The Church has always been a Children’s Crusade


Thomas Cooper Gotch, “Lantern Parade”

I have read or heard bishops or priests say in the last few years that the laity need to speak up  in regard to the various troubles and scandals of the Church. So this post will include some suggestions, which I acknowledge are probably ill-informed or naïve.

I was thinking about the Children’s Crusade in connection with this post. The Children’s Crusade was an early 12th century popular movement that became embellished in subsequent retellings. In legend, a large group of young people from western and central Europe marched down to the Mediterranean Sea inspired by private revelation. They expected the Sea to part, and they would then go to the Holy Land to preach to the Muslim peoples. No miracle occurred, and most of the children either died due to various misadventures or were sold into slavery. Historians think the actual events were less dramatic. Rather, it was a spontaneous movement of poor people and young adults inspired by the religious and political climate of the day that roamed the French and German countryside for a few years, and then faded away.

While whatever the Children’s Crusade  really was was probably a misguided, unnecessary event, I think it helpful to imagine the temporal history of the Church as a child’s mission. It is something pure, perhaps reckless in its trust and reliance on God’s grace.  Faithful and loyal to its own short-term disadvantage. Not so concerned with power or control or organizations. Very transparent and open too.

So here are some probably childish questions or suggestions I have been thinking about:

1. Close down all the institutes of consecrated life, lay apostolates or other Catholic ministries whose founders were later convicted of, plead guilty to, or otherwise widely accepted to have committed sexual or other serious crimes

I would recommend starting with Life Teen, the Legion of Christ, and the Institute of the Incarnate Word.  Their respective founds or co-founders are Dale Fushek, Marcial Maciel, and Carlos Buela. You can read about what they did at the links above.

I was a bit unnerved when I read an article about a vocation discernment day in my diocese that involved the presence of the Servatores, the female branch of Buela’s organization.  If you go to their various websites there is no acknowledgment of the sanctions against Carlos Buela. See here and here. They still offer his books for sale, etc.  And I just came across this website today that points out connections between McCarrick and Buela.

I wonder if these groups were all started by their founders as elaborate grooming operations?

I accept that the vast majority of people who belong to or participate in these orders and apostolates have done so with good and holy intentions. Many conversions and vocations have come from them. God can draw straight with crooked lines, or bring good things out of bad.

But I don’t believe these bodies can shake the taint of their founders.   There are other worthy orders, apostolates, etc. that these people can transfer to. Buela’s group can dissolve and reconstitute itself with a new leadership, rule of life, habit, etc. that carries on an effective mission in service to the Church without his shadow hanging over it.  The good memories, traditions and histories of these groups, however important they are to their well-intentioned members, are really not that important.  What matters is Christ.


2. Can we make “the Vatican” a hardship post?

In reading articles about the McCarrick scandal I came across persuasive accounts of McCarrick holding out a Vatican assignment to young person as a plum, or suggesting that the Vatican was an environment people of his ilk do well in.

Is Rome too comfortable a place to lead the Church from? Is a Vatican assignment so desired that it becomes an incentive to compromise, to “look the other way”, to “go along to get along”?

Rome will and should always be a place of pilgrimage for the churches, the relics and museums.  But lets move the papal household, the bureaucracy, the “Curia”, etc. somewhere challenging, perhaps poor and a dangerous. At least for the better part of the year. They can come back for Lent and Advent, maybe.

How about somewhere in Asia or Africa that has a young and growing Church?  Let’s really put our money where our mouths are and go to the margins.  People might die, I know.  But I think we will get a different type of person to serve the Church in these roles.


3. Disband the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (and rebuild it I guess…)

My understanding is that the nations have to have episcopal conferences composed of their bishops. But lets start over.  Has the USCCB done a good job the last 50 years? Does the collective nature of this organization inhibit or discourage real leadership? Does it just encourage a convergence to mediocrity and the lowest common denominator?

Watching the proceedings on TV reminds me of work conferences I have attended in hotel ballrooms in big cities over the years. It shouldn’t.

Reconstitute it in a more Catholic and demographically diverse city.  D.C. is not representative. A more affordable, family friendly city. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee?  Maybe they can have their regular meetings in a cathedral instead of a hotel ballroom. And perhaps have the Lord in the Monstrance on the Altar when they discuss and vote on things, if that’s permitted and not disrespectful to the Lord.

No federal contracts either.

4. Can we have transparent and local bishop selection?  I always liked the stories of how St. Athanasius became bishop:

Frances A. M. Forbes writes that when the Patriarch Alexander was on his death-bed he called Athanasius, who fled fearing he would be constrained to be made Bishop. “When the Bishops of the Church assembled to elect their new Patriarch, the whole Catholic population surrounded the church, holding up their hands to Heaven and crying; “Give us Athanasius!” The Bishops had nothing better. Athanasius was thus elected, as Gregory tells us…” (Pope Gregory I, would have full access to the Vatican Archives).

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII: “On the death of Alexander, five months after the termination of the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius was unanimously elected to fill the vacant see. He was most unwilling to accept the dignity, for he clearly foresaw the difficulties in which it would involve him. The clergy and people were determined to have him as their bishop, Patriarch of Alexandria, and refused to accept any excuses. He at length consented to accept a responsibility that he sought in vain to escape, and was consecrated in 326, when he was about thirty years of age.”

From his Wikipedia entry.

So post the banns of marriage between the shepherd and his flock. Let the faithful weigh in with written comments.  Have a public input session.  Break up whatever patronage or networking systems that might exist.  Let Rome serve as a court of appeal if us local yokels screw up the choice. But Rome doesn’t get to pick all the bishops through a secret process.  That’s how we got McCarrick and some other bad bishops. No Pope and his advisors are wise enough or well-informed enough to make good choices all the time.

I have just started to read a new book by a scholar and deacon who I am sure has much better reasoned and meaningful ideas than me. Its called “Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.” Its by Adam DeVille, and I hope to review it in a future post.



Thomas Cooper Gotch, “The Sandbar”

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