Dear Sisters and Brothers –
The recent report by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, with its revelations of the abuse of nearly 1000 children by some 300 priests over the course of 70 years, and of the cover-up by some in the Church hierarchy, is horrific and staggering. The pain inflicted on innocents and the subsequent trauma borne by them and their families, as well as the sinful betrayal by perpetrators and bishops of the sacred trust to serve and to protect are almost too much for our minds to take in and for our hearts to hold. It has opened old wounds in the Body of Christ and in the hearts of the faithful, and it has inflicted new ones.
As a human being, I find the details of the report deeply shocking and abhorrent, and as a priest, I am embarrassed and discouraged. I am also profoundly saddened by the damage done to victims and to the faithful–the Body of Christ is broken. While I believe that the Body–the Church–can be healed and restored, I also believe that will come only if we, the Church, acknowledge the sins that were committed; address the suffering of victims and work to bring them justice; and look carefully, deeply, and honestly at the culture that allowed the abuse of children and other vulnerable people to occur and to be covered up.
It seems to me that there are at least two serious temptations in all of this. The first is not to separate one’s relationship with the Church from one’s relationship with Jesus; the former serves to facilitate the latter. In the wake of the 2002 clergy sexual abuse revelations, I watched as too many faithful understandably walked away from the Church but, in doing so, also left behind their relationship with Jesus. One tragedy begot another.
When, in John’s Gospel, some of his disciples left Jesus because of some difficult teachings, he asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter replied, “Master to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” This is true for us as well and, in the midst of this struggle (and all our struggles), Jesus has words of life for each of us and all of us together. Let us remain with him.
A second temptation is to believe that nothing has changed or will change, or that the Church is beyond redemption. As I said at two Masses this past weekend, the Body of Christ has been broken before, 2000 years ago, on the Cross. And we know how that story ends–with an empty tomb, with resurrection and new life. That will happen again, if we allow–and aid–the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and our Church like a refiner’s fire, as we prayed this past Sunday. And there are glimmers of hope in some of the statements made by bishops in the last week, especially as they are calling for reviews of their procedures, encouraging new processes led by lay people, and recognizing their need for public repentance. Let us believe God as s/he speaks through the prophet Isaiah: “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” (43:19)
The parish staff spent most of our meeting last week praying, reflecting, and sharing on this grave and precarious moment in the life of our Church. It bore fruit in the way we prayed together at our Masses this last weekend, with thoughtfully selected hymns, sensitively written intercessions, and honest homilies that seemed to speak to hearts. I am grateful to my colleagues for that. However, we will be living through this moment for a while and we will need your help to continue to respond well to your needs and those of our Church. Please come to us if ever in need, even to talk through these difficult topics. Please forward to us your thoughtful ideas and suggestions for liturgy and for action and we will sincerely consider them.
Above, I mentioned the statements by some bishops. They are easy to find online and tend to be on the homepage of the particular diocese. Here is a link to Archbishop Cordileone’s letter: https://tinyurl.com/AbpCordileone. Also, please access the letter from Fr. Scott Santarosa, Provincial of the Jesuits West Province of the Society of Jesus here: https://tinyurl.com/FrSantarosaSJ. You might also be interested to read the statement of Cardinal Archbishop of Houston, Daniel DiNardo, President of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops: http://www.usccb.org/news/2018/18-138.cfm. I found the article by Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter clear and frank: https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/distinctly-catholic/how-can-you-bishops. Finally, please visit the following link to the reflection by Dr. Julie Dowd, Director of University Ministry at USF and, formerly, Director of Social Ministries at St. Ignatius Parish many years ago: http://tinyurl.com/DrJulieDowd. Julie gave her remarks this past Sunday at the 9:30 am Mass where we and the university welcomed new students and their families.
Please pray for those who have suffered this horrendous violation of their dignity and their personhood, as well as their families, that they experience God’s profound love and healing grace. Pray that Church officials have humility to work with others, lay and secular, to uproot and destroy the culture that allowed and protected these sins. And pray for the whole Body of Christ, the Church, that it be healed and given new life so that it can authentically and with credibility proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in our world. Finally, as always,
Oremus pro invicem.