Pope Francis, in his Letter to the People of God, forcefully condemns this ancient and new spiritual and emotional Slaughter of the Innocents:
"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike. Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults."
The Pope even admits the Church's (and perhaps his own) terrible guilt that up until now, too many have done too little too late.
"I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future."
I and many others also have heavy hearts because of the responses and reactions among faithful Catholics. Some say they are leaving a Church which is no longer faithful to the Gospel. Some have stopped going to Church. Some plan to stop dropping their financial contributions into the collection basket at their Church.
And what of the reactions of good priests - who are far in the majority - who are totally disoriented, depressed, and no longer sure of their welcome among their parishioners!
What - and I say this realizing that this may be controversial for some - what of the reactions of priests who have been unjustly accused? For in every area of the world, investigations by Church and civil authorities have uncovered instances of people making accusations who are mentally ill, or lying hoping to receive money. For some of these priests, the emotional pressure has been too great, and they have committed suicide.
The reactions of non-Catholic friends is also painful to me: some see this as proof that all organized religions are corrupt and should be abolished because of the grave harm they do and have always done.
The media cries for the Attorneys-General of all states to convene grand juries to investigate abuse like the one in Pennsylvania which uncovered 1,000 cases of sexual abuse by 300 priests over a period of seventy years. (Although no media members have disclosed the huge number of good priests who were NOT accused of being abusers in that seventy years.) Some media members are urging all Bishops in the United States to resign.
And even priests are saying publicly that there are more revelations of sexual abuse to come.
How can Catholics think, feel, and respond in a sane way to all of this?
Let's begin with simple facts. First, we believe that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. We recall his words to his apostles before his ascension: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world."
Can we shore up our sagging Faith and remember first that
JESUS PROMISED TO BE WITH US ALWAYS. JESUS IS WITH US NOW. Before the risen Jesus ascended to his Father, the last, most important commission that he gave his apostles and disciples (including us) was this: to gather together, to work together to spread what he had taught them, and to continue spreading his teachings throughout the world from generation to generation - and to do it with his help, with inner inspiration from his Spirit.
Has the Church always developed in the way Jesus desired that it be developed? Of course not! It's hierarchical structure has been hugely influenced throughout the ages by cultural conditioning - and by the evils of paternalism, sexism, and a thirst for power among the clergy.
These evil and sinful actions have been aided and abetted by what Pope Francis forcefully names "clericalism" - the belief among some members of the clergy and some laity that priests are superior to the laity, a kind of royalty. Because of this attitude, the laity have been relegated to near voicelessness about the Church's activities. Some of them have persisted in saying "But FATHER has to decide..." instead of recognizing that they too have a voice, power, and responsibility in this Church. The Pope says that the whole Church must undergo conversion, which includes rejecting clericalism, because, among other things, an attitude of constant, total "obedience to Father" has aided priests in "grooming" the young and vulnerable for sexual activity.
"It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives. This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”. Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism."
This is why Pope Francis says sternly that no effort must be spared to create a NEW CULTURE, not only to prevent such abuse from happening again, but also to prevent the possibility of such crimes - and he calls them "crimes" - from being covered up and perpetuated. This must include new provisions and new policies throughout the world to hold Bishops accountable to both Church and civil authorities if they have protected priest abusers by not reporting them to the criminal justice system.
Secondly, can we shore up our sagging Hope and remember that in God's Good Time, Good will always win over Evil? Earlier in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus speaks to Simon and re-names him "Peter," a personal name which in Greek and Aramaic means "Rock," indicating his role as the firm foundation on which Jesus builds his Church:
"You are 'Rock,' and on this Rock I will build my Church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it."
What "death" is Jesus referring to? Death's realm - which signifies the power or force of evil responsible first for physical then for spiritual death.
What more horrendous spiritual death can we think of right now than the spiritual death-agony of these innocents who have been abused, and the spiritual death swallowing up the souls of the Bishops, priests, and religious men and women who have abused them? And the bitterness which leads to spiritual death among the People of God? Yet, Jesus says the jaws of death will not prevail against his Church.
My brothers and sisters, either Jesus is both true God and true Man, or he is not. If he is the Son of God, then his words are always and absolutely true, words for us to trust and believe with our total hearts and souls. We can't stop hoping, can't stop trusting him - and he is also trusting US to keep up the Good Fight for his Church - by speaking out, by demanding change, by supporting all who are working in each Diocese to make the local Church transparent and accountable. By making sure that our own Diocese has the proper mechanisms, staff, and policies in place so that all victims are called forward to reveal their abuse and also receive just compensation and counseling - without any ecclesiastical interference or cover-ups. By giving active, loving support to our clergy who are ALL reeling and in spiritual and emotional crisis over the evil that some of their brothers have perpetrated.
But also, each of us must be careful not to play into Evil's hands, unwittingly travel into the Realm of Death. We turn away from the death of evil if we turn toward constant and unyielding Love.
We travel into the Realm of Death if we fall into un-love either by believing that most of those who say they were sexually abused by priests are lying just to get money - not true - or by believing that every priest accused of sexual abuse is guilty - also not true. To go to the extremes in our attitudes keeps us from loving, from seeing the reality, keeps us from compassion for those who have endured abuse, as well as compassion for priests who are innocent. Both groups deserve our compassion right now.
We travel into the Realm of Death if our hearts are so hard that we do not weep and pray for the abusers. For God also carries them in God's Heart - with grief. God works mightily to bring them back to repentance. Heroic love prays for sinners.
If you stop going to Church, you will not be loving yourself. You will be spiritually starving yourself, making yourself vulnerable to Death's Realm taking up residence in your own soul.
If you stop dropping money in the collection basket at your parish, then you are depriving your parish of the money it needs to pay its staff, to pay its utility bills, and to pay for repairs to its buildings. In effect, you are not protesting child sex abuse, you are helping to close your own church, for each church is a separate financial entity, responsible for taking financial care of itself. Satan rejoices with every Church that misplaced anger and un-love closes down.
If you drop out of the Church altogether, then you are saying that you no longer hope, you no longer trust the Holy Spirit. That great American prophet Dorothy Day said the above words:
"No matter how corrupt the Church may become, it always carries within itself the seeds of its own regeneration." Change, regeneration, creativity, newness, - this is all the Work of the Holy Spirit Who always flows and Grows New Life wherever He/She wills." God always promises to bring good out of evil.
Could this horrendous crisis be the Hammer that will crush paternalism, clericalism, and sexism in the Church so that the laity - perhaps women especially - can finally step forward to claim their rightful places of equality in Church governance and Liturgy as images of Christ?
Is the age finally dawning when the Latin/Roman Church can finally rejoin the Eastern Catholic Churches in having a married priesthood? The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, and in some historical cases Uniate Churches, are twenty-three Eastern Christian particular churches in full communion with the Pope in Rome, as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. In general, Eastern Catholic Churches have always allowed ordination of married men as priests and deacons.
It has been speculated that Pope Francis has already been considering allowing a married priesthood in countries and areas of the world which do not have enough priests, because a lack of priests inflicts the injustice of depriving the faithful of the Sacraments, especially Eucharist. Perhaps the sex abuse crisis will speed up this process. For, a celibate priesthood does not cause pedophilia, but it allows pedophiles to "hide" in a priestly culture and role which does not include wives and children.
Do you realize that for the first thousand years there were married priests in the Latin/Roman Church? The Church was a thousand years old before it definitively took a stand in favor of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry.
Fr. Richard Rohr says of the priest abuse crisis:
"This moral catastrophe first of all demands public and sincere lamentation from every segment of the Body of Christ, and only then can the deep healing begin. It also demands public ownership, repentance and reform of our very immature teaching in regard to sexuality in general, male power issues in particular, and our “enforced” understanding of celibacy, which will predictably produce this kind of result.
- Our own Catholic theology says that celibacy is a “charism” which means a free and empowered gift. In my experience, only someone who has an alive and warm inner experience of God is capable of celibacy at all.
- It is a contradiction in terms for the Catholic Church to think it can mandate a free gift, which of course, has no precedent in Jesus. It is clearly not necessary for ministry, and is often a liability, creating an aura of spiritual superiority when the exact opposite is often the case.
- I personally believe the actual charism of male celibacy that produces both happy and healthy men by the second half of life, is quite rare.
- Until the Catholic church disconnects celibacy from ministry, I think we will continue to have ordained men, who are both unhappy, unhealthy, and a scandal to the Body of Christ. (Lest anyone think incorrectly, I am not saying that celibacy causes pedophilia, but I am saying that the idealized culture of celibacy allowed it to hide there for a long time.)"
Above all, our heavy hearts tell us that it's high time that we all pray, faithfully, hopefully, lovingly, for our Church - for its repentance and renewal, for our clergy, our religious men and women, our laity, especially for all those who have been scarred by abuse. Pope Francis urges us: "I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse."