Elizabeth Scalia woke up furious, thinking about scandals in the Church of Rome, Pentecost and a famous courtroom rant in the movie “… And Justice for All.”
“It was like Al Pacino was inside my head screaming, ‘You’re out of order! You’re all out of order! The whole church is out of order!’ … I knew I had to write something,” said Scalia, long known for online epistles using the pen name “The Anchoress.”
At Pentecost, Scalia noted, the Holy Spirit descended like fire on the apostles. “I thought: Dear God, why can’t some fire fall on our bishops? What’s it going to take to wake up some of these guys?”
Pentecost fell on June 9 this year, following months of news about clergy sexual abuse and the drumbeat of scandals tied to the fall of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the most powerful church princes in American history.
Then The Washington Post published a June 5 report about a lurid litany of accusations against retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield, whose career was linked to McCarrick’s. Investigators found that Bransfield — in a poverty-wracked region — spent millions of dollars on his own comforts, while handing financial gifts to various American members of the College of Cardinals and strategic church leaders. While there were no specific accusations of abuse, the church report cited a “consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestions and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”
This was McCarrick 2.0, a sucker-punch that inspired Scalia to pound out a personal letter to Jesus that was published by America, a Jesuit publication. Scalia currently serves as editor-at-large for Word on Fire, a Catholic evangelism organization.
“Well, Lord, here we are again. This crap just never stops coming, and God, I’m getting so disgusted with it all, and if I could not find you in the Holy Eucharist, I wonder if I would find you anywhere else within this church,” she wrote in her fiery overture.
“So many of my friends are fed up and leaving, or getting close to leaving, and I get it, I do! I understand how they feel, even as I pray they won’t leave, because … because well, hell, how does leaving an imperfect something to wade into even less-perfect nothing end up serving anything but the creature of the voids and the lowness? … I’m half surprised that our bishops, as they watch the pews empty out, aren’t putting out statements reminding us that to miss attendance at Mass is to risk eternal damnation.”
The goal, Scalia admitted, was to channel the anger she keeps hearing from Catholics nationwide.
“I’m not taking your name in vain, Lord, you know it’s a prayer, a cry from the heart. Jesus Christ … my heart feels broken,” she wrote. “I want to hate these men. I want to hate them and punish them for all the damage they have done to the church, and therefore to you and your body. And to the whole world, because a world without the church — a world where the church becomes irrelevant, in-credible and unequal to the task of balancing the secular world and all of its influences for good and bad — that’s a world where the lights are getting ready to go out, and all the candles snuffed.”
When her “open letter” hit the internet, she began getting messages — angry and encouraging, often at the same time — from priests, nuns and other Catholic workers.
Scalia wrote knowing America’s bishops would meet this week in Baltimore. She knew some of these topics would be discussed, perhaps behind closed doors. From her perspective, the key was whether there would be frank talk about the bitter fog swirling around McCarrick — secrets about abused seminarians, money and how he soared higher in the hierarchy, even as reports about his deeds went to the Vatican.
Could discussions in Baltimore, or Rome, respond to the anger in Catholic pews?
“We know there is an entrenched ‘good old boys’ network,” said Scalia. “That’s what the McCarrick business is all about. … What I want to know is, how do they have the cheek to even look us in the eyes right now?”
— Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and senior fellow for media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.