis. He observes that "the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God." He goes on to say, "Without the active participation of all the Church's members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change."
Given the situation he now faces, one cannot but hear the Pope's word's as a cry for help, a cry that speaks for the whole episcopate, now awash in a sea of troubles largely generated by their failure to grasp the true meaning of scandal, as that word is used by Christ and in canon law. In both those contexts, the scandal has to do with the corruption worked upon the faith and goodwill of people of childlike faith seduced and betrayed into sin.
It involves moral and spiritual harm to individual souls, not just damaging material effects on the credit and reputation of the Church or its leadership. So steps taken to avoid publicity — including payments made to induce victims and their families to keep silent — aggravate the scandal. They do not diminish or avoid it.
Pope Francis is right to suggest in his letter that a period of penitential prayer and fasting is needed throughout the Catholic Church. In my previous article, I suggested it in the context of the College of Cardinals' preparations to select a new Pope. A shadow of doubt and distrust now besets the Church's hierarchy, enshrouding even its highest level.
Moved by Pope Francis' cry for help, all who profess to be members of the Body of Christ would do well to add our voices to his, crying out for help to Christ and God; to Mary and all the Apostles and saints. Earnestly, we should seek their aid in devising an exceptional process for selecting the next Pope, one that calls upon the laity as a whole to participate.
When the followers of Christ had to fill Judas' place among the Apostles, the Scripture tells us that 120 disciples had followed Christ from beginning to end. Today, the number of Catholics in the world may be more over 1.2 billion. Now, current technology can surely be adapted to allow some form of consultation that offers participation to all who are willing seriously to prepare themselves to be God's instruments.
As Caesar called people throughout his empire to register for tax purposes, let Pope Francis call on Catholics throughout the world to register as part of a lay electorate by formally signing (or otherwise publicly signifying their assent) to adhere to a written vow to fast and join in public prayer every day during a period of 40 days. At the end of that period, let all who have fulfilled their vow participate in a vote to signify whom they feel moved by God to nominate as their first, second and third choice to represent the country in which they live in a conclave of the laity. And let the person who receives the highest number of all the votes cast be that representative.
Then let those representatives gather, on the same day, in the capital of their country and let them cast their votes for three people. Adding together the total number each name receives, let them choose from amongst the two highest vote-getters, one who is to attend a global conclave in Rome. Let those representatives of Catholics from every country gather in Rome to select from among their number a council of 120 persons. Finally, let that council be charged to select, by successive ballots, from among all the cardinals, bishops and archbishops throughout the world, 12 persons. And let those 12 names be winnowed by lot from 12 to six, from six to three, from three to two and finally from two to the one whom God's Holy Spirit ordains to be the new Pope.
Upon the election of the new Pope, the already submitted resignations of all cardinals and bishops would immediately take effect. The new Pope would then decide which resignations to accept and which to refuse, beginning, of course, with the positions required to carry on His day-to-day affairs and those of the Holy See.
Up to and including Pope Francis, the present hierarchy of the Church appears to be controlled by clerics who refuse to admit that the embrace of homosexuality, and indeed the general denigration of God's plan and intent for human sexuality, are issues of existential truth for humankind. They go to the heart of God's pre-vision for creation, including our humanity. They are, as Paul Paul VI reminded us in Humanae Vitae critical to understanding the relationship between Christ and His living body, the Church. If the Scripture, Christ and the Apostles — all of them — lie about its significance, what aspect of our faith is trustworthy?
The Scripture says:
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. (Numbers 23:19)
To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means. Let God be true though everyone were a liar. (Romans 3:2–4)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19)
Pope Francis defines clericalism in terms of pride and vanity that set clerics apart from the laity, betraying what should be their communion with the whole people of God. But the division that now appears is between those, laity and clergy, who are determined to cut us off from the truth of God — His written Word in the Scripture and His Word Incarnate in Jesus Christ.
For, in the true body of Christ, there is no communion but in God, through Jesus Christ; no true union but what convenes us in their Spirit, confirming in us God’s strength. The most serious challenge to God understanding in our world today is the one that discards the simple fact that "God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, in denying the sexual distinction's primordial importance to humanity, we suppress the revelation of God in our nature. We thereby reject the truth of His Creation wherein Almighty God, who is One, manifests, in the multitude of things — albeit distinct from one another — His loving goodwill, preserving them as a whole.