Drip, drip, drip. The revelations keep coming, day after day.
With law enforcement agencies emboldened around the world, they will not stop.
The wounds of thousands of boys and young men sexually abused by predator priests they called “Father” run deep. I thank God I was never abused by a priest. But I know men who were. They are messed up for life.
Change must begin at the top. I offer five dramatic steps Pope Francis could take to give the Roman Catholic church a chance to salvage its credibility.
My wife asked me if I think the church would consider my recommendations. I seriously doubt it. But I’m going to offer them anyway as a:
- former editor of a news service devoted to the unbiased coverage of religion.
- current public relations specialist with expertise in global crisis communications.
- writer here on Medium who offers “true stories of hope and inspiration for fathers, sons and the women who love them.”
Here are my 5 recommendations:
1. Drop the papal titles
Pope Francis should ban the words “Holy,” Father” and “Pope” (which comes from the word father) from all his titles for the rest of his papacy. The church can announce this on its Twitter account, @VaticanNew, using the hashtag #NoHolyFather.
Francis can still go by his many other titles, including Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City and Servant of the Servants of God.I already mentioned this, but allow me to elaborate.
By looking the other way and even promoting abusers like Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the last three and perhaps four popes have not been holy. Nor have they been “fathers.”
Fathers protect their children. They don’t abuse them.
2. Stop calling priests “Father”
I’m not saying every priest is an abuser. Far from it. But Francis needs to drop the title “Father” as a title for all priests because the priesthood as an institution has lost its way.
On a personal note, my Dad, who I write about a lot, attended a Catholic seminary desiring to become a priest. He was kicked out for reasons still not entirely clear to me. He used to joke I could still call him “Father.”
He deserved the title. Priests don’t.
3. Ged rid of the power hats
Francis is summoning senior bishops for a first-of-its-kind meeting February 21 to 24 to discuss how to prevent future abuse.
A solemn ceremony of public repentance at St. Peter’s Basilica should kick off the conclave, televised live.
Francis walks first down the center aisle, the successor of St. Peter, the father of the early church.
He removes his miter, the pointy, ceremonial head-dress, and places it on the altar, before the cross, never to be worn by him again. He also places his zucchetto, the small, hemispherical, form-fitting ecclesiastical skullcap before the cross, never to be worn by him again. From this point forward, Francis must expose his bald head.
Next come the 214 cardinals in their famous red hats.
Each cardinal places his hat on the altar. Some may want to lay prostrate before the cross and weep, if they are so moved.
What comes next provides powerful symbolism and optics, something the church is extraordinarily adept at.
Victims of abuse act as pallbearers carrying a series of caskets, one after the other. Inside the caskets are the red hats of the remaining cardinals and the more than 5,000 bishops responsible for overseeing the church and protecting God’s children.
The caskets are placed in the center aisle as a sign that children have been murdered emotionally and spiritually as bishops called their lawyers and looked the other way.
Now the bishops must die to their sins.
4. Ask the children for forgiveness
I’m no longer Catholic, but I value my upbringing and remember my first Confession. This is what I memorized:
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was ….”
At the upcoming conclave, on behalf of himself, prior popes, cardinals, bishops and priests, Francis stands on the altar of St. Peter for a globally televised confession as #NoHolyFather to utter these words:
“Forgive me children, for we have sinned.”
4. Wear sackcloth and ashes
Sackcloth is a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair worn in the Bible as a sign of repentance. Ashes come from burnt wood. In the Jewish tradition, they were worn on the head to symbolize the dust from which God made us.
Ash Wednesday, which begins Lent, is a season of fasting and prayer before Easter. When a priest applies ashes on the foreheads of seekers, he speaks the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Sometimes he also says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Next Ash Wednesday — March 6, 2019 — should be a solemn day when Francis does a role reversal. Wearing a robe made of sackcloth, Francis stands before a sexually abused child.
He bows his head. The abused applies the ashes and says, “Repent and believe the gospel.”
Why you should care
This isn’t just a “scandal,” the word the church uses when the public sees its dirty laundry.
This is a history-changing religious earthquake with tremors going far beyond the world’s largest Christian denomination and its more than 1 billion adherents. The Roman Catholic Church has been a pillar of Western Civilization. For all its sins, it has done much for the common good.
Even if you don’t believe in God, you have a stake in this.
Think of the thousands of schools, hospitals and charities run by Catholics around the world. If taxpayers have to pick up the tab for those services, it will cost billions of dollars.
In other words, if this brings down the church, you and everyone else will have to pay for its sins.
Pope Francis last week called the crisis “spiritual turbulence” stirred up by the devil, as if the church can fly through it like an airplane if enough Catholics recite an ancient prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
Francis needs to take responsibility, not assign blame.
Like the Berlin Wall, the Roman Catholic Church could quickly crumble if Francis doesn’t come out of denial. These five steps would show he’s serious about repentance.