I am not scheduled to preach this weekend and will be out of town for some of the Masses but I just felt like I had to address the abuse revelations that have been coming out this week.
This week I have been watching with frustration and sadness as the events unfold in Pennsylvania. Leading up to this there was the news about Cardinal McCarrick who is the retired Archbishop of Washington DC. He was a leading prelate of the Church in America for many years and to see what has been coming out about his actions of abuse and manipulation has been very upsetting. Now, on top of that, the news about the Grand Jury report regarding the Dioceses in Pennsylvania makes for a lot of sadness for us Catholics. It feels like we should be beyond these massive revelations of clergy abuse, but I guess we aren’t. Since 2002 when the news broke from Boston that big scandal was in the Church it has been on-going, but we have been working on it (we are told)… things are getting better... (we hope). Yet, here again is another wave of abuse that is revealed… It is very disheartening.
I imagine for many faithful Catholics you feel let down by the bishops and the priests. It is very sad for me that my brother clergy members have done these things. Though I never knew them, and have lived in a different time than most of them… there is still a connection by association. It feels unfair that today’s Catholics have to bear the shame and agony that was caused by men who are mostly retired or deceased already. The fact that the victims of these crimes have had to wait so long for things to come to light is very hurtful too. Their lives have been impacted in ways we will never know. Their innocence has been lost, their trust in the Church has been taken away. Their well-being has been lost. That greatly saddens and frustrates me, and I am sure you feel the same way. It is a feeling of betrayal and a feeling of being let down by those who are our leaders.
In many ways it feels like this takes the wind out of our sails when it comes to all the good we are trying to do. How can we talk about God’s Church and how it’s the one true Church when these reports about abuse keep coming out… I understand it makes it very hard to feel proud to be a Catholic… You feel like you have to apologize when talking to someone… instead of beginning at zero or at a positive place when dialoguing we start in the whole. It makes our job a lot harder… and it’s through no fault of our own that this is the case. What could we have done differently? Probably almost all of us can say there isn’t anything we could have done that would have changed these events. Of course, there are abuse cases in our own parishes from the past that are being dealt with, and at some point, we might be penalized as a parish for those cases… that’s what the bankruptcy is trying to work out and it’s a big complicated mess. There are people from our parishes (at least in the past there were) who have been impacted personally by clergy abuse. This is a sad chapter that you may or may not know about. I haven’t talked about it much with parishioners because it hasn’t come up. I’m not sure how much former pastors spoke about this during the time when the cases where being brought to light for our Diocese. It is a tricky business to respect the anonymity of the victims while at the same time trying to address the hurt that may be out there.
For me, that is the one silver lining (if there is one)… this abuse needs to be brought into the light, we need to keep allowing people to come forward… maybe it will still take a long time. I wish I could say that this will be the end of it, but I have always believed that to some degree this will invariably be an issue for the Church… I pray that it won’t be like it was in the past… I hope we do see change, but human brokenness being what it is… I believe it will always be out there, to some degree. It’s not just a catholic issue, it’s not a celibacy issue, it’s not a cleric issue, it is a human issue… and since the Church is a group of people it will always be with us. As much as the media has focused on the Catholic Church, this is an issue in all the churches, in any major organization that deals with children… among men who are single, married or celibate this, statistically speaking, has been a problem.
We might be asking how can this happen? Haven’t we been fixing these problems? Isn’t that what safe environment training is all about? Well the good news (I hope) is that almost all these cases have been from the past. There are some important reasons for that. In the past (before 2002 and going back to the 1990s) the way that phycologists and councilors were dealing with priests and others who had problems with abuse of minors was to try and rehabilitate them… kind of like you would for a drug addict… and maybe in some cases this worked… but in many we know (now) that it didn’t work. A priest would be removed from ministry go take some time to be rehabilitated and then be placed back in a parish. But how much where they monitored and who was making sure they didn’t repeat their old patterns…? There wasn’t a common practice across the Church. Now, we look at these abuse cases differently than people did 20-70 years ago. We know more, and frankly we have been burned too many times. So, the Dallas charter was setup in response to this to layout a way to deal with clergy who had been credibly accused. Since this has been in place there seems to be some headway on how we as a whole are doing with protecting our children. Unfortunately, we seem to keep finding more dirt under the rug, and there seems to be more hurt out there.
Another factor at play that I am aware of… was the seminaries in the 60-80s were quite frankly wacky. I’ve talked to the priests that went through those times and there was some really weird stuff going on in the seminaries. That’s partly why we have had a priest shortage… the priests who were formed during those years were not very well formed in many ways. The ones who lived through those times and are still serving now (in my experience) are very faithful and good men. But many of their classmates left the priesthood. Those who formed them and those who where formed by the seminary culture of that time were not given the tools to live their priestly lives in a healthy way. Under John Paul the II the seminaries went through a big change and I think by and large they are fairly healthy places. The men in seminary now are trying to be faithful to the Church and aren’t looking for some weird sub culture or position of power and authority. My impression is that they want to serve the Church faithfully. They are just as upset by this abuse crisis as the rest of us. So, I am hopeful that the next generation of priests will be better prepared to serve the people of God, they will have gone through this difficult time of the clergy abuse crisis and will take steps to keep it from happening, (as much as possible). I don’t want to say this is just a problem from the past… I know it will rear its ugly head in the future, but I am praying that this process of purification will help the clergy and the Church as a whole to better carry out the mission of Christ in the future. For now… well it stinks… but I would rather this comes out and we deal with it honestly and openly rather than let it simmer behind closed doors.
I am grateful to my brother priests who have served faithfully, and to the Bishop’s who are trying to do the right thing and I pray for them. I also am grateful for the courage of the abuse victims who have come forward. There is no way we can repay them in a way that will take the hurt away or make it be a thing of the past… those wounds will always be with them. I only hope they can learn to forgive, because as hard as it is to forgive something so vile and dehumanizing it only hurts more if we hold on to it.
So, what can we do now… well I think we need to talk about it. I think we need to keep praying for everyone involved. It may be difficult to believe that God is allowing this in his Church. It’s easy to want to look for someone to blame… but I know that when I look at my own heart I am broken and I have hurt others, I have said things or done things that were wrong. So how can I try to stand apart and pretend that I have not sinned in my life… As Jesus said… let he who has no sin cast the first stone… I know these men will be held accountable for their actions… maybe not perfectly in this life (though it would do them good) but certainly in the life to come, they will have to account for their deeds. I have to believe that those victims whose lives have been turned upside down will receive a great deal of mercy for any wrong doing or sinful path they have followed… since these choices were in many cases triggered by what was done to them as children. Only God can truly take into account all these factors.
For now, lets pray that the Church is purified, lets pray that God will allow this to strengthen the Church, and let’s remember that we can only control our own choices and decisions and that is what God asks us to do. We should pray for the victims and their families. On behalf of the clergy I offer my apologies for anyone in our parishes or community that has been affected personally by abuse from priests.
May God have mercy and shine upon us the light of truth,