In Theory: Can the Catholic Church restore its image?

The image ofthe Catholic Church recently was further battered when documents revealed that Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York authorized payments of up to $20,000 each to priests accused of sexual abuse as “motivation” not to contest being defrocked.

The papers, found during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, outline how officials — including Dolan, then the archbishop of Milwaukee — discussed a proposal to offer $20,000 for returning to lay status ($10,000 at the start and $10,000 at the completion the process) to priests described as “unassignable” because of sex-abuse allegations. One priest, Franklyn Becker, received $10,000. Becker was accused of abusing at least 10 victims.

Victims of abuse by priests have slammed the revelations, saying that the compensation offered is only $10,000 less than that offered to the victims. “In what other occupation, especially one working with families and operating schools and youth programs, is an employee given a cash bonus for raping and sexually assaulting children?” asked the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests in a letter to the current Archbishop of Milwaukee.

Q: What can the Catholic Church do to restore its image?

The Catholic Church faces challenges to restore its image in the world after events of the past few years. Critics of the most recent actions and decisions of the church leadership might say that the Catholic Church is more than just the decisions of the hierarchy, and that certain members of the hierarchy have become accustomed to the benefits of privilege, status and wealth.

So while the church is attempting to find its path through the modern challenges of secularism, relativism and pluralism, some supporters and critics would suggest the church should seek discernment through dialogue and openness. I hope the Catholic Church will reduce its hostile reactions to the increasing secularism of the modern world, as it attempts to make internal changes.

Steven Gibson
South Pasadena Atheist Meetup


As a member of the clergy who has spent a great deal of time in dialogue and shared action with those in the interfaith community, I know that it is ill-advised to make judgments about those in other religious groups. And I have known a great many people of compassion and integrity within the Catholic Church. But in the case of the church’s protection of sexually abusive priests, the revelations of cover-ups and payoffs speak for themselves.

There is no justification that I can imagine for the heinous acts of pedophilia by supposed men of God. The lives of thousands of victims have been decimated by the actions of these errant priests. And while I do not want to stereotype all members of the Roman Catholic priesthood as responsible for the misdeeds their colleagues, there is a great deal of damage that has been done to innocent victims, and huge reparations that are due. Nor will any amount of money be able to make things truly right, although the church bears responsibility for providing restorative justice in whatever form is possible.

So what can the Roman Catholic Church do to restore its image in the world? They cannot change the past. The horror of what has been done is irrevocable. But the hierarchical leaders can be as transparent as possible in the present and stop trying to justify their past actions with stories contrived to protect themselves and the sexual transgressors in their ranks. In addition, they must develop safeguards so that such acts of abuse are strongly dealt with and perpetrators are not allowed to continue their unlawful behavior under the protection of the church. In short, they can never let such a widespread atrocity happen again.

It will take many years for the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church to be restored. But my hope is that they will do everything that is necessary to make things right for those who have suffered needlessly, and to show true repentance for their actions. Only then will they be acting in the ways that their faith demands.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


The first thing it must do is acknowledge that it has done wrong. And then it must ask for forgiveness from all those it has sinned against, and that’s a lot of people.

One of the problems is that institutions behave like institutions, whether they are religious or secular. We might say that they shouldn’t, especially religious institutions, but an institution is an institution, and will behave as such, regardless. The first thing institutions do when something bad happens is to look how to control the damage, not how to right the wrong. This is true of Congress, the White House, a big corporation, or the Catholic Church: Control the damage first.

I feel especially bad for Catholic laypersons, believers in the pews. They have been let down by their leaders, and when such news emerges that people as high as Cardinal Timothy Dolan actually paid money to pedophile priests instead of turning them in as child molesters, what’s a parishioner to do?

We Protestants have certainly had our problems with sexually promiscuous ministers, but we also believe that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as St. Paul says (Romans 3:23). So we Protestants believe that the church is composed of sinners, and therefore such an institution composed of sinners cannot be infallible.

Roman Catholics, it seems to me, have a particular problem in regard to their church because built into their faith is the idea that the Body of Christ, put in place by Jesus, has an infallible leader (the pope) whenever he speaks on matters of faith and morals. All of this bad news of pedophile priests and attempts to cover up the abominations from the leadership have to make some Catholics question their faith, and especially their faith in their church. These are really sad days for our Catholic brethren because their church has to say publicly, “My bad.” I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


First, the victims were severely underpaid by this megalith institution that hails from a literal castle in Vatican City. Been there, seen it, and can speak without reservation. There’s money galore, and if perverted, homosexual priests are raping altar boys and adolescent acolytes, then Rome should seriously recompense. I’m sick about this. I wrote a review on the documentary called “Deliver Us From Evil” (found at and it tracks the typically devastating trail of a predator priest. Truly awful.

I am amazed that such perversion flourishes and that Rome does little except shuffle gay priests. I know some object to my naming their homosexuality, since girls are sometimes molested, but those in the victimized majority are neither children nor female, but teen-age males, and their perpetrators, despite avowed celibacy, do not pray for, but prey upon, these confused and vulnerable young men. Because they are the primary objects of sexual abuse, some believe this results from sick men embracing the priesthood, perhaps to kill their unsavory predilection through restrictive vows. Vows are one thing, parish temptation is another.

I do understand the payoff. It’s what, half a priest’s annual wage, not counting housing and miscellaneous? If unpaid, will it cost more in litigation? The church should hire some heavyweights to nail these guys; oust them quickly, and make them a public spectacle. Register them as sex offenders, and don’t fear public opinion; it’ll improve as a result, I promise. Shining light scatters roaches, while darkness and accommodation allow their proliferation.

I also believe Roman Catholics are mistaken that priests are given divine powers. If God grants homosexual molesters power, then God is culpable, right? Wrong. God calls leaders, not rapists, and truth be told, no priest possess irrevocable divine standing any more than did the angel Satan. It is this systemic belief that causes reticence to expose twisted clergy, because if priests are found to be pretenders, the ministered might question the Magisterium. Oh, no!

For Rome to rebound, it must get tough on wolves in sheep’s clothing; no tolerance for fake fathers and buggering bishops. Maybe resurrect the Inquisition for in-house reckoning, and please get particular about seminary applicants.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


There are two mutually exclusive kinds of sorrow over sin — sorry you did it, and sorry you got caught. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Which sorrow culpable Catholic priests and officials choose to exhibit, over the long run, will be the difference between salvation and death. And the emphasis here is “over the long run.” The offenses committed have been grievous, repeated, tolerated and even defended. They have caused deep, deep wounds and have been serious violations of trust. Any attempt at restoration will have to be even more serious, heart-felt, consistent and maybe even drastic.

John the Baptist warned the crowds to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). In this case, I believe appropriate elements would include recompense to victims (I know, how can you fully? But you can at least try.), a full, public acknowledgment of the sins committed, a removal of perpetrators from ministry, and a demonstrated effort to screen out perpetrators.

God is serious and impartial when it comes to dealing with sin: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


The Catholic Church should, for the sake of God, Christ, and everyone else, stop trying to restore its image.

This thing that it’s doing — trying to move forward by walking backward, unraveling even the meager advances of Vatican II and training up a new generation of bloodless, lifeless, humorless priests, all in the name of restoring an imagined image of righteousness — this isn’t a good answer. Circling the wagons tighter around denial isn’t what this moment of history is asking for.

This moment is asking for humility. For confession. For penance. These words sound familiar to us because they’ve been the lifeblood of the Catholic Church for centuries. If only this was the image they were trying to restore — the church as a community of humility, an arena for courageous truth in confession and outlandish trust in the hope of redemption — that’s a tradition worth restoring. That’s a boldness their people could be proud of.

The Catholic Church could lay out for us, if only they would, a shining example of what it looks like to live human life in the crucible of inevitable, even horrible sin, and the seemingly impossible mercies of God. They could be saying publicly how sorry they are, how horrified, how broken are the hearts of those in leadership, and how, in sincere repentance, they will make amends in any and every way possible for past wrongs, and seek in every way possible to transform the church so that these things will never happen again.

Then they could return to God in prayer and hope, trusting in the new spiritual awakening that awaits those who have walked through the fire.

“This,” they could say to the world, “this is what it looks like, to be a people who trust in the power of confession and forgiveness and amendment of life. This is what it looks like, to acknowledge our weakness and handle our failings with grace. This is what it means to speak the truth, and then be set free by having spoken it.”

Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Isn’t it always?

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


Among my large family of saints, sinners, pagans and pastor is my older sister, who converted to Catholicism as a teen bride.

The apartheid-like conditions between Protestant and Catholic youth in the public schools of our hometown, and how she found a Catholic life partner anyway, is an interesting story; but it’s one for another day. Having converted, she went far beyond her promise to rear their kids in the church, actively volunteering in many roles and contributing money generously.

Contributing, that is, until the day she read the huge dollar amount that her diocese alone had paid out at that point — it is probably more by now — to settle suits by victims of sexual abuse by priests.

I don’t think that a cent of hers has gone into the collection plate since. I suspect her enthusiasm for participating in church life has waned as well. She can’t be alone in this reaction.

But is it really the image of the Roman Catholic Church that is crucial? This is not a P.R. campaign, after all, but painful reality to the victims. I also think that the credibility of our law enforcement system is at stake. Crimes have been admitted to. Where are the arrests? If not confessed to, strong evidence of possible crimes exist in many more cases. Why aren’t grand juries called and/or preliminary hearings held, and trials conducted if warranted, so that justice can be done?

I know of no exemption from criminal law for abusive priests or their superiors who covered up crimes. What am I missing?

I also think that celibacy is not a healthy, positive, offering-up of physical sacrifice for one’s faith. It is just not our nature, as — some say — a creator made us. It has contributed to the abomination that is the scandal of abuse of the powerless by priests. I have no illusion that my opinions will have any impact on the Catholic Church, but I feel conscious-bound to address what I believe are the real questions here.

Roberta Medford

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World