Local Perspective: Change in the Catholic Church | Columnists


The Catholic Church is in the midst of a credibility crisis. The corruption that has been exposed over the past 20 years has weighed heavily on the position of the Church in society.

Unfortunately, the church – including the Diocese of Lincoln – has yet to take the necessary steps to stem the tide and attempt to restore its status. Without credibility and a reputation for goodness, the Catholic Church cannot fulfill its mission of bringing people to God. In the midst of this crisis, Pope Francis called a synod to gather views from around the world. This is my response to the appeal of Pope Francis.

The corruption of the Church hit me close to home. Priests have been furloughed or disappeared without explanation from each of the five parishes to which I have belonged since childhood.

One of my wife’s childhood priests, under whom she served, disappeared in the middle of the night without explanation. Nearly 20 years later, Attorney General Doug Peterson has revealed that the church knew he was a credibly accused child molester before letting my wife and childhood classmates serve under him.

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I attended Lincoln Catholic Schools from kindergarten through high school. I was lucky, but not all of my friends and classmates were as lucky as me.

Is the church corrupted because a priest or several priests abused children? No. It is corrupt because the current institution has allowed these individuals to abuse child after child after child. The institution has placed itself and its leaders above the children and the God it claims to serve.

The structure of the church must change. The monarchical organizational structure of the modern Catholic Church breeds corruption. Bishops are the de facto dictators of their dioceses, and they are also kingmakers.

A requirement of promotion includes protecting the church from scandal, even to the detriment of children and vulnerable adults. Based on information in the Attorney General’s report, Thomas Olmsted was assigned to the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, serving under one child molester and alongside another. Robert Vasa after him also served under one aggressor and alongside another. Olmsted was promoted and is now the Bishop of Phoenix. Vasa is now the bishop of Santa Rosa.

Pure coincidence? Looking outside the Diocese of Lincoln, one can find many similar situations; it seems incredibly unlikely that these promotion schemes are a coincidence. Looking at the global church, one sees a corrupt system that has been exported around the world. Poland, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, India, Chile. You name the country and the same pattern appears.

The structure of the church must be open and the power must be distributed among a greater number of individuals. Bishops cannot be kings of their dioceses. There must be checks, including checks on an individual’s authority.

There must be negative consequences for horrible decision-making, rather than promotions and protections. Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of covering up sexual abuse in a secular court. After that he transferred to our Diocese of Lincoln and traveled to confirm the children of our Diocese. A criminal convicted of betraying and endangering children was allowed to confirm them and retain his title of bishop. It is not fair.

Members of the organization must be encouraged to choose the truth and the good, rather than concealment and deceit. There are many different organizational structures that would accomplish this, but the monarchical structure – which fell into disuse in secular culture long ago for good reason – is a guarantee of corruption.

Change is possible. German bishops have been at the forefront of proposing similar ideas. It is vital that we have this discussion as a church. The church today resembles the Pharisees, who were condemned by Jesus in the Gospels.

Can you imagine Jesus calling the church leaders “Your Excellency?” Or dress in exquisite robes, wear crowns and sit on thrones in opulent buildings? Can you imagine him crafting detailed rules in fine print that allow them to be manipulated when it suits you?

No. We need humility. It is up to church leaders to decide if they have the humility to lead the church into the mission of Christ. There is no more hiding place. The advent of instant communication via the Internet brought corruption to light and hit the Catholic Church with the same force as the printing press 500 years ago. This Synod is an opportunity to show people that the Church is worth saving and that change is possible.

Kyle O’Donnell lives in Lincoln and was in the Pie X class of 2005.

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