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What will remain for the victims?

December 11, 2018 GMT

Archbishop John C. Wester’s announcement of bankruptcy and reorganization plans for the archdiocese (“Santa Fe archdiocese submits bankruptcy filing,” Dec. 3), has set several thoughts about virtue and sin in motion for me as a fervent, practicing Catholic.

The first and most complicated is the virtue of justice. The victims deserve recompense, of course, for the harm that has been done to them. The direct perpetrators of the injustice should be responsible, but they lack the resources. And then there are the bishops who have enabled abusers by not removing them from ministry and, further, their injustice in exposing our children to abusive priests. They also have no resources other than my contributions and the contributions of other Catholics, which we have given for the purpose of providing food, shelter and clothing to those who serve us and the upkeep of the church and other buildings that serve our parish communities.


Those are not their resources, but ours, yet those are the resources that will be tapped to administer justice to the victims. Among the more major injustices of the bishops is the lesser but still significant injustice they have done us by exposing the resources provided by our contributions to the legitimate claims of the victims.

Prudence is often popularly taken to mean avoidance of conflict and harm because prudence is a frequent excuse of the cowardly. But true prudence is to take the action appropriate to the situation. That is precisely the virtue bishops have continually failed to exercise up to now (for all we know, and still) when confronted with the case of an abusive priest.

The prudent thing would have been to remove from ministry each perpetrator on the very first instance. Bishops should have had the fortitude to exercise that much prudence. And it would have been charitable both to potential future victims and the perpetrators to deal with each instance head on. There was no charity to anyone in leaving any perpetrator in ministry.

I cannot judge from the outside how much the sin of pride figured in the actions and inactions of the bishops, though I have observed prideful actions of some in my life. But leave that aside for the rampant sacrilege that has occurred. When I was young, I was taught that a priest’s body was sacred because it was consecrated to God. It was a special sin to strike a priest or (in those days) even touch him familiarly. And yet these priests have desecrated the bodies so consecrated by using them for unspeakable acts, and the bishops, by leaving them in ministry, have in fact committed sacrilege through their enabling. And the church itself has been defiled.

If each parish is made a separate entity and safe from being sold, forfeiting the work and resources generations of parishioners have scrimped and sweated to provide; if the archdiocese’s resources are somehow protected from seizure and the cathedral not sold to a museum or razed for badly needed low- and middle-income housing; if the bank accounts containing our contributions for charitable works in New Mexico may continue in the purposes for which we contributors intended them, then what will be left for helping the victims rebuild their lives? But otherwise we may go back to worshipping in rented warehouses as we did while saving and donating time to the construction of our churches. Perhaps we are even willing to do so.

The most salient issue here is justice, for the bishops have allowed things to come to a place where there is certain to be great injustice all around, whatever the outcome.

Geoffrey Garvey is a parishioner of St. Anne Catholic Church in Santa Fe.