Pope Francis: The Great Accuser is hunting bishops these days; Update: Wuerl to discuss resigning with pope

Perhaps, but this seems more like an attempt to bury the lede. Last week, Pope Francis suggested that the proper response to the scandals rocking the Catholic Church was silence and prayer. Today, the pontiff hinted that Satan himself was behind the sudden exposure of scandals in the church and especially its episcopacy.

You know what would have prevented that, right?

In his homily at Mass on Tuesday morning, Pope Francis said it seems the “Great Accuser” is attacking the bishops of the Catholic Church to create scandal. …

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

There are two ways to look at this statement, but neither of them end well. In the more charitable version, Pope Francis is emphasizing the need for prayer to defeat “the Great Accuser” and loving support of the bishops under attack. If one believes in the existence of the devil and in the reality of spiritual warfare (as I do with both), then this argument falls within understanding — but still misses the point. The issue here isn’t so much that the devil is uncovering the sins, but that the Catholic hierarchy has continued to cover them up. That gives “the Great Accuser” a perfect vantage point to attack all bishops with the sins of a few and their participation in preventing them from being aired earlier. And that’s no one’s fault except the Catholic hierarchy’s, which includes Francis at the top.

The less charitable take from this passage is that Pope Francis is equating the victims coming forward with the devil, or at least putting them in the same league. That’s grotesque enough to make that less likely to be Francis’ intent, but victims and their families can certainly be forgiven for that takeaway from today’s homily. In the context of Francis’ remarks about silence last week and his earlier attack on Chilean accusers — for which he made a public apology and promised to do better — the message from the Vatican certainly appears to be shut up and pray.

The most acute problem at hand for the Catholic Church is not that the devil is looking for priests and bishops to accuse, but that enough of both are known internally to be guilty and yet remain protected by this silence. The episcopacy in the Vatican and here in the US keeps insisting that the problems have been addressed and solved, only to discover one of the highest-ranking cardinals in the US was a well-known sexual predator for decades without anyone taking effective action against him, and that hundreds of priests in just Pennsylvania were never brought to justice for their crimes against the vulnerable. The denials and the silence are stripping the Catholic Church of all its moral credibility to engage in the spiritual warfare that Francis highlights, and robs Catholics across the board of our ability to engage on important moral questions in our public life.

This is not the time to be silent. This is the time to finally demand accountability and honesty from the church’s hierarchy. Perhaps we can all pray that the Holy Father remembers the lessons he learned from Chile, and which he promised to apply.

Addendum: Looks like the USCCB has discerned a necessity to brief the pontiff on how this is being seen in the US. Hopefully, they will stress the urgency of action over silence.

Update: Looks like Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez will have some company in Rome. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, under fire after numerous allegations of cover-up in the grand jury report from Pennsylvania, told priests he will visit with Pope Francis to discuss resigning, CNN reported this evening:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the embattled archbishop of Washington, said Tuesday that he expects to meet soon with Pope Francis to discuss the possibility of resigning.

In a letter to priests in the diocese, Wuerl mentioned a recent meeting with the Pope in Vatican City. He said the Pope asked him to consider the best course of action “as we face new revelations of the extent of the horror of the clergy abuse of children and the failures in episcopal oversight.”

Wuerl said he will meet with Francis about the resignation he presented nearly three years ago at age 75, the mandatory age for Catholic bishops to submit their retirement to the Pope. He said a decision about his future “is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan church we all love can move forward.”

That would be a start, but only a start. The problem remains that nearly every diocese not already forced by lawsuits or prosecution to reveal internal documentation on abuse claims and personnel moves to cover them up still has to come clean. Wuerl’s resignation won’t change that.

Update: I mistakenly wrote David rather than Donald Wuerl. It’s been fixed, and thanks to the Anchoress for the heads-up.