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In a stunning ten-page declaration recently submitted to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, an attorney named Donald H. Steier reportedly asserted that his investigations into claims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests had uncovered "vast fraud," revealing that many accusations against our clergy, during the past decade, have been completely false, we note from a blog.

Steier, who was said to have played a role in over one hundred investigations involving Catholic clergy in Los Angeles, quoted one retired F.B.I. agent who investigated such cases as estimating that as many as half of the claims made in clergy cases were either "entirely false" or "so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported a prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse."

The figure of half seems much too high, but we have long warned that "repressed memories" -- by which many priests have been accused -- is an extremely doubtful phenomenon and recently a number of cases against priests have been thrown out precisely on that premise. Most bizarre are memories that suddenly pop up of abuse that "occurred" decades ago -- say, back in the 1950s! These are doubtful indeed.

But there is no doubt that clergy abuse occurred -- to a degree that remains astonishing (as the Pope himself said in Christmastime remarks, labeling it the "antithesis" of a sacrament); and there is also no doubt that our Church suffers from an elitism and aloofness that separates clergy from the laity and has led to many abuses, sexual or otherwise.

"In the midst of scandals, we have experienced what it means to be stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ," the Holy Father said -- pulling no punches in a book, Light of the World, and mentioning -- prophetically, to the Curia -- how St. Hildegard once had a vision of the Church in tattered clothes and covered with dust. "And this is how we have seen it," he said. "Just as she saw and expressed it, we have experienced this year [2010]."

Yet at a time when evil is obviously a problem in the North American Church, estimates, incredibly, are that we have from only five to 14 active official diocesan exorcists in the U.S. (which would come down to at best one exorcist per 4.9 million Catholics, if the figures are accurate) -- despite a letter from Pope John Paul II in 2005 asking each bishop to designate one, despite canon laws that requires the same, and despite indications from the ministry of Jesus and His disciples that evil infestation is a relatively common occurrence -- and that casting demons out is something to which we are all called (as disciples).

Nor is evil confined to overt acts like abuse. Lost in the hullabaloo over the recent book of interviews with the Pope (and in the reporting of an annual statement from Benedict XVI to the Vatican's Curia) were profound, startling, and even prophetic words concerning the state of the Church. "The bureaucracy is spent and tired," said Benedict in Light of the World. "It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops."

The words must be digested, and should be sent to every single bishop. Professional Catholics... making a living... in whom faith flows only faintly... Here the Pope was getting to the heart of what afflicts Catholicism, particularly in older countries. There are two Churches: the public, secular one, and the devotional one. It is the former one that is spent, tired, and not just unwelcoming to devotion but even antagonistic to it. Bureaucracy and a worldly approach are far too often witnessed in the cold businesslike atmospheres of  diocesan (or parish) offices.

That the Pope has a prophetic streak -- and perhaps a surprisingly mystical one -- may be seen in the sub-title of the book: "The Pope, the Church, and Signs of the Times." He also nailed what ails society as a whole when, in his December 20 address to the Curia, he alluded to the decline of the Roman Empire -- and even how natural disasters enhanced the sense of foreboding. Waxing prophetic, he related matters to Revelation 18:13 (which addresses Babylon). Kudos to the Holy Father!

But back to the Church: As a priest named Father Raymond J. de Souza in especially secularized Canada insightfully observed about the pontiff's comments, "It is easy enough to point to the managerial bishop or the administrative pastor and lament the lack of fervor for the faith and the absence of evangelical criteria in decision-making. But could not the same be said of any diocesan office in Canada, the staff room of any Catholic school, the executive officers of any Catholic social welfare agency or the bureaucrats that administer the vast panoply of Catholic organizations? Is it not the case that so many regard their position as membership in a club or as an officer of an enterprise, but not primarily as disciples or missionaries? The great sadness of which the Holy Father speaks is that over several generations now so many lay Catholics 'professional Catholics' are marked by a deep adopted clericalism themselves, comporting themselves as members of a privileged caste."

If our Church were driven by men, and not the power of God, said the Pope, it would have perished long ago. Praise God for His Presence (and patience).

Evil, added Benedict, "will always be part of the mystery of the Church" -- but as we all know from Scripture, evil, no matter how much it has infiltrated (and it certainly has, not just in the way of abuse, but with sterile bureaucracy, right there at the gates), will never triumph over it.

[see also: Michael Brown retreat in Louisiana and New Mexico]

[resources: Light of the World]

[see also: Our sad time: the ballerina of Linz]

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