Children’s stories can still have profound meaning for adults. One of my favorites, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson, provides plenty of food for thought as to why the Church finds herself once again facing abuse scandals.
Part of the reason we’re in this even bigger mess is the continued denial and deflection at so many levels of the Church. The emperor in the story was sold a major bill of goods — or, more precisely, no goods at all — by the shysters parading as weavers. They convinced him that his “new clothes” could only be seen by the most intelligent and cultured in his kingdom. Wanting to believe their flattery, the emperor did not have the courage to say: “Uh, wait a minute, you keep talking about this great new outfit you’ve weaved for me. So why am I standing here empty-handed and stark naked.” Instead he parades himself into town in his birthday suit and it takes a little child to say, “but he is wearing no clothes at all.”
Anderson’s infamous emperor came to mind during one of my recent radio segments where we were encouraging listeners to write their bishops and respectfully insist Church leaders do everything they can to finally get to the bottom of the abuse scandal. So many Catholics are appalled that we find ourselves in what feels like square one. Who told the hierarchy that everything was fine? The faithful Catholics are like that little boy in the story who points out the obvious when everyone else is afraid to say anything.
The on-air discussion took place shortly after the release of the 11-page testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States. The statement — which came out within two weeks of the shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report — outlined a history of alleged cover-ups in the sex abuse crisis pointing all the way to Rome and calling for Pope Francis and others, whom he alleges knew about the predatory behavior of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to resign for the good of the Church. Viganò claimed to not only have first-hand knowledge of those at the very top doing nothing, but he also claims they embraced McCarrick as a close adviser, allowing him to continue the abuse and influence important decisions including the election of cardinals and archbishops.
One woman from Texas called in to say she was extremely puzzled by our suggestions. She was not against the idea of writing to her bishop, but was truly at a loss as to why bishops actually needed to see and hear from their sheep given the obvious state of affairs: “Look, I have no problem writing a letter. I will do that for sure, but don’t they understand how betrayed Catholics feel; how upset we are that this is still going on and to the extent that it’s much worse and possibly higher up than we realized? I mean how could they not get it?”
Many Catholics around the world feel the same. They want answers, and although plenty like this woman are writing letters, they also realize that no letters should be necessary.
The good news is that this is quickly turning into a Romans 8:28 situation and a watershed moment for the laity and the Church: “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
From where I sit as a speaker and talk-show host who communicates with Catholics daily, the faithful are well aware that the emperor’s clothes aren’t all that new. And it’s going to take a combined effort with the many good priests and bishops in the crowd, to once again clothe the Church in truth, justice and righteousness.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).