The first verse from this past Friday’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, (16:1) hits home to me as to what has happened in our Church. “The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations.” For today’s context, we just need to replace ‘Jerusalem’ with ‘Catholic Church’. In particular, the word the struck me is abomination. Wikipedia defines it as “exceptionally loathsome, hateful, sinful, wicked or vile.”
Revelations from the grand jury investigation of the dioceses in Pennsylvania are a true abomination. It is truly horrifying, gut wrenching, unbelievable, and sickening. How can the Church after 2000 years degrade herself to such a sickening state? How could such evil infect the Church of Jesus Christ? Where were the brother priests or bishops to stop this pestilence? Where were the prophets of God like Ezekiel to keep this from going on for such a long time? What happened to the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit? Where was God in all this?
I feel like in the 1980’s, Pandora’s Box was opened a crack and various demons came out, then in 2002 with the Boston Globe investigation, Pandora’s Box was opened all the way, and all sorts of hidden demons were revealed to the world. Now 16 years later, I would have hoped the box would be empty, only to find even more evil and demons revealed in the parishes in Pennsylvania. It is exhausting, disgusting, shocking, and terribly sad.
Twenty-years ago, I made a major shift in my career and started the road to religious life and priesthood. That road now is far from the heavenly highway I envisioned. Instead it has become littered with neglect, potholes, and horrific cliffs. But I have been and continue to be inspired by dedicated priests like Frs. Al and George, who cared tenderly for God’s flock. I’ve been inspired by folks like Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa, St. Francis, and St. Paul, to know God cares and lays out tremendous goodness in a broken world. I’ve been inspired by numerous wonderful Catholics I know personally who live the sacrificial love of Christ in the world, doing a lot of good.
We are all family. By virtue of our baptism into Christ, we belong to Christ and we belong to each other. The waters of baptism initiated the bond and Eucharist seals that bond. As family, we are able to enjoy the triumphs and goodness of our church family, but we also have to wade through our family’s self-created cesspool.
However in this, we are not alone. Our Heavenly Father who like a marriage, sealed a covenant with His Chosen people and was united with them despite their constant rebellion – seeking false gods, abusing the weak and poor, and defiling themselves in all sorts of ways. God sent prophets to warn his people and bad things did happen, but God always took them back and rescued them. The same is true with God’s Son who had to deal with the defiant religious leaders who should have recognized Him as the Christ. Even Jesus’ disciples denied and abandoned Him. But still Jesus remained with them.
It is easy to want to abandon ship, but I hope that we will tap into Christ’s faithfulness and remain united.
Now, it is awful to feel powerless and numbed. But as long as we have breath in our lungs and free will, we have the power to respond. So what can we do? Here are my humble suggestions. However keep conversation going, because there is much more wisdom in our parish.
1) Pray for the victims of this scandal. Please pray for healing, justice, reconciliation, and peace for the victims. Healing is a long hard journey. Please also pray for the good faithful priests who continue to be faithful to the gospel, while suffering from the shame of their unfaithful brothers, wolves in sheep’s clothing.
2) Be vigilant against evil. Tremendous evil does exist in the world. This means we must always be vigilant, even within our own homes, for evil is like a foul stench, that creeps everywhere. If you see anything amiss here at Newman or anywhere you are, call the appropriate people to accountability. Too many people in the past turned a blind eye or felt it was too much trouble or feared the family shame.
3) Please don’t give up on your spiritual family. The waters of baptism and the body and blood of our Lord truly bind us to each other and to our Lord. We need each other in these trying times, for we are stronger together than apart. Evil wins if we fall apart. Trust in our Lord’s promise that even when the gates of hell knocks on the Church, she will not be abandoned. And know the church of today, though not perfect, is very different from the past. We do have much more stringent checks in place and a laity that will not be passive. And we have much more good work to do in a broken world.
4) Work on healing. Two ways that come to mind are by praying and by excelling in goodness. Prayer is important because true healing can only come from the divine physician, Jesus Christ, whose mission is to mend a broken world. Whenever there is brokenness, we can play a part in the healing. It’s the connection of being family. I think what we can do individually is be extra vigilant on being a channel of goodness to counter evil in the world. Doing frequent examinations of consciences, penances, and sacraments to clean our own weaknesses and be the best that we can be, enables us to be a better channel of God’s goodness in the world. Every unkind word, every indifference to another, every lack of love, every harsh judgment hurts others and adds to the darkness in our world. I do not believe evil priests just one day decided I am going to be evil. God created us very good. But you add enough layers of unkindness from others, enough layers of neglect, enough layers of hurt, and channels of evil are able to sink roots into that person. Then through their own willful cooperation with evil, awful things happen.
5) Let’s encourage our Church to follow the template laid out by the Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation – examination of conscience, confession of sin, doing penance, and celebration of forgiveness. We don’t need to wait for civil society to change statute of limitation laws. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each diocese thoroughly examines themselves by an independent tribunal, confesses the sins of legitimate cases, as a penance provides sacrificial compensation (though no amount could possibly compensate the severity of the crimes), and celebrates the sacraments of forgiveness and healing? Now, not every hurt person would want to go public and relive the pain, so the church should also provide extra resources to various victim abuse funds to help those who want to remain anonymous. If you’re a survivor of abuse, I encourage you to avail yourself of your home diocese’s confidential help.
In all of this, please remember we are not alone. Mary, the mother of our Lord, witnessed the horrific abuse done to her son in his passion and crucifixion, and still remained faithful. On the cross, Jesus left us His mother to be our mother. So continuing that Pandora’s Box analogy, Mary who knows our suffering, is the goodness in the box available to us. Let us turn to Our Lady, Queen of the World, patroness of the Diocese of Oakland, imploring her intercessory guidance, healing, and strength. Consider praying a rosary on her feast day, Wed., August 22nd.
- Fr. Ivan