Macarius became infamous among Donatist communities. The Donatists considered those who died to be martyrs. These martyrs and their memory were celebrated by Donatist communities. By the fifth century, Donatist churches were thriving and sparring with Catholics. And Donatist churches remained active in North Africa until the Islamic conquests of the seventh century. The Donatists believed the sins of traditores risked the salvation of individual members and the health of the community. For the Donatists, only sacraments performed by uncompromised clergy were effective.
In their attempts to respond to Donatist critique, the Catholic Church settled on a strategy developed by Augustine, an influential fifth-century Catholic bishop in North Africa. Today, in the face of the sex abuse crisis, contemporary Christian communities find themselves asking questions about institutions that condoned, hid and promoted abusive clergy. This might be a moment to revisit the Donatist critique.
They created their own churches because they feared not only for the efficacy of the sacraments but also for the character of a church that made it too easy for traditores to continue to remain leaders. Widespread sexual abuse by Christian clergy represents a very different crisis from that faced by the betrayal of the traditores. However, I believe the Donatists offer a lesson for Christian communities about the risks to the integrity and cohesion of institutions when they shield the abuser rather than protect the victims. They only confirm the general consensus that the recent Roman summit was a dismal failure of nerve and justice at a time when only nerve and justice will suffice.
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Pope Francis, cardinals and bishops, not so much. The Vatican had lowered expectations going into the meeting once it became clear that Catholic people around the world demand action not just words. From all that I saw and read—talks and press conferences were live streamed; press coverage was extensive—the clerics came in well below even their own low bar.
Just imagine if the meeting had been held in September , right after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was issued with its shockingly large number of victims and offenders. That would have also been right after reports came out that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused countless seminarians and priests. The Vatican crowd could have saved themselves a lot of grief.
Many terrible revelations have emerged since September:. In fact, all of that data was part of the backdrop of the meeting, but no one peeped about most of it.
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Maybe next time the clerics will learn to act faster for their own good. But the real action was in the streets and surrounding buildings, where scores of sex abuse survivors and their supporters protested, told their stories, and gave interviews. The more the clerics droned on in endless platitudes and careful parsing in lieu of implementing policy, the more the survivors garnered credibility and sympathy.
A skilled facilitator would have invited the survivors into the hall, paired them each with a bishop, and invited them together to lay out constructive next steps for the church. Alas, no such forward-looking person was in a position to do so, least of all the much-touted and deeply disappointing pontiff.
Instead, the official meeting featured videos of survivors at yet one more remove from the bishops, many of whom had never listened to survivors in their own dioceses. These stories are hard to hear. One woman in a video told of being forced as an underage teen into sex with a priest; he paid for her three abortions. Some bishops expressed genuine shock, leading observers to wonder where they have been for the last two decades. Still others continued to externalize the problem as a Western issue, suggesting, for example, that problems like child soldiers demand equal time.
By many measures it failed miserably. The gathering was too homogenous to be useful. Lay people, both women and men, experts in the law, psychology, theology, and the like were excluded. Clerics met in small groups to talk with other clerics. What could be more wrong with this picture? Pope Francis in his final statement captured the egregious miss that was this meeting.
He started off generally: His priests and bishops abused minors and some covered it up. A large number of minors have been sexually abused by a large number of clerics. Full stop. He claimed that the sexual abuse of minors is an abuse of power. He completely passed over the structures of vastly unequal power between clergy and laity that are the bedrock of this power differential, a causative factor in church-related abuse.
Without changing those structures the chances of eradicating sexual abuse of minors by clergy are nil. I do not think so. And I know that few are going to wait around to find out. Survivors and their supporters left empty handed while bishops toddled off to their dioceses without clear direction. Is that too much to ask in the face of mounting evidence of criminal behavior and cover-ups? Catholics can rejoice that such moral sticky wickets as abortion and homosexuality, and such disputed matters of ecclesiology as the ordination of women and married men to the diaconate and presbyterate, will soon be announced as local options as well.
I doubt sincerely that this is in the cards, but it follows logically. Logic was at a premium in Rome during the summit. This dilemma, this selective use of papal power, points to the fundamental problem at hand. To that end, the undisputed highlights of the meeting were the three presentations by women. Some of the clerics expressed surprise that Canon Lawyer Linda Ghisoni, Nigerian Sister of the Holy Child Jesus, Veronica Openibo, and longtime Mexican journalist, Valentina Alazraki, had such powerful and well-grounded analyses, and that they minced no words in their articulation.
Apparently the men have been asleep for the last four decades when Catholic women have developed such competencies with no help from the institutional church. She knows that Canon Law can and must change. Is it that the hierarchical structures and long protocols that negatively affected swift actions focused more on media reactions? Valentina Alazraki , a veteran Vatican journalist who has worked during five pontificates over four decades taking papal trips, was equally frank. She left these words ringing in the ears of the assembled: Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice.
We journalists know that abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church, but you must understand that we have to be more rigorous with you than with others, by virtue of your moral role. She recommended that the clerics turn over a new leaf with the new onslaught of information about the abuse of women in the church. It could be a great opportunity for the Church to take the initiative and be on the forefront of denouncing these abuses, which are not only sexual but also abuses of power. Nonetheless, the women speakers pointed the way forward. No one expected a miracle or a magic solution to the deeply entrenched problem of sexual abuse of minors at this meeting.
When asked for bread, the Roman Catholic Church can no longer get away with giving a stone Matthew 7: Roma finita est. Less than a week after Theodore McCarrick became the first cardinal ever defrocked, a New Jersey priest has for the first time agreed to be interviewed about his accusations that McCarrick sexually abused him in the s and the effect the alleged abuse has had on his life and career. In exclusive interviews with the Post, the Rev. Lauro Sedlmayer said the interactions with McCarrick, who was then his archbishop, in Newark, set off a downward spiral that severely damaged his psyche and career.
Now 61, the priest says he told three bishops but nothing was done. One was from former priest Robert Ciolek, who has been public and vocal since. The second man has not. Sedlmayer is the third. The Brazilian-born Sedlmayer has been in a tense stand-off with his superiors for a decade, with both sides filing lawsuits and accusations of sexual and financial impropriety on each side. A lawsuit by Metuchen officials against Sedlmayer says the priest is the one who is trying to distract from his own inappropriate and possibly illegal behavior. The court did not order the dismissal, Goldman said.
Goldman said the church dropped it. Metuchen officials did not respond to a request by The Post to clarify the matter.
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Sedlmayer continued to work in Metuchen until he retired last year. My whole view of the church changed drastically from that moment on…. I was a sheltered, naive year-old. This was a holy man of highest rank in the Church. In his lawsuit, Sedlmayer said he told Metuchen Bishop Edward Hughes soon after at least three interactions with McCarrick around The Post reviewed two documents shared by Sedlmayer that included descriptions he made to mental health workers about what happened to him.
The report came from a church-run facility in Massachusettes named Advent. He also shared a assessment report from a mental health clinic for U. Sedlmayer was a chaplain in the Army National Guard.
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A Metuchen spokesperson said the diocese reviewed its files and has no record of a complaint from Sedlmayer to Hughes. Earlier this month, he agreed for the first time to be interviewed and shared the mental health records as well as his testimony to the Vatican. McCarrick was suspended in June after the New York archdiocese found credible an allegation that he groped an altar boy decades ago. Shortly after, a second person, a Virginia man named James Grein, accused McCarrick of abusing him for years beginning when he was about Several former seminarians and young priests told journalists he had sexually harassed them, pressuring them to give back rubs or touching them inappropriately.
The Vatican opened an investigation into the various abuse allegations against McCarrick as well as the charge that clerics all the way to Rome knew of some kind of misconduct for decades — through three popes — but covered up for the prolific diplomat and fundraiser. McCarrick was defrocked last weekend. Sedlmayer was asked to give testimony recently to the Vatican investigators, said his attorney Evan Goldman.
Vigano never responded to him, Sedlmayer says.
The Post was unable to reach the archbishop for comment. He described being humbled and thrilled when he started, around , to get attention from his then-archbishop, McCarrick, who led the Newark diocese. Quickly the interest turned sexual, he says in the lawsuit, with McCarrick on three occasions — once at a beach house in Sea Girt, N. McCarrick, he says, continued to make sexual advances. In his Vatican testimony, he says he knows some find it hard to believe an adult could be forced so easily.
It was extremely difficult to resist the sense of fear and control that McCarrick exercised over me. He eventually was transferred to the Metuchen diocese, where he says he worked mostly without incident for more than two decades at Rosary of Fatima parish in Perth Amboy.