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Sanctity and scandal: One priest’s views Print
Guest column
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Fr. Steve Grunow

Paul Senz of Our Sunday Visitor recently interviewed Word on Fire CEO Fr. Steve Grunow for an article on how priests are reacting to the sexual abuse scandals. Below is an edited version of the interview. The entire interview can be found at:

OSV: Please tell your vocation story.

FS: My vocation to the priesthood arose out of the conviction, born of an act of faith, that since God in Christ gave his life for me and did so without qualification or reservation, the proper response in faith to his gift is to offer my whole life to him.

OSV: What are your thoughts about the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report?

FS: Reading the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was like reading the script of a horror movie or the manuscript of a horror novel that, in a dramatic twist of the plot, turns out to be factual and true.

The crimes described in that report are but one aspect of the horror; the other is the implication that the Church appears to be, according to the report, a network for criminal behavior.

It is important to remember that each victim of sexual abuse is embedded in a wide-ranging social network of family, friends, and communities, all of whom are justifiably angered and sickened by what has happened.

No incident of sexual abuse is merely singular or an isolated incident, but the violation reaches out from the victim in a kind of ripple effect that encompasses hundreds, indeed thousands of people.

The devastation unleashed by this crime is diabolical in its scope -- thus, the absolute urgency of coming to terms with the historical realities and making sure that any incident of abuse is dealt with forthrightly.

Many good protocols were put in place in the wake of the revelation of the crimes in 2002, and the Pennsylvania Report seemed to indicate this has had an effect, but the insidious nature of these crimes and the vigilance that is necessary to prevent their occurrence demands that all the pastors and laity of the universal Church commit themselves to a sea change in the Church's internal culture.

OSV: What are your thoughts about the allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the ensuing scandal associated with him?

FS: It seems to me that as a result of the Archbishop McCarrick revelations that there needs to be a thorough examination of the protocols already in place, but also the introduction of new ones that deal specifically with the Church's bishops.

The allegations against Archbishop McCarrick renew the scandals of 2002 inasmuch as they reveal that Archbishop McCarrick, himself an architect of the Dallas Charter, is credibly accused of having sexually assaulted a minor, but also they expand the scandal to credible accusations that a high-ranking prelate used his office to sexually assault seminarians and priests.

The scandal is escalating with the credibility of the Church's hierarchy in shambles. I don't know how the wound of the Archbishop McCarrick situation can be healed without a full and transparent investigation into its causes and effects.

The Holy Father has cited the significance of clericalism in all this -- a reality for sure -- but I prefer the perhaps more jarring language of how a narcissist and possibly a sociopath was enabled to advance into the highest echelons of the hierarchy and what can be done to prevent such types from advancing in the future.

The damage to the credibility of the hierarchy undermines the work of the Church in every way. It also leads to a diabolical scattering of the faithful. It is no surprise that the divisions in the Church, which have been simmering for decades, are now a rolling boil.

In the current cacophony of the Catholic commentariat, it seems the voices of the victims are drowned out by divisive rhetoric and ideological posturing. The lack of trust and scapegoating all indicate this scattering effect.

OSV: Any personal thoughts regarding the impact of the current scandals on your own apostolic work?

FS: The Pennsylvania and the Archbishop McCarrick scandals broke while Bishop Robert Barron was on a missionary tour of Ireland and the U.K. When he returned, he immediately convened his leadership team, comprised of myself and the lay directors of the apostolate.

This provided an opportunity for conversation, pastoral direction, and a a place to speak frankly about what we were all thinking and feeling.

I do think that it is absolutely necessary that the bishops work with the laity in regard to the scandals that have enveloped us, or the darkness will continue to overtake the Church.

But I feel I must also stress this: credibility will not come from videos, social media, or policies. Nor will it be granted immediately.

Credibility will only come from the saints -- and this is the hard way the Church seems called by the Lord to go. Sanctity is not easy, and the reality is that we all face a decision right now for sanctity or scandal.

Sanctity cannot be coerced. We all have to choose.

Fr. Steve Grunow is the CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Learn more at