The Catholic Church in this country is led by villains and cowards. It would be a good thing if most, if not all, of our bishops resigned or were deposed.

The report released earlier this month by a grand jury in Pennsylvania detailing alleged sexual abuse — the vast majority of the more than 1,000 victims teenaged boys abused by some 300 priests over 70 years — defies description. For someone who has long regarded himself as a traditional-minded but sane Catholic, tales of satanic sex cults to which the clergy belonged and other unspeakable blasphemies long peddled by Fr. Malachi Martin have seemed like the products of lurid, diseased imaginations.

But having spent nearly a week reading slowly through all 1,400 pages of the report, I can say I was wrong. All of these things exist. When Blessed Pope Paul VI said that the "smoke of Satan had entered the Church" half a century ago, he meant it quite literally.

On Sunday, virtually every American Catholic who attended Mass heard a letter from his or her bishop read aloud. Some of these letters, including the one written by my own ordinary Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Michigan, contained some lucid and even admirable sentences. Most did not. A typical example of such a letter was the one attributed to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the former bishop of Pittsburgh. This missive, which was rightly mocked from at least one pulpit in his own diocese (why not all of them?), did not contain a single reference to sin or God but was full of corporate buzzwords and self-serving lawyerese.

Wuerl is only one disgraceful prelate. To rehearse all the evasions, elisions, prevarications, and other species of stupidity in the various clergy letters and the multitude of crimes for which they are meant to cover would exhaust the space of a short column. It is simpler to make a handful of straightforward observations.

One is that as a class the American episcopate is made of the pompous, the contemptuous, the worldly, and the faithless. They are, with a few honorable and pious exceptions, worthless company men who have disgraced their office. If they are proven complicit in the cover-up of abuse — by, for example, deliberately attempting to conceal evidence until the statue of limitations for a given jurisdiction was reached — they should be laicized and handed over to the secular authorities to be punished. Others whose crimes are of the order of gross negligence or incompetence should resign and live out the remainder of their days in monasteries performing works of charity. They should be replaced by younger, abler men with clean consciences, sons of the dioceses over which they will govern rather than glad-handers from certain trendy Roman seminaries. All of them in the meantime should undergo lengthy and rigorous public penances for their sins and those of their brother priests. I do not mean selling their mansions or the faux humility of dressing themselves in black instead of purple or red; I mean wearing hair-shirts underneath their cassocks and dining on ashes every Friday night and even flagellating themselves in public.

Another, broader point is that the geographical structure of dioceses made up of parish churches, which has never made sense in the United States, where our cities were built, as Brent Bozell once observed, around factories rather than churches or forts — is an artifact of Christendom. For decades it has been common for Catholics to attend Mass wherever it suited them — here because Fr. Chuck is so funny in his homilies and still lets everybody hold hands during the Our Father, here because Fr. Alouette says the traditional Latin Mass and there are permanent altar rails, here because it’s where our friends go, and so on. The indifferentism that irrupted upon the Church half a century ago has destroyed parish life. As community dissipates and money becomes the organizing principle of Catholic life, evil men thrive.

Good priests should receive permission from Rome to create oratories where they live together in common life and poverty, preaching, administering the sacraments, and performing works of charity with direct oversight from the pope and minimal interference from ordinaries, to whom they would have no financial obligations. The new bishops should be better men than the old ones, but they should also exercise less power; they should be all but irrelevant in the minds of the average layperson except when it is time for confirmations.

There are other practical lessons for the laity here. Stop answering blanket appeals from your bishops asking for money. Propping up the diocesan bureaucracy and Division I NCAA prep academies disguised as "Catholic" schools is not the business of the faith. Stop writing "open letters," as if you seriously expect men who are incapable of even feigning remorse over the rape of children to be moved by your futile words and read the Open Letter to Confused Catholics. Say the rosary, the most powerful weapon against evil the world has ever seen, and fast. Become dedicated clients of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Barbara and St. Athanasisus. Sleep on the floor. Learn to despise the things of this fleeting earthly life, especially when there is nothing in them of beauty, and delight in contemplating all that is heavenly.

Finally, what the Catholic laity need is a revival of old-fashioned moderate anticlericalism. Understanding that there is no higher calling than the sacrificing priesthood of the New Testament does not mean having warm deferential feelings towards every individual member of the clergy. Indeed, many pious laymen have always cordially disliked priests and, especially, bishops. "Why should I accept an 'honor' from some greasy monsignor?" Hilaire Belloc asked his secretary after being offered a papal knighthood in 1934.

Why indeed. I would rather take a bite out of a finger painting handed to me by my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter five seconds after she picked her nose than kiss the ring of my bishop.