Catholics of the Year 2018

Every year, OSV Newsweekly profiles the Catholics who have made the biggest impact in the life of the Church over the course of the previous year. And while 2018 has seen many painful stories of people’s misdeeds emerge through revelations about clergy sexual abuse, it was also filled with reminders that God’s grace is still at work in the life of the Church.



The trajectory of 2018 in the Catholic Church really belongs to survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and for this reason they lead off this year’s Catholics of the Year. During Pope Francis’ trip to Chile in January, the pope expressed disbelief toward survivors who accused Bishop Juan Barros of being complicit in abuse and its cover-up. These comments raised almost universal ire, including from Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. However, it was Juan Carlos Cruz — a Chilean abuse survivor — who called the pope to accountability by publicly pointing out that he had written to Pope Francis about the very claims the pope said he had not received, or at least had apparently not believed.

Upon meeting with Cruz and other survivors, the pope admitted that he had been part of the problem, so far as the culture of disbelieving survivors was concerned. As a result, he launched an investigation into the Church in Chile, which resulted in every bishop in the country submitting his resignation.

The pope’s decision to change course in Chile and put the survivors first was put to the test by mid-year, when it was announced that an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor had been found credible against the now ex-cardinal, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The Vatican removed McCarrick from ministry, and a month later the prelate surrendered his cardinal’s red hat.

It was a former altar server — who remains anonymous — who came forward to the Archdiocese of New York, alleging what Archbishop McCarrick had done to him almost 50 years earlier, which set in motion these events.

Survivors also played a central role in the narrative of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which has sparked numerous state-level and even federal investigations into U.S. dioceses. Taken together, these events sparked a reckoning the Church in the United States is still only beginning to fathom, and survivors have played a critical role.

Supporters of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests walk in memory of alleged abuse victims outside the Nov. 12 assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. CNS photo by Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review


Those who spoke out

During times of crisis, it is not always easy or convenient to find one’s voice. But despite the challenges and the risks, there are those who have felt compelled to speak truth to power. With the resurgence of the clergy abuse crisis in 2018, certain individuals were recognized or felt compelled to make their voices heard. One of these is Father Boniface Ramsey, the whistleblower who sounded the alarm for years about the sexual misconduct of ex-cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

A 2006 letter from Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, then substitute for the Vatican Secretariat of State, to Father Boniface Ramsey references a 2000 letter Father Ramsey had written to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, Vatican nuncio to the United States, warning about sexual abuse committed by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. CNS photo courtesy of Father Boniface Ramsey

“It would be incorrect to say that from the late 1980s to the present I was courageous in bringing up McCarrick’s bad behavior to people who could have done something about it. In fact, I never really felt threatened, and so it can’t be said that I was courageous in the face of perceived danger,” Father Ramsey wrote in the November issue of The Priest magazine. “I acted out of anger and disgust at McCarrick’s hypocrisy, but also out of bewilderment at the fact that so many knew that, at the very least, he was engaging in some kind of sexual harassment of his seminarians and no one did anything. As I write this, the anger and disgust and bewilderment return. For refusing to confront the well-known scandalous activities of one of its most prestigious members, I am tempted to say that the Church finally received the humiliation that it deserved.”

A former employee for the Diocese of Buffalo found her voice through CBS’s 60 Minutes in October, when she sounded the alarm about priest-abusers who had been left in ministry. The decision has left her at odds with the diocese and especially her bishop, Richard J. Malone. But she feels she had no other choice.

“The reality of what I saw really left me with no other option,” she said. “Because at the end of my life, I’m not going to answer to Bishop Malone. I’m going to answer to God.”

In an interview with the National Catholic Register, O’Connor further addressed the disagreement. “I hope people understand that you can still appreciate the good in someone, and recognize it, while also calling on them to make the necessary changes in the areas where you disagree with them,” she said of Bishop Malone. “So I don’t think that that’s incongruous, because I do still care about him, and I pray for him deeply, because I want him to be the best he can for our diocese.”


Faithful and intrepid laypeople

The return of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2018 proved a stress test on the whole Body of Christ. While the clergy and the hierarchy came under heavy scrutiny this year, these groups are far outnumbered by the vast throngs in the pews, where faithful Catholics have been inclined to stick with their Church, even while being wary of where they should put their trust and impatient in terms of just how much they should be willing to forgive. It is for this perseverance and steadfastness in faith that the faithful laypeople who have stayed with the Church through thick and thin have been chosen as 2018 Catholics of the Year.

Some people who were already struggling in their relationship to the Church have left, a number of them publicly. Many who were enthusiastically onboard have felt the sting of betrayal and wavering confidence. Many who wore their Catholicism as a badge of honor felt, maybe for the first time, a sense of shame about what their Church stood for in the eyes of other people. Many who might have thought of themselves as “go-with-the-flow” Catholics have surprised themselves and others by taking a vocal stand for something that goes to the core of their being — their Church.

A eucharistic minister distributes Communion during Mass. Laity have a rightful place in the Church to address the abuse crisis, say canon lawyers. CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Even as the bad news pours out, the righteous anger of the faithful has been a gift, as it has shown a Church populated by laypeople who are energized in their faith and want their Church to be better. This show of fervor and seriousness can only pave the way for real renewal, as laypeople claim more fully the role envisioned for them as far back as the Second Vatican Council:

“Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action” (Lumen Gentium, No. 37).


Good priests

Priests lie prostrate during their ordination by Pope Francis during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on April 22. CNS photo by Tony Gentile, Reuters

While the Church can never do enough to make reparations for those abused at the hands of its clergy, we would be remiss if we did not make it a point to honor those good, honorable and faithful priests who serve their people day in and day out. These are the individuals on the front lines of ministry — celebrating Mass, administering the sacraments, running parishes and other ministries, and caring for the sick and dying. They preach the Faith and teach the Faith. They provide counseling, hear confessions, prepare couples for marriage, welcome babies to the Church in baptism, and share families’ grief during funerals. These good priests are also the ones who have been greatly affected by the abuse crisis. They are looked at with skepticism and suspicion, and even berated by those frustrated with the Church. Because of the actions of others, they are reaping the distrust of their people. It is not easy to wear a collar these days.

Yet it is a proven fact that it’s the example of these everyday parish priests who positively influence vocations to the priesthood. According to the annual ordination report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 70 percent of those about to be ordained to the priesthood in 2018 reported that they were encouraged to consider priesthood by a parish priest.


The youth of the Church

At a time when the desire for renewal in the Church is at such a high, young people became even more than ever a source of hope for the rest of the Church, and it is for this reason that the youth of the Church have been named as Catholics of the Year. This was an unexpected effect of the October 2018 Synod of Bishops focused on young people. Young adults were already a necessary demographic for engagement by the hierarchy, and the Vatican put its focus on the role the Faith can and should play in helping young people discern the direction of their lives, as well as the role that young people play in the life of the Church.

Pope Francis accepts offertory gifts during the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Oct 3. CNS photo via Vatican Media

This engagement was accomplished not only through another global questionnaire process (which has become familiar for synods in the era of Pope Francis), but also by, in effect, putting young people themselves through the paces of the synodal process in Rome, for a week in March, to produce a working document for the bishops to guide their discussions in the fall.

One of the three U.S. participants in the spring gathering, youth minister, speaker and author Katie Prejean McGrady, wrote in OSV Newsweekly: “To watch young people from around the world, ranging from 20-32 years old, give testimony to the reality of the Church they experience and how young people seek faith in their countries was, in a very real way, a personal renewal of my own faith.”

She added, “This was not merely an effort by the Vatican and Pope Francis to seem relevant. This was a chance for youth and young adults from around the world to reveal our hearts, share our experiences, express our desires and articulate initiatives we feel the Church should embrace. As we did so, we were unified in our recognition and love of the beauty, depth, breadth and joy of the universal Church.”

Delegates celebrate the Sept. 23 closing session of the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro. CNS photo by Tyler Orsburn


Encuentro leadership team

The leadership team of the V Encuentro, steered by National Coordinator Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, and assisted by Mar Munoz-Visoso, executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made a significant impact on 2018.

In September 2018, the three-year process known as V Encuentro reached its culmination as 3,000 ministry leaders and more than 100 U.S. bishops gathered Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, for a national gathering of Hispanic Catholic leaders. The national event was the final step in a consultation process meant to discern the needs, aspirations and contributions of Hispanic Catholics. After a period of formation and planning, gatherings or encounters (encuentros) were held at the parish, diocesan and regional levels, all centering on the theme of “Forming Missionary Disciples.”

The leadership team, called the V Encuentro National Team of Accompaniment, was made up of representatives of 42 national and regional Catholic organizations. The V Encuentro process highlighted a true sign of hope for the U.S. Church. “These days, our Church is passing through very difficult times,” Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo, Texas, said during the event. “Gathering at the V Encuentro is like an oasis of joy for us, to step away from the routine of our work and to celebrate the gifts of Hispanic Catholics from all around the country.”

The Encuentro team also worked to respond to an urgent need. According to a recent study, of the 50 million Hispanics living in the United States, 59 percent self-identify as Catholics. Hispanics also make up approximately 55 percent of all U.S. Catholics under the age of 30.


Permanent deacons

This year marked a milestone for permanent deacons around the world as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the renewal of the permanent diaconate. To mark the occasion, more than 1,300 permanent deacons and their families gathered in New Orleans for a five-day National Diaconate Congress.

Participants at the Diaconate Congress held July 22-26 stand in prayer. OSV photo by Scott Warden

“The goal and mission of the 2018 National Diaconate Congress was to celebrate and give thanks to God and the Church for the renewed ministry of the diaconate on its 50th anniversary in the United States,” said Deacon Thomas Dubois, executive director of the National Association of Diaconal Directors, which organized the event, in an interview with Deacon Digest magazine. “The congress sought to recognize the diaconate as a significant fruit of the Second Vatican Council, to reflect on the journey and accomplishments of the diaconate thus far, and to envision the future of the order that it may bring even more benefits to the Church.”

A book-length study, published earlier this year by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, shows that the number of permanent deacons in the United States has steadily grown over the past 50 years, and that more than 18,000 deacons currently minister in the Church. They can be seen proclaiming the Gospel and preaching at Mass, presiding at wakes and funerals, celebrating baptisms and working in areas of need, such as evangelization, adult faith formation, and ministry to the elderly and the sick. The greatest numbers of permanent deacons in the United States can be found in the archdioceses of Chicago, Galveston-Houston, Los Angeles and New York.

Someone to keep an eye on in 2019
One individual who appeared or who was mentioned time and again amid this year’s abuse storms — and the rare churchman to emerge from this year with his reputation stronger than before — is Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. And he will be one to continue to watch into 2019.