Dear Sisters and Brothers –
What follows is a prose version of the homily I gave this past weekend along with links to the various letters I referred to.
These past days I have looked forward to being with you. Not to lead you in prayer, but to be with you as a member of this faith community.
I cannot think of a week when I have found it more difficult to be a priest. Even to be a Catholic. The report by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released nearly two weeks ago still staggers and horrifies me. My heart aches for victims and their family and whatever scars they bear, and I am angry at the bishops who covered it up. I am angry about the letter released by Archbishop Viganò, former Vatican ambassador to the US, with its accusations, its call for Pope Francis to resign, and its attacks on the Society of Jesus. I am hurt by Archbishop Cordileone’s own letter of support for Viganò’s letter. And the very public nature of that disagreement scares me and even makes me sick to my stomach.
I’ve had conversations with many of you these days, and you have helped me understand a number of things:
• that the recounting of the abuse of others taps into the pain of those among us who have been abused in any way;
• that the betrayal and cover-up by those whom victims should have been able to trust resurrects the experiences of those among us who have ever been betrayed–by a parent, a teacher, a child, a spouse, a confidante–someone whom we trusted;
• that the fallacy of linking sex abuse with same-sex attraction revives old prejudices against those among us who are LGBTQ–external prejudices, as well as those that live within;
• that the sins of the hierarchical Church and its very public fracturing this week feel like it threatens to rip from beneath what has been for many of us a firm foundation or refuge in times of fragility or peril.
And the truth is, I am having a hard time holding all the pieces. And I don’t know what to do right now because I’m afraid of making things worse by speaking or acting precipitously, before I know all there is to know, or by speaking or acting out of my hurt and anger. And I’m afraid I won’t have the wisdom to lead our faith community.
So, let me share a few things that are guiding me at the moment that I am holding onto.
First. I don’t have to hold all the pieces; none of us do. We have one another, and together we can carry this. And more than that, God holds it all–and all of us.
Second. Twenty years ago this summer, I attended a two-week conference at Santa Clara for about two dozen Jesuits from around the country who were about to become the religious superiors of Jesuit communities; I was on my way to Jesuit High School in Sacramento. The organizers of the event arranged to have Archbishop Quinn come speak with us one evening. He spoke about a wide range of topics, took our questions, shared his perspective, asked our thoughts. At one point, his face and his voice became deeply serious, and he said, “The unity of the Church must be preserved.” He repeated himself: “The unity of the Church must be preserved.” I don’t remember the context or what we were discussing, other than it had to do with some disagreement in the Church. But, the Archbishop made clear none of that mattered more than the unity of the Church.
In the Gospel of John, during the Last Supper, Jesus prays a very long prayer for his disciples. At one point he says, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one …” (17:20-21a) That they may all be one. Not “that they may all be orthodox” or “that they may all know the truth” or “be on the same page.” “That they may all be one.”
New facts about the content in Archbishop Viganò’s letter are emerging daily; it’s clear I don’t know everything there is to know. And, as I said, I do not want to contribute to the divisions in the Church, so I believe that it is not yet the time for me to speak. I don’t think this is going away quickly, and I trust that the path forward will be revealed.
You should know that last Thursday night, members of the Jesuit Community met to discuss our response to these letters. The meeting began with people expressing their anger and hurt, but as we spoke, as bits of wisdom came forth, it was revealed there, too, that it is not yet time to speak. We are, however, writing Pope Francis a letter of support and affection, which also encourages him to go further in addressing structures that allowed the abuse and cover-up. Certainly, we are doing that as brother Jesuits, but more importantly, we do it in support of the one who is the symbol of the unity of the Church.
Third. I hold onto Jesus’ words to Simon in Matthew’s Gospel: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (16:18) The Church was founded by Jesus, and in that sense, it is his, not ours. For those who know their history, you know that the Barque of Peter, the Ship of the Fisherman has sailed stormy seas before.
Fourth. This Church, this Ship? Vatican II made it clear what–who–it is: the People of God. We who are baptized were baptized into the ministry of Jesus, as “priest, prophet, and king,” the baptism rite says. Each of us, all of us together. You and I are Jesus’ Church, his Body. Not just the hierarchy.
And I trust you. I trust you as fellow members of this Body, of the People of God. I trust that your deep goodness and good will, your holy woundedness, your righteous anger, your hard-earned wisdom will lead us through all this. Two weeks ago, I pointed to the crucifix in the sanctuary and said that we know how that story ends–with an empty tomb. The Church needs you to bring about resurrection and new life within her. I look to you to get us there.
Fifth. Pope Francis himself gives us some guidance in this. In his first apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he says this: “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”
If you heard that and thought that I’m the only doctor in the house, you heard it wrong. We were all baptized priests, prophets, royal sovereigns–and doctors in the field hospital. The Church needs you to help heal the wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful.
In the Papal Bull that declared the Year of Mercy a few years ago, Pope Francis began, “The face of God is mercy.” Mercy and compassion are the hallmarks of his papacy–and of the Gospel. They are the hallmarks of the authentic follower of Jesus. So, in all this, where, and with whom, can we practice compassion, be doctors in that field hospital? I have one suggestion.
Read the letter by Archbishop Viganò, https://tinyurl.com/ViganoTestmony, Archbishop Cordileone, https://sfarchdiocese.org/newsroom#Vigano, and Bishop Robert McElroy, former auxiliary bishop in San Francisco and now Bishop of San Diego, https://tinyurl.com/McElroyStatement. But, before you begin, pray to read them with an open heart, with eyes of compassion. Pray to put the best interpretation on what these men wrote, as St. Ignatius instructs us to do. Ask to see what is good and notice what is true, to be inspired by the high aspirations and holy desires expressed in those letters. And if you find yourself hurt, angry, or fearful; if you feel your woundedness, pray for compassion, because those parts of the letters likely come from the authors’ own hurt, anger, fear, or woundedness. We have an example of how to do this, on that magnificent crucifix: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
We must be in a place where we are our best selves and have a softness of heart. If we don’t, we risk reliving and remaining in the broken Garden of Eden, pointing fingers: “The woman gave me the apple.” “The serpent tricked me.” And then we risk contributing to the harm already done, instead of healing wounds and warming hearts. Trust me, none of what I suggest is easy for me to do; I must beg for the grace.
Sixth. Jay and Maddie Davies have been parishioners since 1994; they founded our Sandwich Saturday ministry many years ago. Jay is a Greeter, Maddie is a Eucharistic Minister, and they both help out with the Shelter Meals program. Friday night, Jay was received into the church by Fr. Paul here in the sanctuary. A baptized Christian, he made his profession of faith in the Church. Notice that in the midst of all this mess, Jay chose to become a Catholic. He was faithful to his call from Jesus in this difficult time in the Church, making his own, in a sense the words we heard from Peter last week: “Lord, to whom else can we go. You have the words of everlasting life.” I hold onto that.
Seventh. Juliana of Norwich was a 14th century mystic and theologian. She is perhaps most famous for her quote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” There is another that consoles me in this time: “He said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased;’ but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’”
Let us not be overcome, for all will be well. Amen.
Let us pray for healing for survivors of all sexual abuse and their families, and for wisdom and courage to bring about structures in the Church that insure the safety of all vulnerable people, and for the healing of the Body of Christ, and, as always,
oremus pro invicem.