Questions from a Ewe- Requesting a private discussion with the pope..
"Test everything; retain what is good.” (1 Thes 5:21) A laywoman expresses concerns about issues in the Roman Catholic Church to foster positive dialogue by posing and exploring questions. Please remember that Canon Law says it is not only a right but a duty to question the church. Also, Canon Law provides an over-riding power to the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful). By this, Canon Law says that if the sensus fidelium (collective of the faithful) reject a law, it is not valid.
As luck would have it, I have a business trip scheduled to Rome later this month. Therefore, I replied to my bishop that I would like his help requesting a private discussion with Pope Francis regarding my ideas. He kindly responded, “I don’t have the foggiest idea how such can be arranged,” but wished me luck. I’m not sure I believe that a bishop doesn’t know how to request a discussion with the pope but, maybe he meant he doesn’t know how to request one for a mere lay woman. Regardless, that’s a tragedy because either he truly doesn’t know how to ask for a discussion with his own boss or he doesn’t want to and is comfortable prevaricating about it.
Rather than be discouraged, I donned my imaginary thinking cap, in this case a pointy bishop’s mitre, to ponder what I would do if I were a bishop desiring a discussion with the pope. I decided to write Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., since he is the pope’s emissary in the U.S.
Here is the text of my email, sent September 15, 2018 to the papal nuncio:
Dear Abp Christophe Pierre,
I will be in Rome speaking at a business conference. I arrive October 19 and leave October 26. I request a private discussion with the Holy Father so as to discuss inherent issues in Canon Law that make addressing the global systemic abuse crisis near impossible without changing them. I asked my local bishop, Earl Boyea, how I might make such a request. Since he was uncertain, I thought I would next try you as the Papal Nuncio.
There is an inherent governance problem in that Canon Law entrusts writing, interpreting and enforcing the law to the same demographic group. This is a classic structure that enables abuse. Canon 223 is just one example of making clerics all-powerful in governing the church.
The Canons which place clerics above lay people (207, 223, 247, etc...) possibly impede addressing the abuse issue but ones such as 212 which insist lay people obey their pastor (who might be molesting them or their child) are extremely problematic.
The 12 Canons pertaining to secrecy also must be examined and possibly revised.
Furthermore, Canon Law ties itself in knots making it near impossible to correct Canon Law. But, we need to examine and alter Canon Law to have effective checks and balances instead of hoping and wishing that clerics are spun of superior moral fabric and able to self-police. With over 200 dioceses globally having abuses reported to date, we can be confident that this is an inaccurate belief leading to a failed governance model on this topic.
In addition to my professional position as an executive level consultant who advises on business governance, I hold a master degree in theology from Loyola University. I think that we have spent too many years having primarily clerics who lack objectivity trying unsuccessfully to self-police their own. We can see the globally systemic problem and easily conclude that they are unable to address the problem themselves. I offer my perspective as an educated, accomplished professional, mother and lay person in addition to someone with a fair amount of theological training. I hope that you give my request serious consideration.
I look forward to the favor of a reply.
Thank you for your consideration of my request. Know of my prayers for you.
On September 27, 2018 I received an email from the Apostolic Nunciature with an attached letter from Abp. Pierre. As an interesting yet ironic aside, he marked the letter “personal and confidential.” This means he wished his response to my concerns about secrecy to remain … secret! I will pause a moment for you to stop banging your head upon a hard surface.
Due to being marked confidential, rather than share the full document, I will summarize and quote excerpts. He said that arranging a private discussion between me and the pope “would not be opportune.” He went on to explain that the group that is “the proper body” to recommend Canon Law changes to the pope is the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. Furthermore, he said that aside from interpreting Canon Law, this body also carries the responsibility “to present legislative proposals to the Holy Father.” Did I not explain in my original email that part of the problem is the same people who write the laws also interpret them? Thanks for proving my point, Abp. Pierre. I only wish you would have gotten the point too.
The archbishop suggested that, rather than present my ideas directly to the Pontifical Council on Legislative Texts, I take this circuitous route: First share my ideas with my bishop, which I’ve already done. Then, hope that he will decide to present them to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Canonical Affairs Committee, or perhaps give it a go to try to contact this committee myself. So, rather than go straight to the guy in power, he recommends that I navigate an administrative maze of bishops, to share my ideas about how to hold these very bishops and their brother bishops more accountable, a matter they have a vested interest in preventing. Thanks for proving my point again, Abp. Pierre.
Here is my email response sent to Abp. Pierre September 30, 2018. I will let you know if I receive a reply.
Dear Abp Christophe Pierre,
Thank you for your response. However, moved by the Holy Spirit instilled in me at my baptism and strengthened in me during my confirmation, I must conclude that your response is unsatisfactory. Please accept my deep apologies for not expressing myself more clearly. I wish to discuss with Pope Francis the globally systemic clergy abuse crisis, the foundations for historically ineffective approaches addressing it, and possible ways to address it effectively, some of which involve Canon Law modifications.
Your response said my request to meet with Pope Francis "would not be opportune." Your word selection of "opportune" means you believe the timing of my request is not convenient. Please inform me at what time will it be convenient for the pope to have a serious discussion with a layperson about making effective changes to rid the Church of the clergy sex abuse scourge?
I note your deflection of my request to a series of bureaucratic bodies, all staffed by the very bishops who need to be held accountable. Please help me understand how asking those who have demonstrated profound ineffectiveness in addressing clergy abuse and often contributed to mishandling abuse cases should now be the very people through whom we channel all suggestions? Their combined ineffectiveness, complicity, and choke-hold on recommending change suggest another route must be pursued.
As an example, Cardinal DiNardo, current president of the USCCB, is both being criticized by abuse survivors as mishandling abuse cases (ref: Des Moines Register article dated September 27, 2018 entitled, "Cardinal DiNardo, at center of clergy abuse crisis, accused of mishandling cases in Iowa and Texas") and the person who recently led a delegation to meet with Pope Francis about the abuse crisis. In U.S. culture, we call this, "the fox guarding the hen house."
It also confuses me as to why you believe I must communicate with the pope exclusively through a body that did not exist before 1984. Surely today's Vicar of Christ would want to imitate Christ in being accessible to all people rather than enshrouding himself in high ranking clergy and bureaucratic process. Otherwise, he damages his credibility as Christ's representative, does he not? I know my bishop readily meets with me as part of his imitation of Christ. Why would the pope not want to do likewise?
Furthermore, in U.S. culture we have a children's game called "telephone operator" in which children sit in a circle and one child whispers their message into the ear of the next child. That child does the same and the activity continues until the last child in the circle whispers the message in the originator's ear. That message whispered into the originator's ear is always quite distorted from the originator's original message. Your recommendation to go through several communication levels seems destined to distort my Spirit instilled messages. (I believe you suggest I talk to my bishop who talks to the USCCB Canonical Affairs Committee which talks to the Legislative Law Pontifical Council which talks to the Pope.) In addition to distorting the message, this circuitous route displays a shockingly dehumanizing lack of urgency. It also deprives us of my authentic female voice by forcing my communications through a series of men's heads and voices. That too is shockingly dehumanizing and confusing, especially since Pope Francis repeatedly says he wishes to increase the volume of female voices in the Church. Why would we forego an opportunity to demonstrate Pope Francis' commitments to both addressing systemic clergy abuse and increasing the role of women's voices in the Church?
Therefore, my dear brother in Christ, I ask you to reflect further on Mark 3:28-29, "Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever denies the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” The Spirit guides me to speak to the Pope just as the Spirit guided Ste. Therese de Lisieux to speak to Pope Leo XIII in 1884 and St. Catherine of Siena to communicate with Popes Gregory XI and Urban VI in the 1370s.
I wish you all the best and please be assured of my prayers for you.
In whatever ways fit your personal context and in which you are called to do so, I encourage everyone to engage with the hierarchy, respectfully and insistently. If you anticipate their likely polite dismissiveness, you won’t feel rejected and also won’t be deterred. Also, I approach the clergy as an equal. Though many respond as though I am subordinate, I know better and just don’t fall for it.